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An explosion in a mosque in Gaza after it was bombed by Israeli planes. Alamy Stock Photo

EU reverses commissioner's decision to suspension of development aid payments to Palestinians

EU foreign ministers will tomorrow hold urgent talks on the situation in Israel and Gaza.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Oct 2023

THE EUROPEAN COMMISION has reversed its decision to suspend development aid payments to Palestinians, contradicting its commissioner for Neighbourhood and Engagement Oliver Varhelyi.

Earlier, Varhelyi posted on social media earlier that the EU is also placing €691 million of support “under review” after the Hamas assault on Israel.

“The scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual,” Varhelyi posted.

“As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of €691 million,” he added, in a message confirmed by a commission spokesman.

Varhelyi said the move meant “all payments immediately suspended. All projects put under review. All new budget proposals, including for 2023 postponed until further notice. Comprehensive assessment of the whole portfolio”.

The move was criticised by the Irish government as it believed there was “no legal basis” for the Commissioner’s “unilateral decision”.

EU foreign ministers are to hold emergency talks tomorrow on the situation in Israel and Gaza after the unprecedented attack by Hamas Islamist militants.

“Incitement to hatred, violence and glorification of terror have poisoned the minds of too many,” Varhelyi said. “We need action and we need it now.”

While the European Commission press service confirmed Varhelyi’s statement, it raised eyebrows in Brussels and in Ireland. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement this evening that its “understanding is that there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual Commissioner”. 

“We do not support a suspension of aid. We are formally requesting the Commission to clarify the legal basis for this announcement,” the Department said. 

The Department added that “Ireland has a long-standing commitment tosupport humanitarian aid and development projects in the occupied Palestinian territory”. 

“Irish funding provides emergency humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, while also supporting the Palestinian Authority to deliver basic public services,” it said. 

“Ireland has also consistently funded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) which addresses the humanitarian and development needs of 5.7million Palestinian refugees,” the Department said.

It noted that currently up to 80% of the Palestinian population is “dependent on international assistance for basic human needs”. 

Luxembourg’s acting foreign minister Jean Asselborn insisted that his government did not support the suspension of aid.

“Two million people live in Gaza. They are also hostages of Hamas. With these methods, we push them into the arms of terrorists,” he said.

“We are the largest donor to Gaza. This help is important for young people. This is not money for Hamas. It is for the people of Gaza,” he told AFP.

But the EU suspension is likely to be supported by other EU states, including the richest, Germany, which announced that it was suspending its own direct aid to the Palestinians.

“It is being examined, that is, temporarily suspended,” said a spokeswoman from the German ministry for economic cooperation and development.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said the suspension of aid is “an entirely cynical and unhelpful move”.

“My understanding is that it was a unilateral imposition of a Commissioner. I hope and expect that the Irish government and many others will strongly oppose such a move,” Carthy said. 

“The suggest that the answer to this in any way lies with removing development aid to Palestine, to me, is bonkers,” he said. 

Irish MEP Grace O’Sullivan has said she has been “horrified by the unfolding violence”.

“As a member of the European Parliament delegation to Palestine, I call on European leaders and institutions to focus all efforts on ending hostilities immediately, providing humanitarian assistance to victims and brokering a lasting two-state solution for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples without delay,” O’Sullivan said. 

Sher said that “the European Commission’s decision to suspend all aid to Palestinians is a mistake in light of the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza where EU funding supports hospitals, schools and food security programmes”.

“As a neutral country with a recent history of conflict and reconciliation, Ireland has a particularly important role to play in ending the cycle of terror attacks and the systemic violence of the occupation,” O’Sullivan said.

“Ireland should engage with its international partners to deescalate the situation and prevent further loss of life.”

Spain has also said that it “disagrees” with a decision to suspend development aid.

“(Foreign Minister) Jose Manuel Albares, called European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi to say he disagrees with this decision,” Spain’s foreign ministry said, adding that Albares called for this to be discussed at today’s meeting of European foreign ministers.

The EU announced in February that it was contributing €296 million for the 2022 budget year to help the Palestinian Authority pay civil servant salaries, pensions, medical services and fund infrastructure projects.

The bloc says it would provide “up to €1.177 billion in financial support from 2021 to 2024″.

A European Commission spokeswoman insisted earlier today that EU aid “does not fund Hamas or any other terrorist organisation activities, either directly or indirectly”.

With reporting by © AFP 2023, Muiris O’Cearbhaill and Press Association