How the European Union Failed to Keep the Peace in Gaza

August 25, 2020 | Gerald Steinberg
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As Hamas returns to attacking Israeli civilians with rockets and kite- and balloon-born explosives, Gerald Steinberg revisits the role played by the European Union Border Assistance Monitors (EUBAM), a peacekeeping force deployed to Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal. Stationed at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Strip, EUBAM’s mission was to supervise the Palestinian Authority (PA) border police and ensure that weapons and other contraband, as well as criminals and terrorists, didn’t enter Gaza. The force’s poor performance hasn’t stopped the Europeans from urging Jerusalem to make further territorial concessions:

From the beginning, this EU monitoring presence . . . demonstrated the chasm between high-minded talk and the reality of conflict and terrorism on the ground. . . . Weapons smuggling [into Gaza] continued, and on December 30, 2005, a few weeks after their initial deployment, EUBAM monitors fled Rafah to the safety of an Israeli military base when Palestinian police officers stormed the crossing, in what was described for media and diplomatic consumption as a “protest demonstration.”

Three months later, the monitors fled once again following a wave of foreigner kidnappings in Gaza. The EUBAM team returned, but with no actual monitoring, and when attacks from Gaza . . . escalated, the EU officials were bystanders.

The force hasn’t operated at all since the Hamas takeover of the Strip in 2007, although the crossing remains open. Steinberg adds:

In European political folklore, EUBAM’s failure, like everything else connected to the Palestinians, is blamed on Israel. . . . In reality, while the EU wanted credit for having an active role, they did not want the accompanying responsibility. The monitors moved to a hotel in Ashkelon and then an office in Ramat Gan, where, in theory, they remain on standby, thirteen years later, “maintaining readiness to redeploy to the Rafah Crossing Point once the political and security situation allows within short notice.”

This history is part of the EU’s legacy and should be recalled whenever officials such as Josep Borrell, vice-president in charge of foreign policy, lecture Israelis on how to make peace and help the people of Gaza.

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