“Approach to Israel-Hamas conflict is Thoughtless & Reckless”, Says Irish President Higgins Criticizing EU President Von der Leyen’s Position.


The response of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen towards the conflict between Israel and Hamas has been “thoughtless and even reckless”, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking on the sidelines of a food security event at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome, Mr Higgins said a careful approach was needed to work towards peace talks to solve the conflict.

“I very much agree with those who have criticised the statement by the president of the Commission … the same way as I was very heavily critical of the so called-agreement with Tunisia in relation to migration,” Mr Higgins told journalists.

“I don’t know where the source of those decisions was. I don’t know where the legitimation for it was, and I don’t know where the authority for it is, and I don’t think it is helpful.”

The agreement with Tunisia offered money to the hardline Tunis government this summer in exchange for preventing boats departing to the EU, and was criticised for being agreed by Dr von der Leyen without the mandate of member states. Mr Higgins described it as “a disgrace”.

Dr von der Leyen was again criticised over the weekend after she visited Tel Aviv and expressed unqualified support for Israel in its response to the Hamas attacks, a position that did not reflect that of the 27 EU countries.

To salvage her biased position, President of the EU Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, pledged further aid for Palestinians in the Gaza strip after criticism over her stance on the conflict.

The bloc’s chief diplomat clarified that it was not Dr von der Leyen’s role to speak for the member states on foreign policy after concerns were raised about risks to the safety of EU diplomats and damage to its relations in the region as a result of appearing one-sided.

“It may not have been meant to have malevolent consequences, but certainly we need a better performance in relation to European Union diplomacy and practice,” Mr Higgins told reporters.

“I think one is seeing this as a thoughtless and even reckless set of actions and I don’t think this is helpful,” he continued. “I think that coming down on one side of these arguments is not a positive contribution.”

He said that based on statements from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste “I know that she wasn’t speaking for Ireland”.

Speaking more broadly, Mr Higgins said Israel was “creating a huge humanitarian crisis” and that it was necessary to be “fair and also courageous” as well as “quite straightforward about where you stand in relation to international law”.

“To actually announce in advance that you’re going to break international law and announce it again and again, and do so on an innocent population,” he said. “I think that it really reduces all that code that was there from the second World War through the Geneva conventions about the protection of civilians … it reduces it to tatters.”

Mr Higgins also said there had been “unanimous revulsion” at the attack by Hamas, and that he shared “the horror of all those who have been hearing and viewing the details of how those killings took place”.

Speaking earlier, a spokesman for the European Commission said Dr von der Leyen had acted within her remit.

“The president can travel wherever she wants, that should be very clear, as president of the European Commission. She went to Israel to express solidarity with a country that had been the subject of an unprovoked terrorist attack. That is entirely in her prerogatives,” the spokesman said.

After returning from Israel, Dr von der Leyen said on Sunday that the country had the right to defend itself “in line with international and humanitarian law”, bringing her position in line with the qualified support for Israel previously expressed by EU member states and the bloc’s chief diplomat.

Speaking this morning, Tánaiste Micheál Martin called on Israel to rescind its decision to give 1.1 million people in Gaza 24 hours to evacuate their homes on the northern section of the strip.

He said that it was not feasible for such a large movement of population within a day and would impose “enormous trauma” on the ordinary citizens of Gaza.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said.

Mr Martin said that those who witnessed the horrific outcome of the Hamas attack and the random and indiscriminate murder of Israeli citizens, should recognise that Israel has a right to self-defence.

He continued: “It must be within international law and there are obligations under the Geneva Convention.”

Mr Martin said he accepted that Israel had a legitimate right to deal with Hamas because it had waged war on Israel and its civilians.

However, he added: “It cannot be in the context of an attack on the civilian population of Gaza. Our value system is one that does not in any way support any collective punishment of an entire population. That’s not acceptable, from our perspective.”

He said that Ireland was working with the United Nation and the EU to provide humanitarian corridors. He added that the EU had shown unity in responding to the attacks, saying there was a strong unity of purpose to continue providing humanitarian aid among foreign ministers when the European Council of Foreign Affairs met this week.

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