Relations between the European Union and Israel plunged on Monday, on the eve of EU members Ireland and Spain granting diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian state, with Madrid insisting that sanctions against Israel should be considered for a series of deadly attacks in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Spain that its consulate in Jerusalem would not be allowed to help Palestinians.

At the same time, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell backed the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutors are seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including leaders of the Hamas terrorist group.

“The court prosecutor has been very intimidated, as usual, and he’s been accused of being anti-Semites whenever somebody does something that Netanyahu’s government doesn’t like,” Borrell said. “The word anti-Semitism is very heavy. It’s very important.”

Spain, Ireland and Norway plan to officially recognise the Palestinian state on Tuesday. While dozens of countries have recognised the Palestinian state, no major Western power has done so, and it is unclear how much difference the move by Ireland, Spain and non-EU member Norway will make on the ground.

However, this recognition is a significant achievement for the Palestinians, who believe it provides international legitimacy to their struggle.

Angry words flowed, with Katz accusing Spain of rewarding terror by recognising a Palestinian state, and saying the days of the Inquisition were over.

He referred to the infamous Spanish institution, introduced in the 15th century to maintain Roman Catholic orthodoxy, which forced Jews and Muslims to flee, convert to Catholicism or, in some cases, face death.

“No one will force us to change our religion or threaten our existence. We will harm those who harm us,” Katz said.

Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Alberes condemned the comments, saying his colleagues from Ireland and Norway were also receiving “totally unfair and reprehensible provocations from our Israeli colleagues” due to their plan to recognise Palestine.

“The unity of Europeans is essential to send a very powerful message to those who want to divide us through any kind of scaremongering,” he said.

Also on Monday, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Robert Golob said his government would decide on recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday and send its decision to parliament for final approval. Slovenia launched the recognition process earlier this month and Golob is under pressure to speed up the process after Spain, Norway and Ireland announced they would move ahead with recognition.

Borrell said the Israeli government’s actions, including its plan to stop transferring tax revenues earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, could no longer be consistent with his vision of the State of Israel.

“From now on I will never say ‘Israel,’ but rather ‘the Netanyahu government,’ because it is the government that is making these decisions,” Borrell said.

Although the EU and its member states are strongly condemning the Hamas-led attack on October 7, in which militants crossed the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage, the EU is equally critical of the Israeli offensive, which killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

The latest attacks focused on Rafah, where Palestinian health workers said Israeli air strikes killed at least 45 people on Sunday, damaging tents housing displaced people and trapping many people in burning rubble.

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said such attacks would have long-term consequences. With this choice Israel is spreading hatred, rooting out hatred, which will involve their children and grandchildren. “I would have preferred to take another decision,” he told Sky TG24.

The attack comes at a time when the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday demanded that Israel immediately halt its assault on Rafah, even as it refrained from ordering a ceasefire for the Gaza sector.

Alberes said Spain and other countries have asked Borrell for a list of measures the EU can take to make Israel comply with the ICJ ruling and also for details on what the EU has done in the past in situations where there have been gross violations of international law.

Last week, a joint announcement by Spain, Ireland and Norway sparked outrage among Israeli officials, following which Israeli authorities summoned the countries’ ambassadors to the Tel Aviv Foreign Ministry, where they were shown videos of the October 7 Hamas attack and kidnapping.

Alberese criticized the treatment of European ambassadors to Israel. He said, “We reject anything that does not fall within the customs of diplomatic etiquette and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”

But at the same time we have also agreed that we will not give in to any provocation that takes us away from our goal, he said. Our aim is to recognise the State of Palestine tomorrow, to make all possible efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire as soon as possible and, ultimately, to achieve that definitive peace.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

first published: 28 May 2024 | 7:05 am First

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