The Irish Times view on the Israel/Palestine conflict: World powers must speak up

The world’s inexcusable silence in the face of such a high civilian death toll is actively making things worse, and narrowing the already-slim prospect of one day reaching a long-term settlement

 

The failure of the international community to speak, let alone act, in the interests of innocent civilians caught up in the violence between Israel and Hamas is a grim illustration of a trend that has long been evident: increasingly, influential capitals are seeking to wash their hands of the Israeli/Palestinian question. That disengagement has contributed to the collapse of the peace process and to the maintenance of a status quo – the occupation, the siege of Gaza, expanding settlements – that suits the Israeli right but humiliates Palestinians and does nothing to resolve the underlying problems. Over the past week, it has arguably extended the conflict and cost more lives.

Three times in recent days the United States has blocked innocuous draft statements at the United Nations security council that simply restated long-established positions on the conflict. That has been a blow to the credibility of the council, the guarantor of global peace and security, which has nothing to say about a conflict that has killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians. While the debate on Israel/Palestine within the US Democratic Party has been shifting with the rise of a number of vocal pro-Palestinian legislators, Joe Biden himself has cleaved to Washington orthodoxy, resulting in a refusal to say anything that could be construed as criticism of Israel. It was striking when Biden yesterday finally spoke of a ceasefire, he did so by saying he “supported” a cessation rather than by calling for one.

But the US is not alone in failing the leadership test. The EU plays an important economic role in the region, not least by supporting Palestinian institutions, and will be first in line to fund the post-ceasefire reconstruction, but Europe has been losing influence as a political player in the Middle East since the high water mark of the Oslo accords in the 1990s, and in recent years that process has been accelerated by internal divisions that have all but silenced the EU on the substantive issues. States such as Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic are all but guaranteed to block any position that is regarded as critical of Israel. Ireland, Sweden and a clutch of smaller states with broadly pro-Palestinian sympathies are gaining less and less traction, while the most powerful players, Paris and Berlin, are disinclined to expend political capital on the issue.

Lack of foreign pressure is of course not the root cause, nor the only reason for the continuation of current hostilities. Bitter divisions within the Palestinian leadership and the narrow political interests of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu are among the many factors working against a cessation. But the world’s inexcusable silence in the face of such a high civilian death toll is actively making things worse, and narrowing the already-slim prospect of one day reaching a long-term settlement.

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