EU Foreign Chief Says Israel Must Respect UN Court, Control Settler Violence in West Bank

26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)
26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)
TT

EU Foreign Chief Says Israel Must Respect UN Court, Control Settler Violence in West Bank

26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)
26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)

The European Union's foreign policy chief insisted Sunday that Israel must abide by the UN top court's rulings and end its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and, at the same time, questioned the possible involvement of authorities in the settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

On a day that visiting Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa basked in the attention after two EU nations and Norway pledged to recognize a Palestinian state, Josep Borrell further pressured Israel to take immediate actions to make sure that tax income meant for the Palestinian authorities is no longer stopped.

The demands came at the end of the week that saw the international community put increasing pressure on Israel to fundamentally change the course of the war it wages on Hamas in the Gaza Strip through international court action and diplomatic maneuvering.

Borrell insisted Israel had driven the Palestinians to the edge of a catastrophe because "the situation in Gaza is beyond words. The occupied West Bank is on the brink, risking an explosion any time."

While most of the global attention is centered on Gaza, Borrell said that "we should not forget what’s happening in the West Bank," where the seat of the Palestinian Authority is based.

"There we see an intensified spiral of violence. Indiscriminate and punishing attacks by extremist settlers, more and more targeting humanitarian aid heading to Gaza. And they are heavily armed. And the question is, who is arming them? And who is not preventing this attack from happening," Borrell said.

Rights groups and Palestinian residents have said that Israeli forces often provide an umbrella of security to armed settlers attacking Palestinian towns and nomadic communities.

Such settler violence, Borrell said, "is coupled with unprecedented Israeli settlement expansions and land grabbing."

Borrell also countered Israeli threats to hit the Palestinians financially. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he would stop transferring tax revenue earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, a move that threatens to handicap its already waning ability to pay salaries to thousands of employees.

Under interim peace accords in the 1990s, Israel collects tax revenue on behalf of the Palestinians, and it has used the money as a tool to pressure the PA. After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that triggered the war in Gaza, Smotrich froze the transfers, but Israel agreed to send the money to Norway, which transferred it to the PA. Smotrich said Wednesday that he was ending that arrangement.

"Unduly withheld revenues have to be released," said Borrell, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide standing next to him.

Eide was in Brussels Sunday to hand over diplomatic papers to Mustafa ahead of Norway's formal recognition of a Palestinian state, a largely symbolic move that has infuriated Israel.

The formal recognition by Norway as well as Spain and Ireland — which all have a record of friendly ties with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, while long advocating for a Palestinian state — is planned for Tuesday.

The diplomatic move by the three nations was a welcome boost of support for Palestinian officials who have sought for decades to establish a statehood in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war and still controls.

"Recognition means a lot for us. It is the most important thing that anybody can do for the Palestinian people," said Mustafa. "It is a great deal for us."

Some 140 countries — more than two-thirds of the United Nations — recognize a Palestinian state but a majority of the 27 EU nations still do not. Several have said they would recognize it when the conditions are right.

The EU, the United States and Britain, among others, back the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but say it should come as part of a negotiated settlement.

Belgium, which holds the EU presidency, has said that first the Israeli hostages held by Hamas need to be freed and the fighting in Gaza must end. Some other governments favor a new initiative toward a two-state solution, 15 years after negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed.

Sunday's handover of papers came only two days after the United Nations’ top court ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in the latest move that piled more pressure on the increasingly isolated country.

Days earlier, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Hamas officials.

The war in Gaza started after Hamas-led militants stormed across the border, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage. Israel’s ensuing offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, and has caused a humanitarian crisis and a near-famine.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
TT

Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.