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European Commission to review but not suspend development aid for Palestine

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Picture: European Union/Handout via Xinhua – ‘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,’ said Josep Borrell, a commission vice-president and high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy.

By Jessica Corbett

Following Hamas’ deadly weekend attack on Israel, which responded with an assault of the occupied Gaza Strip, the European Commission explained in a statement Monday that it is “launching an urgent review” of development assistance for Palestine but “as there were no payments foreseen, there will be no suspension of payments”.

Some journalists and observers described the move as a “U-turn” or “backtrack” given comments earlier Monday by European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi — who, as Reuters noted, “was nominated for his post by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a staunch ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The commission — an executive arm of the European Union — is made up of commissioners from the 27 member states, including Várhelyi. He said on X, formerly Twitter, that “as the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review”, with “all payments immediately suspended”.

The Hungarian’s comments about the €691 million ($730 million) programme and related reporting provoked fierce condemnation. According toPolitico, Jean Asselborn Luxembourg’s foreign minister, “was the first senior European official to publicly break rank, criticising Várhelyi’s announcement”.

Pointing to an upcoming emergency meeting, Asselborn told local media that “the decision on this is up to the member states and it is only on Tuesday that the foreign ministers from the 27 EU countries will meet to discuss it”.

Reuters reported that Ireland, Portugal, and Spain also “publicly voiced alarm while other countries did so behind the scenes”.

“The European Commission’s decision to suspend all aid to Palestinians is a grave error,” declared Ireland’s Grace O’Sullivan, a Greens/European Free Alliance member of the European Parliament. “In light of the deteriorating situation in Gaza where EU funding supports hospitals, schools, and food programme, we cannot and should not cut this lifeline for millions of people.”

MSNBC journalist Mehdi Hasan said that “the collective blaming and punishment continues on both sides of the Atlantic”.

Along with highlighting the official statement — which came hours after Várhelyi’s initial remarks — Josep Borrell, a commission vice-president and high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, blasted the suspension idea on social media.

“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,” asserted Borrell, who is Spanish.

The commission said in its statement that it “unequivocally condemns the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel over the weekend,” and “in addition to the existing safeguards, the objective of this review is to ensure that no EU funding indirectly enables any terrorist organisation to carry out attacks against Israel.”

“The commission will equally review if, in light of the changed circumstances on the ground, its support programmes to the Palestinian population and to the Palestinian Authority need to be adjusted,” the group added. “The commission will carry out this review as soon as possible and coordinate with member states and partners any follow-up action necessary.”

The commission also noted that “this review does not concern humanitarian assistance provided under European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations,” which European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič similarly stressed on social media.

“While I most strongly condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas, it is imperative to protect civilians and respect [international humanitarian law],” the Slovenian said. “EU humanitarian aid to Palestinians in need will continue as long as needed.”

Meanwhile, according to The Associated Press, “the EU’s most populous member, Germany, and its neighbor Austria, said they were suspending development aid for the Palestinian areas for the moment.”

Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams