The European Union has stepped in to help solve the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Meeting in Brussels, EU foreign ministers said returning to pre–Operation Protective Edge conditions was "not an option," and that the Union was willing to take a "strong role" in monitoring border crossings.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators passed a five-day cease-fire extension on Thursday, as a previously agreed-upon 72-hour one was coming to a close. The extra time is meant to buy representatives more time to hammer out a deal through mediators in Cairo.
Among the many sticking points in negotiations is the Palestinian demand that Israel lift its blockade on Gaza, which has been in effect since 2007. Israeli officials worry that allowing more goods to pass into the Strip will give Hamas leaders opportunities to smuggle in weapons, which will then be used to attack Israeli civilians.
Yet according to Palestinian negotiators, lifting the blockade is an essential part of raising living standards for Gaza's citizens, who are effectively unable to export products and whose imports are strictly monitored by Israel.
The EU has offered to resume its operations at Gaza's Rafah crossing with Egypt, and to train Palestinian Authority officials who are supposed to take over the bulk of operational work at the crossings. At the U.N. Security Council's request, it would also expand its operations to other checkpoints. (The EU previously monitored the Rafah crossing between 2005 and Israel's withdrawal in 2007.)
According to the AP, EU officials said that lifting the blockade is needed for "a fundamental improvement in the living conditions for the Palestinian people in Gaza."
This is one of many outside expressions of disapproval at Israel's conduct during the latest Gaza operation. The United States recently decided that Israel's new weapons requests would need individual approval from the presidential administration, rather than going through military channels.
Fortunately, Hamas officials say they're nearing an acceptable agreement in Cairo — which hopefully means that this current round of fighting, which has cost about 1,900 Palestinian lives and 67 Israeli ones, will not resume. Leaders of the militant group even say they're willing to let forces controlled by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas control the Rafah crossing under EU supervision.
It's still unclear whether Israeli leaders will accept the agreement, although many negotiations have centered on transferring more power and responsibility to Abbas, who the West sees as more moderate than Hamas. Israel's demands reportedly include obtaining the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in Gaza.
Maybe letting an outside, third party — like the EU — assume a little more border responsibility is not such a bad idea.