23 October 2023// The Gender Security Project
When a state chooses to call its foreign policy “Feminist,” it must be held accountable to feminist values. One of the mainstays of a feminist engagement is the commitment to interrogate power and systemic and structural violence, including colonization and militarization. In the fortnight since events unfolded in Israel and Palestine, very few countries that have adopted or committed to adopting feminist foreign policies have stepped up to demonstrate (some) feminist values. Most others have continued to perpetuate colonization by picking sides with a settler colonial state without condemning an active campaign of genocide and ethnic erasure, while simultaneously throwing “aid.” This note looks at how each state with an active feminist foreign policy or a commitment to adopt one has responded to the Palestine Question.
Canada declared its support for Israel’s “right to self-defence,” and suggested that it “stands firmly with the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in their right to live in peace, security, with dignity and without fear.” While it demanded the release of all hostages and for their treatment to align with standards in international law, it did not question or challenge Israel’s settler colonialism and targeting of civilians with brutal violence. It indicated its support for the two-state solution and “promised aid” to Palestine.
France called for peace efforts to ensure Israel’s security and a Palestinian state, alluding to the two-state solution. On ground, it banned pro-Palestine protests, but did not crackdown on marches in Paris in support of Israel – the Eiffel Tower was also lit up with the colours of the Israeli flag. France, like Canada, did not condemn the colonial underpinnings of the Palestine question. However, it encouraged the creation of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of aid and for the evacuation of those who want to leave Gaza.
Much like Canada, the Netherlands indicated that it “fully recognizes that Israel has the right to defend itself,” and in a show of solidarity close to that of France, it hoisted the Israeli flag in all its official buildings. It confirmed that its financial aid to Palestine will continue. However, the Prime Minister did not condemn the pro-Palestinian demonstrations that took place across the country, and instead endorsed that they “live in a society that can withstand debate” and that the Netherlands is a “free, democratic society and you can demonstrate as long as you keep to within the letter of the law.”
Germany noted that its “only place” right now is “at Israel’s side,” and that it mourned with and shared Israel’s suffering. Like Canada, Germany also emphasized that “safety in Israel and for Israel must be restored, and that is why Israel must have the capacity to defend itself.” It also warned countries in the region not to show hostility against Israel, saying that “it would be a mistake to attack Israel, and that mistake would not be forgiven.” Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who delivered the statement, indicated an expectation for a “condemnation from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.” This was followed by a declaration that all of Germany’s “development cooperation with Palestinians will be reexamined” with the aim of seeing “how our projects can support peace in the region and support the security of Israel.” Germany also came down heavily on pro-Palestinian protests, banning them with the caveat of prosecution.
Luxembourg was called out at the United Nations, on October 4, 2023, for being “the most anti-Israel EU member state.” However, recalling its position, Luxembourg condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the barbaric terrorist attacks and atrocities committed in recent days by Hamas militants against countless innocent civilians in Israel.” Luxembourg also “unequivocally reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.” However, the official statement also called for a de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, and named the call for 1.1 million people in Northern Gaza to evacuate to the South within 24 hours “deeply troubling.” The statement also noted that “The civilian population in Gaza is not Hamas and it cannot be held responsible and punished collectively for the horrors committed by the latter.” It indicated that “these dramatic events underline the urgency of finding a political settlement to this conflict, which for generations has been a source of misery and grief for both Israelis and Palestinians. A comprehensive, just and lasting peace, based on the two-State solution within the pre-1967 borders, with two democratic States living side by side, while maintaining the status quo on the holy sites of Jerusalem, is the only viable way to achieve this objective.”
Slovenia expressed its solidarity with Israel, condemned the “acts of terrorism and attacks carried out by Hamas,” and “deeply laments the unfortunate loss of innocent civilian lives in the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.” It indicated that it “is committed to preventing an escalation of the conflict and working towards stabilizing the situation, which is essential for initiating a peace process that can rekindle hope for a two-state solution.” It also pledged an additional humanitarian contribution of EUR 150,000 to UNRWA, doubling its humanitarian aid for the current year.
Chile’s official stand included a condemnation of both the Hamas’ brutal attacks and the Israeli army’s indiscriminate violence against the civilians in Gaza, and a call for the two-state solution where “all people will have a dignified and safe life.” A statement from the foreign ministry issued a call for a “just, full, and definitive peace” with room for both, an Israeli and Palestinian state “within mutually agreed upon and internationally recognized secure borders.” A few points to bear in mind: Chile is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Middle East, and its legislature has a large Palestinian caucus. Chile also serves as an observer with the Arab League, being the first non-Arab nation to hold this position.
Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community of about 200,000 in Latin America, expressed its solidarity with the Israeli people, but also condemned Israel’s operations in Gaza. President Fernandez ordered for enhanced security for Jewish institutions within Argentina. Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was one of the last leaders to speak out. While expressing regret for Hamas’ attack, Mexico affirmed that its stance would be one of “neutrality.”
Scotland’s Hamza Yousaf was the first Western leader to call for a ceasefire, and for the establishment of humanitarian corridors for Gaza, requesting the British government to relay his message. Scotland has been clear about its support for Palestine and called out the UK for not showing “a grain of sympathy for the people of Gaza,” and calling the UK’s approach out for using “dog-whistle language.” A fact to bear in mind: The First Minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, has family members who are trapped in Gaza. In an interview with Al Jazeera, he indicated that while “completely understands” why Israel wants to “protect itself from terror…the collective punishment of men, women and children simply cannot be justified. The overwhelming majority have nothing to do with Hamas.” Scotland also called for the UK to take in Palestinian refugees and proposed that Scotland should be the first to volunteer.
