Tuesday

16th Apr 2024

EU in PR meltdown on Palestine aid

  • EU neighbourhood commissioner Olivér Várhelyi (r) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who is a staunch Israeli supporter (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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The European Commission isn't stopping aid to Palestine after all, following a day of U-turns and confusion on the Israel war.

"There will be no suspension of payments," the commission said in a press release late on Monday (9 October).

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"All payments immediately suspended," EU neighbourhood commissioner Olivér Várhelyi had announced via his X account a few hours earlier.

Várhelyi's declaration made world headlines in a feverish media climate.

But it caused surprise after the commission had previously told press on Monday that EU foreign ministers would decide on aid at a meeting in Muscat on Tuesday.

It drew complaints from Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain, as well as humanitarian organisations.

"Our understanding is that there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual commissioner and we do not support a suspension of aid," the Irish foreign ministry told Reuters.

"We cannot confuse Hamas, a terrorist group, with the Palestinian population, a population that has enormous needs and, looking at the images, is going to have many more," Spanish foreign minister José Manuel Albares told Spanish radio.

Várhelyi's department is in charge of the EU's €691m Palestine aid budget.

The Hungarian politician has a track record of making maverick anti-Palestinian decisions that he is later forced to take back.

But Monday's confusion went further than that.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also made matters worse.

Following Várhelyi's tweet and the commission press release, Borrell tweeted that "the European Commission will not suspend the due payments" to Palestine.

But this contradicted the press release, which had said "in the meantime ... there were no [due] payments foreseen".

And whatever happens to Palestine aid after EU foreign ministers meet on Tuesday, the EU Commission also mishandled its message on how its money had been spent before the war.

The commission press release said there would be "an urgent review of the EU's assistance for Palestine" to "ensure that no EU funding indirectly enables any terrorist organisation to carry out attacks against Israel".

But its own spokeswoman, speaking to press earlier on Monday, had categorically ruled out that this was even possible.

"The EU is not funding [Palestinian group] Hamas or their terrorist activities directly or indirectly", she had said, citing the existence of "vetting" procedures and other "very strict controls".

Borrell explained the EU Commission's thinking in trying to keep aid flowing.

"The suspension of the payments — punishing all the Palestinian people — would have damaged the EU interests in the region and would have only further emboldened terrorists," he said.

Humanitarian group Oxfam added: "The mere prospect of suspending aid is not only alarming but is unacceptable".

"Suspending aid will be a collective punishment jeopardising the lives of countless Palestinians," it said.

The EU has also faced criticism for giving Israel a carte blanche to retaliate against Palestinian civilians following Saturday's massacre of hundreds of Israelis by Hamas.

And looking further back at EU diplomacy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Oxfam said: "Lack of decisive political action ... has perpetuated this endless cycle of violence and retaliation placing civilians in the crossfire".

Meanwhile, the death toll continued to rise on Tuesday, with over 1,400 people killed on both sides so far.

And any talk of future EU aid payments to Gaza stood in stark contrast to battlefield realities, after Israel blocked even water, food, and electricity supplies to Gaza's 2.3 million people in the first day of its siege.

EU halts Palestine aid as Israel cuts Gaza off

The EU has frozen aid to Palestine following the massacre of at least 700 Israeli civilians, even as Israel cuts off water, electricity and food supplies to Gaza.

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In spite of backtracking by the European Commission, few realise that the EU's funding to Palestine for the year 2024 is effectively on hold, just as the commission advances €18m for Israel, writes Irish MEP Barry Andrews of Renew Europe.

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