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A poor response

A poor response

Pedro Sánchez called for "harmony, coexistence, peace" and a "rejection of war" - a boringly tepid statement that could be construed as condemnation of Hamas's attack, Israel's retaliation, or both

Friday, 13 October 2023, 17:08

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Both the EU and the acting Spanish government issued unsatisfactory responses to the atrocities in Israel this week. Pedro Sánchez called for "harmony, coexistence, peace" and a "rejection of war" - a boringly tepid statement that could be construed as condemnation of Hamas's attack, Israel's retaliation, or both. Leftist alliance Sumar, meanwhile, expressed its support for the Palestinians and its hope that Israel will behave in accordance with international law in its response.

Spain did not join France, Germany, Italy, the UK and United States in signing a declaration that expressed "unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism". But it was one of the EU members to express surprise on Monday, when Oliver Varhelyi, the bloc's Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, announced that all payments to Palestinians had been "immediately suspended" in the wake of the Hamas attacks. Varhelyi is Hungarian and his country is a staunch supporter of Israel - so the source, if not the content, of this apparently unilateral announcement wasn't surprising.

The EU's attempt to clarify its official position only created more confusion. In a statement released several hours after Varhelyi's announcement, the Commission said that no payments to Palestinians would be suspended - but only because none were due. Spain's Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign secretary, then stoked the chaos by saying that "due payments" to Palestinians would not be withheld. The Commission didn't clarify what these are, although it did say that it will keep providing Palestinians with humanitarian aid - as opposed to developmental aid, which might or might not be stalled. No one seems to know.

The Commission also failed to distinguish between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority-run West Bank. Would either or both kinds of financial assistance be suspended, and if so to what parts of the region? Those remain unanswered questions. What is much clearer is the existence of fundamental differences of opinion throughout the bloc: Austria and Germany, both strongly pro-Israel, announced the immediate suspension or review of their payments to Palestinians; but Spain, along with Portugal and Ireland, backed the continuance of Brussels' money for Palestinian civilians, arguing that any other course of action would unfairly - and possibly unlawfully - punish them for crimes by Hamas.

Spain's zombie administration was united only in apparent unwillingness to explicitly condemn the terrorist attacks on Israel. Sánchez's bland response, mentioned above, was complemented by statements from Sumar's Yolanda Díaz, who talked of "ending [Israeli] occupation" of Palestinian territories, and one of her deputies, Tesh Sidi, who declared she was "today and always with Palestine". Expressing solidarity with Palestine is not the same as endorsing Hamas or justifying murderous rampages of course; but we might expect the week's events described in those or similar terms by at least one member of Spain's acting government.

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