EU, Germany, Austria suspend funding for Palestinian Authority

‘There an be no business as usual,’ says European Union, freezing funding of Palestinians after Hamas invasion and PA’s refusal to condemn it.

By The Associated Press

The European Union announced Monday that it was “immediately” suspending hundreds of millions of euros in aid for the Palestinian Authority because of what an EU commissioner called the “scale of terror and brutality” during the Hamas invasion of Israel.

Germany and Austria also announced similar measures.

“We need action and we need it now,” EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi tweeted.

It also underscored EU support for Israel since the Hamas attacks started on Saturday, including that Israel had now every right to defend itself within the bounds of international law.

The surprise announcement by Varhelyi on development aid came just hours after EU officials stressed that no EU money whatsoever was going to Hamas in the first place and that contacts had been frozen for 16 years.

The EU considers Hamas a terror group.

After hours of uncertainty over how deep the measures would reach and whether they would possibly also affect aid to those in immediate need, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said that the most urgently needed aid to Palestinians “will continue as long as needed.”

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“While I most strongly condemn the terrorist attack,” Lenarčič said, “it is imperative to protect civilians.”

Beyond that, Varhelyi said that “as the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review,” which he said amounted to 691 million euros ($730 million).

Varhelyi said that the measures include that “all payments (be) immediately suspended. All projects put under review. All new budget proposals … postponed until further notice.”

The EU says it is the biggest donor to the Palestinians and has been advocating for years for the two-state approach that has guided international diplomacy since the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

EU foreign ministers are slated to meet in Muscat, Oman, on Tuesday to discuss the situation and determine what actions should be taken. Varhelyi’s announcement seemed to preempt the discussions.

“There can be no business as usual,” Varhelyi said.

“The foundations for peace, tolerance and coexistence must now be addressed. Incitement to hatred, violence and glorification of terror have poisoned the minds of too many,” the commissioner wrote.

During an earlier briefing Monday, the European Commission sought to draw a clear line between Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization, and the Palestinian people.

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According to the bloc, it has provided humanitarian aid to help meet Palestinians’ basic needs since 2000 through the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO) and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Since 2000, ECHO has provided 700 million euros of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria.

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

The Development Ministry in Berlin said there was no direct German financing of the Palestinian Authority, but a total of 250 million euros ($265 million) is currently pledged in German aid — half of that for bilateral projects via Germany’s overseas aid agency and development bank and the other half for the U.N. agency for the Palestinians, UNRWA.

Like the European Commission, Development Minister Svenja Schulze said in a statement that Germany took great care that its aid for Palestinians “serves peace and not the terrorists.”

“But these attacks on Israel are a terrible watershed, so we will review our whole commitment to the Palestinian areas,” she added.

Schulze said that Germany wants above all to discuss with Israel “how we can best serve peace in the region and security for Israel with our development projects.” She noted that Israel also has an interest in Palestinians being able to live in long-term stability, and said Germany will also coordinate with its international partners.

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Germany isn’t suspending the humanitarian aid it provides separately via international nongovernmental organizations and the U.N., the Foreign Ministry said. Ministry spokesperson Christian Wagner said Monday that much of the 72 million euros pledged this year has been paid out, and payments will continue because they support “life-saving work.”

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio on Monday that all development aid payments will be “put on ice for now.” He put the funds affected at about 19 million euros.

He said that Austria will review all projects with the Palestinian areas and consult with its international partners on further steps.