EU, Israel in war of words as ties nosedive ahead of Spain, Ireland recognising Palestinian state

| | Brussels
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EU, Israel in war of words as ties nosedive ahead of Spain, Ireland recognising Palestinian state

Monday, 27 May 2024 | AP | Brussels

EU, Israel in war of words as ties nosedive ahead of Spain, Ireland recognising Palestinian state

Relations between the European Union and Israel took a nosedive on the eve of the diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state by EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid suggesting sanctions should be considered against Israel for its continued attacks in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

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

At the same time, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, a Spaniard, threw his full weight to support the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including the leaders of Hamas.

“The prosecutor of the court has been strongly intimidated and accused of antisemitism - as always when anybody, anyone does something that Netanyahu's government does not like," Borrell said. “The word antisemitic, it's too heavy. It's too important.”

Angry words abounded Monday, with Katz accusing Spain of “rewarding terror” by recognising a Palestinian state, and saying that “the days of the Inquisition are over”. He referred to the infamous Spanish institution started in the 15th century to maintain Roman Catholic orthodoxy that forced Jews and Muslims to flee, convert to Catholicism or, in some instances, face death.

“No one will force us to convert our religion or threaten our existence — those who harm us, we will harm in return,” said Katz.

Even though the EU and its member nations have been steadfast in condemning the Oct 7 Hamas-led attack in which militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage, the bloc has been equally critical of Israel's ensuing offensive that has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

The latest attacks have centred on Rafah, where Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people Sunday, hit tents for displaced people and left “numerous” others trapped in flaming debris.

Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said such strikes will have long-standing repercussions. “Israel with this choice is spreading hatred, rooting hatred that will involve their children and grandchildren. I would have preferred another decision," he told SKY TG24.

The strikes came after the UN's top court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday demanded that Israel immediately halt its offensive on Rafah, even if it stopped short of ordering a cease-fire for the Gaza enclave.

“Israel has to stop its offensive in Rafah,” Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said.

Spain, Ireland and non-EU member Norway plan to make official their recognition of a Palestinian state on Tuesday. Their joint announcement last week triggered an angry response from Israeli authorities, which summoned the countries' ambassadors in Tel Aviv to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where they were filmed while being shown videos of the Oct 7 Hamas attack and kidnapping.

Albares criticised the treatment of the ambassadors. “We reject something that is not within diplomatic courtesy and the customs of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” he said.

“But at the same time we have also agreed that we are not going to fall into any provocation that distances us from our goal,” he added. “Our aim is to recognise the state of Palestine tomorrow, make all possible efforts to achieve a permanent cease-fire as soon as possible and also, in the end, to achieve that definitive peace.

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