The Jenin  Horse in September 2023/Dan Parlaz, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikimedia Commons: Built jointly by the
people of Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the German artist Thomas Klipper, it was a
landmark sculpture made with scrap metal and pieces of cars wrecked during the Israeli
major raid
in 2002. The Jenin Refugee Camp is known to breed suicide bombers.
On 29 October 2023 the Israeli Defense Forces destroyed the Jenin Horse.


by Jack Wright

During the Cairo Summit for Peace held on 21 October and organized by Egyptian President Abdel Al Sisi to address the situation in the Middle East, particularly the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Pedro Sánchez, then Acting President of the Government of Spain, said: “I join the UN Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire.” At the same time, he reiterated Spain’s condemnation of the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself legally and in a humanitarian manner.

Acting President of the Government of Spain Pedro Sanchez speaking at the inaguural session of the Cairo Peace Summit/Pool Moncloa-Borja Puig de la Bellacasa

Conveying the need for this summit to be a first step toward putting an end to the violence and restoring peace in the region, Sánchez stressed the importance of preventing the conflict from turning into a regional crisis. But while he urged the international community to deploy all the necessary political instruments to achieve de-escalation, he pointed out that, more importantly, in the not-so-distant-future, what is truly indispensable is a two-state solution wherein Palestine and Israel would enjoy a peaceful and secure coexistence. This solution, which will be echoed by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, three weeks later, is deemed to offer the Palestinian population a credible horizon of hope and peace based on a common effort, as was offered in the past by the 1991 Madrid Conference and the Oslo Agreements.

“For too many years,” Sánchez said, “the international community thought that we could live without taking too much notice of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But recent events have shown that we were clearly wrong.”

Outside of the official Peace Summit agenda, Sánchez held an informal bilateral meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas during which the Acting President informed the Palestinian that there would be an additional €4 billion in aid to the Palestinian population in Gaza on the Spanish Cooperation program. Twenty-one million euros of this will be delivered before 2023 ends. For its part, the European Commission will triple aid to Gaza, from €27 to €75 million.

Sánchez held another bilateral meeting — with Iraq’s Prime Minister Al Sudani. The two leaders agreed to join forces to achieve de-escalation. But the main goal, as Sánchez would insist, is a two-state situation which is the only hope for durable peace and security for both Israel and Palestine.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council/ (Presidential Press and Information Offices of Azerbaijan), CC BY4.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

Unhappily, attendees from the international community, including the leaders and foreign ministers of  Arab countries Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, and Jordan, and some of the EU countries individually, as well as the United Nations failed not only to achieve a breakthrough in the conflict but also failed even just to issue a joint Declaration after the Summit. While it is true that EU leaders from Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and Italy, as well as the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, attended the Summit to eagerly show to their Arab partners their concern for the civilian population in Gaza, that minimal gesture sparked criticism of hypocrisy and double standards from the outraged Arabs, pointing out that the West has not come out and condemn Israel for Israeli airstrikes in Gaza since 7 October, causing death to thousands of helpless civilians and loss of home to more than a million. If this were committed in Ukraine, they said, the West would have raised an outcry of war crime as indeed they have and do.

The fact that Israel not only ignored the Summit but was actually preparing a ground invasion of Gaza, and the United States sent no senior official (U.S. Embassy Cairo Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Beth Jones attended on behalf of the United States), not to mention the Arab outrage, doomed the Cairo Summit to fail.

And yet all is not lost. While in the pre-Summit days, Europe stopped at proclaiming Israel’s right to self-defense,  apparently there is now a majority opinion that that self-defense should be “in line with international law and with international humanitarian law,” as Charles Michel puts it. Moreover, the two-state solution has begun to sound less like a bizarre option.

Still, the European Union remains cautious about a Palestine state despite  the statement of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, on 15 November 2023:

Josep Borrell/Copyright European Union. Source: European Parliament. CC BY4.0

We must help build a full sovereign Palestinian state, capable of restoring the dignity of the Palestinians and of making peace with Israel and help guarantee the security of both, Israel and Palestine.
We need to work with our regional partners towards a peace conference, to implement the two-state solution. The situation on the ground has certainly made this solution more difficult to realize now than thirty years ago, but it remains the only viable way to bring peace to the region. Therefore, this has to be our goal and our commitment. Otherwise, we will enter into a spiral of violence perpetuated from generation to generation, from funeral to funeral.

Presumably, for Sánchez, the words of the High Representative of the EU Foreign Affairs were only slightly better than platitudes. “My first commitment of the legislature [that is, the parliament that lasts  as long as the prime minister has the confidence of the the Lower House, four years being the full term] is that the new government will work in Europe and of course in Spain to recognize the Palestinian state,” Sánchez told the Spanish Parliament that day.

