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European Union ‘immediately’ suspends all aid to Palestine after Hamas attacks on Israel

The EU’s most populous member, Germany, and its neighbor Austria, also said they were suspending development aid for Palestinian territories

A handout photo made available by the European Commission showing a light projection of the Israeli flag on the Berlymont, the headquarters of the European Commission, in Brussels, Belgium, 08 October 2023
A light projection of the Israeli flag on the Berlymont, the headquarters of the European Commission, in Brussels, Belgium, October 8, 2023.Jennifer Jacquemart / HANDOUT (EFE)

The European Commission has decided to “suspend all payments immediately” of development aid to Palestine in response to the Hamas attacks on Israel. “The scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual,” warned EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi on X (formerly Twitter). “As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review,” worth a total of €691 million ($728 million), he added. The Commission’s decision comes after Germany and Austria also said they were suspending development aid for Palestinian territories, totaling some €144 million ($152 million).

Hamas, an Islamist movement that does not recognize the Jewish state and is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, launched a massive surprise attack on Israel on Saturday that killed around 700 people in its territory, mostly civilians. Around 100 people were taken hostage on a day that is already considered the deadliest day in the seven-decade-long conflict. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured that Israel is “going to change the Middle East” in its response to the offensive launched over the weekend by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

“All new budget proposals,” including the one for 2023, are “postponed until further notice” and the Commission will do “comprehensive assessment of the whole portfolio,” Commissioner Varhelyi specified. “Incitement to hatred, violence and glorification of terror have poisoned the minds of too many. We need action and we need it now,” he added.

The EU decision comes after the German government said Monday that it is suspending bilateral aid worth €125 million ($132 million) planned for this year, pending a “thorough” review of how the aid was being used. Austria has also announced a halt to payments worth €19 million ($20 million).

Across Europe, there are different opinions regarding the freezing of bilateral and EU funding. Italy, for example, assured this Monday that it intends to maintain aid to the Palestinian territories. The country argues that cutting off the supply of funds would punish civilians more than the perpetrators of the attack.

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states will meet this Tuesday, most of them by videoconference, to analyze the joint reaction of the bloc to the attack. On Monday, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, said on X: “There can be no justification for anyone to target innocent civilians, ever,” in reference to the 260 young people killed at a concert on Saturday by the Islamist group Hamas.

The EU has committed some €1.18 billion ($1.24 billion) in financial support to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (ruled by Hamas) starting in 2021 and running through next year. Brussels has explained that the funded projects — in education, democracy and sustainable economy — are carried out by NGOs and other partners and that, following a policy of not maintaining any contact with Hamas, these funds have not gone to the organization. “The EU does not directly or indirectly fund Hamas or its terrorist activities,” a spokesman said Monday. However, it is now taking the decision to suspend those payments.

Germany’s Development Minister Svenja Schulze, a Social Democrat, said in a statement Sunday that the attacks were “a terrible watershed” and that Germany would coordinate with its allies to find the best way to respond. She added that the German government was preparing to review “its entire commitment to the Palestinian territories.” Then, on Monday, a spokesperson confirmed that aid was being halted on a “temporary” basis.

Germany’s decision has provoked criticism among members of the coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and liberals headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. SPD parliamentary foreign policy group spokesman Nils Schmid spoke out against the measure in an interview with Die Welt: “Germany’s financial aid gives people better access to health care, water, and sanitation.” Green parliament member Jürgen Trittin is of the same opinion: “If humanitarian aid is cut off now, terrorism will not be deprived of its breeding ground. It will be strengthened,” he said.

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