Borrell: “If Israel wants to build peace, it cannot sow more hatred now” | International
It is almost midnight when Josep Borrell (La Pobla de Segur, 76 years old) arrives at his hotel in Jerusalem, after a grueling day on his first visit to Israel since he assumed the position of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs in 2019. Despite his fatigue, he begins to speak before the journalist asks or activates the recorder. You can see his passion and interest in a region to which he also has a personal connection: in 1969 he spent a summer working as a volunteer in a kibbutz, where he met his first wife. He remembered it hours before, on a visit to another kibbutz, Beeri, where Hamas militants killed and kidnapped dozens of people on October 7, in a surprise attack that led to the Israeli invasion of Gaza - more than 13,000 dead and entire neighborhoods into rubble - and transformed the visit that Borrell had planned, once the Israeli authorities stopped unofficially vetoing him for considering him biased towards the Palestinians.
Borrell admits that, at such a sensitive moment, “it is not comfortable” to convey to his Israeli interlocutors only that the Hamas attack was “terrible” and “unjustified,” but also that “one horror does not justify another horror,” that “the "War has its rules" and that the humanitarian situation in Gaza today is "absolutely tremendous." In short, "the problem cannot be solved with the mass exodus of more than two million" Gazans, but with a political solution that guarantees the Jewish State the security that its numerous soldiers and its expensive technological barrier around Gaza cannot. They could have given him that October 7th. This Monday he will share with the foreign ministers of the Twenty-seven the conclusions of this regional tour, which has also taken him to Palestine, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan.
Ask. A long day with many meetings...
Answer. We have to talk to everyone right now. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is absolutely tremendous. Tremendous. The Israelis themselves have explained to us how it is, but, of course, they have a less dramatic vision and that Hamas is to blame. The United Nations has a reliable and impartial vision. There are one and a half million displaced people. Israel wants to offer a safe area, but it is very small and people are afraid of getting in there and then not being able to get out.
UN agencies cannot replace the ordinary functioning of an economy of more than two million people. With the means they have, they cannot suddenly feed them every day and guarantee them services. The Israelis blame the Palestinians for destroying the land crossings. In reality, they probably don't have much interest in opening them either.
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The trucks are passing by in dribs and drabs. The humanitarian situation can be really very, very, very serious. What does Israel want? Today, in Israel, they have told us clearly that they do not want to stay in Gaza. But also that they want to secure Gaza. The question remains: how is Gaza secured then? My message, I think it has become clear, is: “Listen, what he has done to you [Hamás] It is tremendous, terrible, an unjustified attack against the civilian population. But war has its rules. And the bombings have to take into account the victims they are causing.”
There are satellite photos where you can see entire blocks, entire blocks, collapsed. The Israelis explain that there are Hamas tunnels underneath, that they have to do it because they are hidden underneath. They are, they aren't, I personally don't know. They suspect they are.
Everything depends on the release of the hostages. If they are released, the big question is: what do we do with the Gazans? There may be more than 10,000 fatalities, but there are still more than two million people.
Q. Even if the hostages are released, Israel will maintain its goal of ending Hamas.
R. What is ending Hamas? And then there is the growing violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, which is very little talked about. We have had a meeting with the president [Isaac] Herzog. He has done well. I happen to be a bit pro-Palestinian, so I feared there would be a colder reception, but no. He was happy that we went and expressed our feelings to him, but they do not consider that there is such a serious problem of violence in the occupied territories. They are called that: occupied territories.
It does not reach the level of the bombings of Gaza, but in the West Bank there is a very strong escalation of violence. In fact, the army was not guarding the Gaza border [el 7 de octubre] because he was displaced to the West Bank. We are concerned about a new explosion of violence in the West Bank, where the Palestinians have little ability to defend themselves. There have been 400 deaths since the beginning of the year, 200 since October 7. And finally there is the internationalization of the conflict, that is, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Every time there is an increasingly intense artillery and missile duel.
Imagine that there is a truce and trucks are allowed to pass. How long do the United Nations have resources to fuel a continuous flow of aid? If suddenly they said: 'Five days of total opening', we will have to think about where the resources come from to help so many people. And we [la UE] We have increased a lot in aid, up to 100 million.
Q. What impression have you gotten from the meetings with the Israeli leaders regarding the idea you came with before?
R. I already knew that they are in the position that they have to put an end to Hamas. The retention speech, well, yes, they take it into consideration. We have met with their humanitarian cell, very well set up. They are very careful to document everything they do, because the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation [por el 7 de octubre].