Pedro Sánchez at Rafah Crossing, Egypt/Pool Moncloa-Puig de la Casabella

On the very day Borrell spoke about the two-state solution, the parliamentary debate in Spain on the investiture of Sánchez as Prime Miniter/President of the Government was going on.The next day he was invested in the office. And just a week later, on November 23 and 24, he was off to a two-day official visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Egypt, making an attention-grabbing twosome with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. (In 2024, Belgium will succeed Spain in the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.)

Posters in the Kirya, Central Tel Aviv, calling for the return of Israeli hostages taken to Gaza. Poster on left-hand side says “Bring our children home.”/Oren Rozen, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The two EU leaders held a press conference at the Egyptian side of the Rafah Crossing where the first thirteen of the Israeli hostages were, en route to Israel released from 49 days of captivity by Hamas. Sánchez and De Croo openly blamed Israel for the suffering of Palestinian civilians and called for a permanent ceasefire. But Sánchez would not stop there.  With an audacity that left many observers open-mouthed with surprise, he said that the time had come for the international community and the European Union to once and for all recognize a Palestinian state. He said it would be better if the EU did it as a unit instead of the individual member-states doing it on their own. “But if this is not the case. . . Spain will take their own decisions.”

At the press conference, Sánchez once again reiterated what he had already said to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before: Israel has the right to defend itself, but within legal and humanitarian bounds: “The indiscriminate killing of civilians, including thousands of boys and girls, is completely unacceptable.”

Belgian Prime Minister De Croo didn’t go so far as to urge the recognition of a Palestinian state. His priority: “Let’s stop the violence. Let’s liberate the hostages. Let’s get the aid inside [Gaza]. . .The first priority is to help people who are suffering.” That done, the parties concerned must come to the table and discuss a concerted effort toward lasting peace, with the understanding that “the solution to [the Israel-Hamas] conflict is never going to be violence.”

Iasraeli Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen: He first summoned the Spanish and Belgian ambassadors in Israel for “a harsh rebuke” and, later, sent for the Israeli Ambassador to Spain  “for consultations” in Jerusalem/US Embassy Jerusalem, C C BY2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

He added: “We cannot accept that a society is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed” in the Israel-Hamas War.

The Jewish state took no time rising to the challenge — but not in the way it was hoped for. Jumping into the fray, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen summoned the Spanish and Belgian ambassadors in Israel for “a harsh rebuke” owing to their respective prime ministers’ “false claims”, and support of “terrorism”.

“Israel is acting according to international law and fighting a murderous terrorist organization worse than [the Islamic State group] that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Cohen asserted.

Separately, Netanyahu said he “strongly” condemns the comments made by Sánchez and De Croo. He upbraided them for not placing “total responsibility on Hamas for the crimes against humanity it perpetrated: massacring Israeli citizens and using Palestinians as human shields.”

Not one to let the rebuke pass unanswered, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares issued a statement that categorically rejected Israel’s accusation. He declared, “The Israeli government’s accusations against the President of the Government and the Belgian Prime Minister are totally false and unacceptable.” Moreover, he said that Sánchez’s two-day visit with his Belgian colleague was about seeking “a path to peace.”

Palestinian children rushed to hospital following Israeli airstrike in Gaza on 11 Oc tober 2023/Palestinian News and Information Agency in contract with APAimages, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped. Partial face blot-out supplied.

A full-blown diplomatic crisis has threatened to erupt. Spain’s foreign ministry said on public television that he himself had convoked the Israeli ambassador in Madrid, Rodica Radian-Gordon, to lodge a formal protest against her government’s allegations against Pedro Sánchez. Incidentally, Sánchez, who has been invested President of the Government/Prime Minister with an absolute majority of the Parliamentary vote on the 16th November 2023, now presides over a coalition government with Sumar, a far-left political party.

Sánchez seemed unstoppable on the Israel-Palestine issue. On 30 November, he said in an interview on public television TVE: “With the images we are seeing and the increasing number, especially of children, who are dying, I have srious doubts that [Israel] is respecting international humanitarian law.”

Ambassador Rodica Radian-Gordon attends Holocaust Memorial Day in Madrid when Spain-Israeli friendship showed no cracks (2020)/Diario de Madrid, CC BY4.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

Israel responded to what it deemed a “shameful” remark by Sanchez, summoning the Spanish ambassador for a reprimand and recalling the Israeli Ambassador to Madrid  for consultations. Cohen posted on X: “Following the outrageous words of the Spanish Prime Minister, who repeats baseless accusations, I have decided to call the Israeli Ambassador to Spain to return to Jerusalem for consultations”. A move that is nothing to shrug off, being an  indication of extreme displeasure and disagreement and could lead to the outright breaking off of diplomatic relations.

But Sánchez wouldn’t blink. He pointed out that “one can tell one’s friends some home truths” even if they hurt.


Video on X



Sources: “President’s News,” , La Moncloa, Gobierno de España, 21 November 2023. Others.