The European Union has announced that it will not suspend payment of development aid to Palestinians, reversing course after an earlier announcement that it would freeze all aid payments was met with widespread criticism.
After stating that it was putting all 691 million euros ($728m) of development aid to Palestinians under review, the EU later said it would review payments to ensure they are not being misused. The bloc of European nations offered no explanation for the reversal.
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“There will be no suspension of payments,” a short European Commission statement said late on Monday, five hours after EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi had said that all payments from the development programme for Palestinians would be “immediately suspended. All projects put under review. All new budget proposals … postponed until further notice”.
Varhelyi’s announcement appeared to take several member states by surprise, with Spain, Ireland and Luxembourg expressing dissent and critics accusing the EU of punishing all Palestinians for an attack by Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis and drawn widespread condemnation. The EU had also firmly reiterated that it does not send aid, directly or indirectly, to Hamas, leading some to question the purpose of the cuts.
“[Foreign Minister] Jose Manuel Albares called European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi to say he disagrees with this decision,” Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said following the initial announcement.
“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,” a spokesman for Ireland’s foreign ministry had also said.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also said that his government did not support the suspension of aid.
Hamas’s assault into southern Israel has killed at least 800 people and wounded thousands of others – the deadliest attack of its kind in several decades. The Palestinian group also captured more than 100 hostages in the lightning assault on Saturday. The assault included an attack on an Israeli music festival, where an Israeli rescue service said it has recovered more than 260 bodies.
More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air attacks on Gaza since Saturday and thousands of others wounded. Some air raids have struck residential buildings and mosques and tens of thousands of Palestinian residents have fled their homes to seek shelter in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Israel has warned it will carry out a crushing assault on Hamas in Gaza, the besieged and densely populated enclave home to 2.3 million Palestinians. Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced that he ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off access to food, electricity, water and fuel.
The scale of terror and brutality against #Israel and its people is a turning point.
There can be no business as usual.
As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of EUR 691m
— Oliver Varhelyi (@OliverVarhelyi) October 9, 2023
Most of the funds from the EU had been reserved for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs some areas of the occupied West Bank.
The PA, which has a longstanding and bitter rivalry with Hamas, has previously worked with Israeli authorities to repress the group’s presence in the West Bank, a policy that has damaged the PA’s legitimacy in the eyes of many Palestinians who see it as complicit in the Israeli occupation.
The EU said in February that it would send 296 million euros ($312m) in financial assistance to help cover expenses for the PA, such as infrastructure projects and civil servant salaries.
The EU previously said it would provide “up to 1.177 billion euros [$1.24bn] in financial support from 2021 to 2024”.
European Parliament Member Evin Incir criticised Varhelyi’s initial announcement, saying that punishing all Palestinians for the attack by Hamas “will only fuel the ongoing violence”.
“Some of the money goes through the Palestinian Authority to the people in the country and some goes directly to different actors as civil society organisations. It doesn’t go to Hamas,” Incir told Al Jazeera.
“And this is something that Commissioner Varheyli knows very well. But he is trying to lie in the face of the European people and trying to connect the EU financial support to Hamas. It doesn’t go there. It goes through the Palestinian Authority.”