Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

EU to resume Palestine funding, amid overture to Israel

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The EU Commission is unfreezing aid funds for Palestine, while deepening relations with Israel despite its occupation regime.

The decision to unblock money came in a vote in Brussels on Monday (13 June), EU sources said, in an obscure procedure known as "comitology", in which EU states' delegates vote on commission proposals.

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Hungary, the most staunchly pro-Israeli EU country, was the only one to vote No, sources added, but Budapest did not reply to EUobserver's questions.

The commission also declined to confirm the decision, saying only that Palestine "can continue to count on the EU's long-term support".

The move came the same day as commission president Ursula von der Leyen began a Middle East trip that will take her to Israel, Palestine, and Egypt, with the funding deal expected to be made public when she meets Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah on Tuesday.

The EU, Palestine's largest donor, has been withholding some €215m for the past six months as Hungarian EU commissioner Olivér Várhelyi tried and failed to garner support to make the money conditional on the Palestinian Authority removing what he deemed to be anti-Israeli content from its school textbooks

The hiatus caused shortages in Palestinian hospitals, with German TV reporting that cancer patients, among others, were being turned down for treatment.

"These restrictions punish those who are in the final stages of their illness and cannot take life-saving medicines, children are starving because families cannot afford food. Palestinians are paying the cruelest price for the political decisions made in Brussels," Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, also said in May.

But despite the relief on EU money, Shtayyeh might have little else to thank von der Leyen for.

Palestinian grievances include the upcoming Israeli expulsion of some 1,000 Palestinians from the Masafer Yatta area in the West Bank — the largest such move since the 1967 war.

They include ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and day-to-day Israeli violence against Palestinians, 62 of whom were killed by security forces or settlers in incidents so far this year, according to the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD), a Ramallah-based civil group.

They also include the recent Israeli blacklisting of a pro-Palestinian MEP, harassment of left-wing NGOs, and new restrictions on visits by foreigners to the West Bank.

But for all that the main focus of von der Leyen's trip is set to be the agreement on a new memorandum on deepening energy ties with Egypt and Israel — a way for making up for lost Russian gas due to the Ukraine war.

The Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, is also visiting Israel at the same time to help seal the deal.

And Israel, for its part, showed goodwill by joining an EU cultural grants programme this weekend even though Europe is refusing to include Israeli settler entities in the scheme.

"It's a very problematic approach [the EU-Israel energy deal] that basically gives the green light to Israeli ethnic cleansing in Masafer Yatta and impunity for Israeli violence," the PIPD's Ines Abdelrazek told EUobserver.

"It also shows EU cognitive dissonance on Israel and Russia," she added.

"On one hand, the EU is trying to reduce energy dependence on Russia due to its aggression and occupation of Ukraine. But it's replacing this with increasing dependence on another brutal occupier — Israel — which operates an apartheid regime vis-a-vis the Palestinians," she also said.

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