But I don't think they will stop until the hostages are released. And we, my speech at least, you have already heard, is that one horror does not justify another horror. If they want to build peace, they cannot sow more hatred now. And after that? Nobody wants to talk about the day after. Actually, the day after is now. The Arabs tell you: 'People are dying and you tell me that we have to hold a conference in six months.' And the Israelis don't want to talk about the day after either because they don't know when and how this will end. They don't want to stay, but they want to secure Gaza. OK, very good. How do you do that? Not even Hamas has called for a ceasefire. They have died of success. They did not expect to be able to cause so many deaths and destruction. They met without resistance. I don't think they expected to be able to penetrate so deeply. And, above all, for so long.
There is an amount of accumulated hatred... And the feeling that the families of the victims and the hostages have [israelíes]: 'They do it to us because we are Jews.' All the red lights of the Holocaust have been awakened. After what has happened, the two-state solution… As President Herzog says: 'Who guarantees my security? If they have done that while in Gaza, that [futuro] State [palestino]'How is it going to work?'
Q. That goes back to what you said: that no technology or barrier [garantiza la seguridad de Israel]...
R. Is demonstrated. It is either a political solution, or it will continue like this for generations. The confrontation of two peoples over the same land has been going on for more than a century. It is not comfortable coming here to tell you what I have told you. They want unconditional support. The 'yes, but' does not satisfy them.
And then the death of children [en Gaza]. They have shown us the horrible photos of the massacres in the kibbutz [en referencia a las que le mostró este jueves el ministro israelí de Exteriores, Eli Cohen]but those in Gaza hospitals must also make your hair stand on end.
Q. I would like to go back to what you said before that the basis is the release of the hostages. There would be a pause of sorts, but then the bombing would continue.
R. That is why the hostages are not released. They are a currency. Maybe they release the most uncomfortable ones, the most difficult to maintain. Some are sick, imagine their emotional state, hygiene conditions, food conditions, health conditions...
Q. Why have you felt the need to remember that all lives are worth the same?
R. Because the Arabs say that, for us, lives are not worth the same. At the peace conference in Cairo in October they said it at the highest political level: 'For you Europeans, it is clear that the life of a Palestinian is not worth the same as the life of an Israeli. Don't talk to me about human rights anymore.' They throw it in your face.
Different European leaders express themselves differently. And I have to represent everyone. There are countries, like Spain, that are calling for a ceasefire. [El presidente del Gobierno] Pedro Sánchez fought hard for that. [El presidente francés, Emmanuel] Macron said the other day: 'Israel has to stop killing women and children.' But there are other European leaders who have not expressed similar condemnations.
Q. And how do you manage to deal with those differences?
R. Many times I don't get it [risas]. At the United Nations [el 27 de octubre] four voted against; eight, in favor; and the others abstained. The meeting point is abstention. But if there are four countries that say: 'No, I do not abstain, I vote against', another eight say: 'Well, I am in favor.' It is a very divisive issue in Europe. There are countries that are in a position that is very conditioned by their history. And they tell you: about Israel, it is as if we were ourselves. And then there are others, like Spain, that do not have the same history and a feeling of guilt. Rather the complete opposite. A clearer sympathy for the Arab world.
Europe has unity in this because in the European Council, in the end, everyone approved a common position. But as soon as we have to confront a vote in the United Nations, the differences emerge. And I can't tell them to vote what I want. Foreign policy remains the responsibility of each Member State.
Q. What do you expect from the regional tour?
R. A conceptual framework must be built. It is clear that this has a political solution or there is no solution.
My conceptual framework is the three yeses and the three noes. No to Hamas keeping Gaza again, no to Israel keeping it, no to the forced displacement of people outside [de Gaza].
The three yeses are: yes to the Palestinian Authority, but it cannot go alone. Yes to the Arab States committing themselves, but not only to paying for reconstruction. And yes to Europe taking action on the matter and not remaining isolated, letting the US and the Arab world fix the solution. We are great at being a good Samaritan, but here it is not just about helping to heal the wound, but about building a State.
Q. Does the EU have the capacity to play that role?
R. Have. We spend our lives building institutions, from the Caucasus to the Balkans. But that means a strong commitment. Neither the Europeans alone can, nor the Arabs, nor the United States. It has to be the will of the international community. The problem cannot be solved with the mass exodus of more than two million.
Q. Israel opposes the Palestinian National Authority taking over the government in Gaza the day after.
R. Someone has to come. We also don't know when it is and how things turn out. What I do know is that there has been a moral and political responsibility of the international community, that for 20 years we have been saying 'two States, two States, two States' and doing nothing to make it a reality. Or very little. Israel doesn't want it. He hasn't loved her since they killed  to [el primer ministro, Isaac] Rabin. She has been in the hands of governments that do not want her. Extremists on both sides have made it impossible.
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