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Europe's Approach To Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is More Divided Than Ever

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The European Union had little influence in stopping the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. That's partly because the EU has always struggled to speak with one voice when it comes to the conflict. Attitudes have been changing in Europe since the last major bout of fighting in the Middle East seven years ago, and Europe's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more divided than ever. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has more.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: As fighting raged between the Israeli military and Hamas, EU foreign ministers held an urgent virtual summit. The bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said they were almost unanimous on the need for a cease-fire and the impossibility of returning to the status quo.

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JOSEP BORRELL: How many times we went to violence again and Gaza was destroyed and then we rebuild Gaza? This is not an option. We Europeans today, we have said something very important. We need a true political solution. That's the only way to bring peace.

BEARDSLEY: Nearly unanimous because Hungary refused to endorse the statement. Hugh Lovatt, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, says there's two reasons why Eastern European countries often paralyze European policy toward the Middle East conflict. He says some, like Poland, want to keep U.S. support so rarely veer from the U.S. line, and others - like Slovenia, Austria and Hungary - have populist leaders who identify with Israel's right-wing leadership.

HUGH LOVATT: It's, I think, more about their perception of what they themselves call Judeo-Christian values. There is a large component of ideology involved in it. And specifically with Viktor Orban, the leader of Hungary, I would argue that he sees within Israel and within Netanyahu a reflection of his own identity and image. It's more than just Israel-Palestine; it's about this alignment of ethno-nationalist governments.

BEARDSLEY: Because of the Holocaust, Germany has always been a solid supporter of Israel. What's new in Germany is the recent influx of Muslim refugees, many from Syria, who have grown up with a hatred for Israel.

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BEARDSLEY: Anti-Israel demonstrations by some young Muslims spawned anti-Semitic chants and acts which were condemned by many Germans. The majority of the protests were peaceful, attended by Europeans who see Israel's occupation of Palestinian areas as oppressive and believe Israel uses disproportionate force. In France, which has Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish populations, tensions in the Middle East often play out on the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: Police sprayed pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Paris with water cannons when they showed up for a march that had been banned due to fears of violence. In the past, some have considered French policies pro-Arab, though French presidents usually walk a fine line when it comes to the conflict. But this time, Emmanuel Macron firmly backed Netanyahu, even as he worked for a cease-fire. Some Jews, like French businessman Fabrice Haccoun, say terrorist attacks in France over the last decade have changed people's views

FABRICE HACCOUN: Because of the perception of Islam for several years in France, people now are more close to Jews than before, you know, because they think that our civilization, what we call in France Judeo-Christian, in fact, is threatened by Islam. So that's why now they understand more Israel than before.

BEARDSLEY: A majority of Europeans still want a resumption of the peace process, the end of Israel's occupation and a two-state solution, but there is a growing divide in Europe between those who see Israel as a democracy under threat and those who see the Palestinians as struggling for freedom under an oppressive military power.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG'S "SEASON SHIFT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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