EU Must Act on Israel-Palestine Conflict, Parliament Member Argues

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy

Grace O’Sullivan of the Irish Green Party charges in journal interview that words alone will produce only “the slow death of the two-state solution.” 

More than 1,500 Israelis and Americans have urged Jewish groups in the United States to denounce not just the judicial reforms pursued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but also the occupation of Palestinian territories. Alongside this appeal, a member of the European Parliament is pressing her colleagues to move beyond simply calling for a two-state solution and take the initiative to achieve it. 

“Hardly a month goes by without a condemnation from EU leaders of Israeli human-rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, yet those condemnations are never accompanied by action,” Grace O’Sullivan, a member of the European Parliament since 2019 and part of its delegation on Palestine, tells Roger Gaess in an interview published in Middle East Policy. “On the contrary, trade and cooperation with Israel has only increased over recent years, effectively rewarding Israel for its actions.” 

O’Sullivan, a member of the Irish Green Party, acknowledges that some countries have recognized the State of Palestine, though Sweden is the only one to have done it while a member (others did so before joining). However, she contends, this move was not “backed up by sufficient action in terms of diplomatic pressure on other EU states, and successive right-wing governments in Sweden have failed to live up to the promises that come with recognition of statehood.”  

Perhaps more important, O’Sullivan contends, Sweden’s unilateral recognition is not a model that smaller states like Ireland can emulate. She argues instead for collaboration with neighbors to build momentum and push for concrete measures to advance statehood. 

Still, the European representative tells Gaess that the rise of Netanyahu’s coalition—which includes members of the Jewish Power party and Religious Zionist Party, some of whom deny the existence of the Palestinian people—may help the push for concrete action.  

“The far-right government in Israel has made no secret of its intention to accelerate the annexation of the West Bank and to increase the violent repression of the people who live there and work the land,” she tells Gaess. “The Israeli government normally benefits from the protection of strong EU member states; however, as the government in Tel Aviv lurches toward the authoritarian, this support is waning.” 

So what can the EU do? O’Sullivan argues that Europe, Israel’s largest trade partner, can wield influence through economic measures: “a ban on trade with illegal settlements, commercial action and boycott from civil society, cutting EU cooperation and research funding, and a ban on weapons sales to Israel as long as the occupation continues.”  

However, she laments, the continent’s leaders are unwilling to take bold action. Europeans “must be prepared to engage better with the Palestinian Authority,” she argues.  

This would include supporting elections for new Palestinian leadership—and accepting the outcome as an expression of popular will. While she contends that extremism by nonstate actors as well as states must be countered, O’Sullivan sees hope in the Irish experience of overcoming divisions through the Northern Ireland peace process. In that case, she observes, militants were successfully brought “into the democratic and nonviolent political fold.”  

“I am fully convinced that game-changing progress on the Israel-Palestine issue is possible if the EU and its member states change their current approach and develop their own independent foreign policy on the issue, independent of US policy,” she asserts. 


Among the major takeaways readers can find in Gaess’s Middle East Policy article, “The EU and Justice in Palestine: An Interview with Grace O’Sullivan”: 

  • The European Union and its member states have consistently called for a two-state solution, but they have not been consistent.  

    • A handful of countries have recognized the State of Palestine.  

    • Trade and cooperation with Israel have increased, effectively rewarding actions against a two-state solution. 

  • O’Sullivan argues that the EU should prioritize

    • a ban on trade with illegal settlements 

    • civil-society boycotts 

    • cutting cooperation and research funding 

    • a ban on weapons sales to Israel during the occupation. 

  • O’Sullivan’s Green Party has insisted that Ireland recognize Palestine, but small states like Sweden have found that this has not put pressure on other EU members. 

  • Israel has successfully turned the occupation into a partisan issue, finding support in some European parties and states. 

    • O’Sullivan’s delegation supporting Palestinian human rights has strong left-wing membership, but the Parliament Delegation for relations with Israel is generally more right-wing and conservative. 

    • The EU needs to improve the diversity in the makeup of its respective mission delegations to Palestine and Israel, O’Sullivan argues. 

    • Many EU members, such as Hungary, will continue to develop ties with Israel, irrespective of the leadership. 

  • If Israel curtails the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community, unconditional support may be waning—not just in Europe, but within Israeli civil society. 

  • O’Sullivan criticizes Israel for blocking some outside observers from traveling to the occupied territories, as it has done with members of her delegation. 

    • This “is the behavior of a regime that doesn’t want the public to know what is going on inside its borders,” she laments. 

  • O’Sullivan believes the EU can learn from Ireland’s past in working actively to bring militant political parties into the democratic and nonviolent political fold. This could be applied to Palestinian and Israeli paramilitaries.  

  • O’Sullivan criticizes the EU Commission president for a deal increasing natural-gas imports from Israel and Egypt following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

  • Israel has been ignoring the EU’s requests for compensation for its destruction and theft of EU-funded projects in the occupied West Bank. Schools and facilities built with EU funds have been demolished and destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces. 

  • After criticizing the Palestinian Authority for not holding elections, the EU and member states must accept the results whenever voting does take place.  


You can read Roger Gaess’s Middle East Policy article, “The EU and Justice in Palestine: An Interview with Grace O’Sullivan,” in the Fall 2023 issue of Middle East Policy, forthcoming in September. 

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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