The violent conflict between Israel and Hamas could easily flare up again, the European Union’s envoy to Israel warned Wednesday, saying that a return to the prewar conditions was unacceptable.
“We feel that if the situation goes unaddressed, there is still a very considerable potential for violence,” Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen told reporters in Jerusalem, adding that the Egyptians are about to send out invitations for talks on a permanent ceasefire.
The EU and the Israeli government agree that “a return to the status quo ante is really not an option when it comes to Gaza,” he said. “Therefore we must pursue the dual objectives of, on the one hand, lifting the siege of Gaza, allowing for reconstruction of the area, and a return to some normalcy for the population there, while at the same time safeguarding Israel’s legitimate security issues.” That could be achieved by ensuring that Gaza terror groups such as Hamas cannot rearm, he said. Eventually, “the goal of disarmament” could be feasible, he added.
The dual goals of rehabilitation and demilitarization should be pursued “in parallel and not sequentially,” Faaborg-Andersen said. The first step is for Israel and the Palestinians to start negotiating a long-term ceasefire in Cairo, which should happen “as soon as possible,” he said. “I understand that the Egyptian hosts might be sending out invitations very soon.”
In addition to the Egyptian-brokered talks, the EU wants to see the Palestinian Authority return to Gaza “in order to spearhead the reconstruction,” the ambassador said.
The EU remains committed to assisting with the implementation of any agreement reached by the parties, possibly by manning border crossings and overseeing the import and export of goods to and from the Gaza Strip, he added.
The EU’s representative to the West Bank and Gaza, John Gatt-Rutter, who on Monday visited the Strip, told the Israeli journalists about the “great level of despair and despondency” that exists there. Since not much has changed since before Operation Protective Edge, many Gazans fear that another round of violence could break out shortly, he noted.
“The conditions that were on the ground before the war are very much, unfortunately, the conditions that exist on the ground today,” Gatt-Rutter said. “If anything, things are actually even worse… Because very little has happened following the end of hostilities, there is this very real sense of desperation.”
The people of Gaza are currently angry at all sides — the Israelis, the West, the PA and Hamas, Gatt-Rutter suggested. “I don’t think I’m hearing any good words about anyone in Gaza at the moment,” he said. “There is a lot of anger. A lot of it is aimed at the Palestinians, I have to say. I have to be honest, a lot of it is aimed at the Palestinians, and I’m talking about Palestinians across the board.”