Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

EU commission silent on Israeli evidence into UNRWA

  • 'The situation is catastrophic. There is not a single house that was not damaged' said an UNRWA staff member (Photo: UNRWA)
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An investigation into the alleged involvement in the 7 October attacks against Israel by a handful of staff working for UNRWA, the UN agency helping Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, will likely determine whether it continues to get EU funds.

But the European Commission's position to first see the results of the internal UN probe, before making any decision on dispersing aid, appears not to be based on any Israeli evidence.

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Asked if they had received any evidence from the Israelis, the European Commission skirted the question. Instead, they said it is up to Israel to communicate if and with whom they shared the evidence.

"What is important for us are the declarations and actions by UNRWA," said a European Commission spokesperson, in an email on Wednesday (7 February).

Martin Konečný, who runs the Brussels-based European Middle East Project, described the European Commission statement as an embarrassment.

"Either they are embarrassed they didn't even request it [Israeli evidence], or they are embarrassed they requested it and didn't get anything from the Israelis," he commented.

Under normal conditions, UNRWA is set to receive €82m from the EU by the end of February.

It is a sum with massive consequences for an agency grappling with the ongoing fallout of a war that has killed over 25,000 Gazans, mostly women and children.

And a UNRWA spokesperson said the €82m is a "contribution as per multiyear agreement."

The scheduled payment and pending uncertainty over the money comes at a critical time for UNRWA, which fired a dozen of its staff members in the Gaza Strip over allegations they were involved in the 7 October terror attacks against Israel.

UNRWA has some 30,000 people working for it. It has also lost over 150 staff, killed during the war, and suffered damage to some 145 of its facilities in the Gaza Strip.

Should those investigations not conclude before the month, the payments could be postponed — putting in jeopardy the needs of around two million people.

But when pressed, the European Commission wouldn't confirm such a possibility.

"There are no current payments foreseen for UNRWA until the end of this month. We will cross that bridge when we get there. There is no decision on this yet," said a European Commission spokesperson.

Instead, the Brussels-executive wants UNRWA audited by EU appointed independent experts, as well as review of all its staff to confirm they did not participate in the attacks. They also want the agency's internal investigation's department strengthened.

But their wait-and-see position stands in contrast to a handful of EU states, plus Norway, that will continue funding the agency anyway.

Three groups of donor states, based on their responses, have since emerged.

The first is those that will continue funding: Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain.

The second is those that will wait for investigation results with no new payments planned: EU, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

And the third category, the largest, is those that are suspending payments: Austria, Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.

The issue has also seen splits within the European Parliament and EU institutions.

"The [EU] audit is essential to decide about the future of EU funding to UNRWA … We cannot give European taxpayer's money to organisations that employ terrorists who have committed the biggest massacre against Jews since the Holocaust," Monika Hohlmeier, a German centre-right MEP who chairs the parliament's budgetary committee, told EUobserver.

"What bothers me a lot in this regard is that the European External Action Service, and the EU Commission, year-after-year, told parliament that the spending to UNRWA is going well, while in reality one allegation after the other is confirmed as true."

Instead of UNRWA, Hohlmeier argued that the EU commission should support other organisations such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

However, according to EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, "defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous".

Handful of EU states plus Norway will keep funding UNRWA

The EU Commission is reevaluating its funding to UNRWA in light of allegations of 12 staff involvement in the 7 October attack against Israel. Despite the international pressure, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Denmark and Norway will continue their funding.

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