Despite the horrific and mounting human costs of the grave violations of international humanitarian law in Israel and Palestine, the 27 EU member states have been unable to reach a unanimous position condemning war crimes committed by all parties and calling for accountability. But the Belgian government has shown that it is possible for individual EU governments to stick to principles and not hide behind a lack of consensus at the EU level.
In a series of public statements, senior figures in the Belgian government, including Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister Petra De Sutter, Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, and Development Minister Caroline Gennez, not only condemned the heinous October 7 killings by Palestinian armed groups, but also questioned the legality of some Israeli airstrikes, condemned its collective punishment of the Palestinian population, and called for targeted sanctions and accountability for those responsible. The Belgian government also expressed support for the International Criminal Court’s role and its ongoing investigation on the situation in Palestine, which includes jurisdiction over the current hostilities between the Israeli government and Palestinian armed groups. Also, the Belgian federal parliament has introduced a bill to ban trade with settlements in occupied territories.
EU governments have long been divided on Israel-Palestine. The divide has paralyzed the EU, whose foreign policy has to be unanimously approved by its 27 states, some of which continue to offer seemingly unconditional support for the Israeli government and shield it from accountability. In fact, European diplomats had to fight to secure even basic calls to Israeli authorities to respect international humanitarian law in their response to the October 7 attacks.
It should not be difficult for a bloc that promotes the universal application of international law both to urge the Israeli government to stop committing war crimes and other grave abuses, which are causing enormous suffering to Gaza’s civilian population, and to condemn Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian armed groups for their killing of Israeli civilians and hostage taking.
Yet, as the EU seems currently unable to reach such position, it’s up to each of its member states to speak up for international law and adopt measures to protect human rights and advance accountability. The Belgian government has shown that it can be done. Others should follow suit.