Colombia refused to condemn Hamas’ attack on Israel, and went on record to compare Israel’s acts in Gaza with those of Nazi Germany. Shortly after, it also demanded that Israel’s ambassador to Colombia apologize and leave. Colombia noted that “democatic societies cannot allow Nazism to re-establish itself in international politics,” and affirmed that a discourse of hate would lead to “a holocaust,” and that “Terrorism is to kill innocent children, whether it be in Colombia or in Palestine.” Israel called Colombia’s response “hostile and anti-Semitic,” to which Colombia indicated that they do not support genocide, and that they would suspend foreign relations with Israel if they had to. Colombia’s president announced that the country will open an embassy in Ramallah, Palestine, and send humanitarian aid to Gaza. President Gustavo Pedro wrote on X: “I have expressed my position to achieve an international peace conference that opens the way for two independent and free states. I reiterated my solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian children, who must and have the right to live in peace,” he said on X following the meeting.”
Spain has been vocal in its support for Palestine. It has accused the European Union and the US of “being complicit in Israel’s war crimes,” and suggested taking Israel to the International Criminal Court for “war crimes.” It called for a “change of narrative” on the Middle East conflict, and also denounced Israel’s “will to annihilate” the Palestinian people. Spain has been vocal in its support for Palestine, and about criticizing the Israeli occupation. Spain’s equality minister, Irene Montero, and social rights minister, Ione Belarra, have been particularly articulate in presenting this. Montero’s post on social media named Israel’s actions as violations of international criminal law and war crimes. In effect, Spain is the only state to call out Israel in these terms. Israel retaliated against Spain, claiming that it has picked Hamas’ side and that it supports “Isis-styled” terror, a claim Spain rejected.
Libya has historically not normalized ties with Israel, and this stand continues. Liberia has historically supported the establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian land. The Feminist Foreign Policy Plus Group, of which Israel is a member, has not issued any statement. About a month ago, the group adopted a political declaration affirming, inter alia, “We COLLABORATE within the UN system, multilateral contexts, regional and bilateral contexts via our capitals and missions abroad to boost our collective efforts towards global gender equality, including by tackling the root causes of unequal power relations and structures.”
The first thing that stands out is that none of the states have condemned the acts of the occupation of Palestine on part of Israel. There has been no mention of the colonization that has continued for several years, supported and enabled by wealthy, militarily advanced powers. The very use of the veto by the United States of America, in making aid accessible to the people of Gaza, on the ground that the resolution’s text did not mention “Israel’s right to self-defence” at the UN Secretary Council attests to this. Even as we see their “commitment” to aid, no state has named the hand Israel has had in blocking Palestine’s access to aid or called on Israel to stop bombing Gaza. The Rafah border crossing, the only passage in and out of the Gaza Strip that, unlike other border regions is technically controlled by Egypt, which made repeated requests to Israeli authorities for humanitarian aid to pass through. Israel allowed aid to pass through after over 10 days of bombing and violence, but did not stop its use of military force. Between continuing to do aid without any question of the active violence targeting Gaza, and not calling for the end of occupation, there is no feminist foreign policy at work here.
The necropolitics at play is as clear as day: The lives of Palestinian people do not matter to the imperial ways of the colonizer. The military and media industry complex have come together to produce a whole institution beset with misinformation, propaganda, and imperialistic thought that has now taken root in civil society world over, too – so the colonial enterprise and project are no longer only the domain of the powers that be, but are also suitably backed and enabled by businesses, media influencers, and celebrities.
Second, we see a hypocritical, selective application of the standards of International Law. Israel was created in flagrant violation of the UN Charter, which had already been in existence for nearly three years by then. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter outlaws any and all forms of the use of force or the threat of use of force against the sovereignty of a state. Since 1948, Israel’s occupation of Palestine has received a free pass in international relations, without condemnation or prohibition. However, in the face of the Hamas’ attacks, every state has been quick to affirm or agree with or claim to understand Israel’s “right to self-defence” under International Law. Funnily, Article 51 of the UN Charter, which protects this right, is the only exception to Article 2(4). Israel, however, has the intriguing freedom to both violate Article 2(4) and claim the benefit of the only exception to it. The two-state solution that several world powers call for does not account for Palestinian agency and excludes any justice for the people of Palestine altogether.
Finally, we see a re-entrenchment of colonial dynamics by providing “aid” – which is inherently colonial and does nothing to close the widening chasm between wealthy and economically disadvantaged states. Aid is inherently aimed at furthering the colonial project through political subjugation that carefully engineers action and voices on ground into silence. In the words of Soheira Saad of the Rawa fund, aid of all kinds has inflicted harm, destroyed the infrastructure of the Palestinian liberation movement, and has depoliticized the struggle. This script has been run over and over. When overt violence in the form of aerial bombing and genocide takes a break, colonial aid carries out the same work silently.
States with feminist foreign policies have neither prioritized nor adopted a feminist worldview to engage with The Palestine Question: The systemic, structural, and colonial underpinnings have neither been examined, nor the positionality of each state in enabling it been centred.
By actively endorsing Israel’s “right to self-defence” and choosing not to question the brutal genocide and ethnic erasure underway in Gaza and the West Bank, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the derisive mockery of Feminist Foreign Policy among the likes of Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Evidently, the colonial project, as Raghu Karnad noted, is well and alive. No surprise that Israel is a member of the Feminist Foreign Policy Plus Group at the UN, and no surprise that western civil society calling for feminist foreign policies is not asking to question the colonial underpinnings of the Palestine question.
Spain, Colombia, and Scotland have definitely shifted out of the template by holding Israel to account, calling for an investigation of war crimes, and supporting the rights of refugees. However, this is too little, too late. The Palestinian question did not emerge from the events of October 2023. They go back to the inception, and no one is interrogating it from the root up.