By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — The European Commission said on Monday (9 October) it has put all of its development financing for Palestine under review following the weekend’s Hamas attack on Israel that drew general condemnation from the West.
“The scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual,” Neighbourhood Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said, announcing the step.
“As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of €691m[illion],” he added.
According to Várhelyi, this would include “all payments immediately suspended, all projects put under review, all new budget proposals, including for 2023 postponed under further notice [and] a comprehensive assessment of the whole portfolio”.
The EU is a major donor to Palestine and has pledged €1.18 billion in financial support from 2021 to 2024 in a joint programme for the West Bank and Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.
EU-supported projects are delivered by partners on the ground such as NGOs.
“EU funding supports most essential services for the Palestinian population and contributes direct financing also to the Palestinian Authority,” European Commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero told a briefing in Brussels on Monday.
The EU’s lead foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said: “Whatever adjustment of the EU position and reaction to what is still going on on the ground will come from that meeting (Tuesday) in the form of an agreed EU position.”
European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer said there are “strict controls in place in order to ensure that there is no direct or indirect financing [for Hamas].”
The announcement comes shortly after Germany and Austria suspended all aid to the Palestinian territories in response to the terror attack against Israel by Gazan militants on Monday, ramping up pressure on the EU to also freeze its assistance.
German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said on Sunday evening the German government had to review “its entire engagement for the Palestinian territories”, while Berlin announced on Monday that bilateral aid worth €125 million due this year has been suspended pending a “comprehensive” examination into how much aid was being used.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala welcomed the “EU’s decision to examine the flow of European money to the Palestinian territories”, adding that this was a step he had “previously supported”.
Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told Austrian national radio after Vienna’s aid worth €19 million has also been stopped that “the extent of the terror is so horrific (…) that we cannot go back to business as usual”.
“We will therefore put all payments from Austrian development cooperation on ice for the time being,” Schallenberg added.
Several EU member states, including Italy, are not in favour of freezing bilateral or EU funding. Italy will continue its humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories, the Italian foreign ministry said on Monday.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said he disagreed with Várhelyi’s announcement, saying that it would be for EU member states to decide on freezing aid, according to Luxembourger Wort.
EU foreign ministers are to convene on Tuesday afternoon (10 October) for an emergency meeting and are expected to discuss both the unfolding situation in Israel and future funding for Palestinians.