Viktor Orbán’s man at the European Commission does not like Palestinian textbooks. And, for that, he keeps blocked 215 million euros of humanitarian aid for the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, the 2021 annual plan has not yet left Brussels for Palestine because Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, wants the textbooks changed, which he accuses of being hostile to Israel, the occupying state. .
“The annual plan has to be adopted by the Commission,” explain community sources, “The 2021 item must be approved, but there is still no information on when it will be.” The sources also trust that the disbursement will take place sooner rather than later. As elDiario.es has been able to learn, at the last Foreign Affairs Council on May 16, 23 Member States demanded the disbursement of the funds without delay and without the conditions expressed by the Hungarian commissioner, to which the sources assure that no nobody objected.
As a result, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has transferred the consensus of this debate to the presidency of the European Commission, which should lead to the release of funds.
The controversy has been dragging on for weeks. In that last meeting of foreign ministers on May 16, the Irish minister, Simon Coveney, said before entering: “I am very frustrated with this matter. The position of the vast majority of the member states of the European Union is absolutely clear. There is no reason for the European Commission to delay more than 300 million euros of funding for the Palestinian Authority. It’s last year’s funding we’re talking about. A month ago, Ireland raised this issue. All ministers except one [Hungría], spoke strongly in favor of the immediate release of that money. And we haven’t had any progress on that yet. This is EU money. It is not money from the European Commission, it is money from the EU. And the EU countries want it freed up so the Palestinian Authority can provide basic services to its people. It shouldn’t be delayed any longer.”
“The EU plays a very important role in funding the basic infrastructure to enable Palestinian communities to live, trade, provide public services, etc., be it education, health care,” Coveney said last week: “These are times of tension also in Palestine. The European Union should give a signal that this money will be released and that we are here to support basic services on the ground for the Palestinian people through the Palestinian Authority.”
Ireland signed, with 14 other countries, including Spain, a letter last April in which they expressed their concern about the matter. In the letter sent to Várhelyi, the 15 countries write that “introducing conditionality at a time when the Palestinian Authority is already committed to an ambitious educational reform program risks undermining, or even reversing, the progress made to date.” date and could damage the open dialogue with the Palestinians on this and other issues. Additionally, it is imperative that we do all we can to empower moderate voices against more radical actors.”
Meanwhile, Várhelyi has released the money for the UN mission –246 million for UNRWA for three years–, but they are two different endowments contained in the same budget line. “While it is good to see more funds dedicated to UNRWA, the issue of Varhelyi’s conditionality plan for the disbursement of funds to the Palestinian Authority is a completely different story,” explain community sources: “The worst thing is that, while it is pending Commission level a decision on Varhelyi’s request to make the disbursement of 30 million to the Palestinian Authority conditional on a textbook reform, the entire annual EU contribution to Palestine, amounting to some 215 million, is still frozen since 2021 due to unresolved dispute. While everyone is focused on the political discussion around the 30 million school books, not many are aware that the entire annual envelope of 215 million is hostage to the dispute.
In a recent meeting between the President of the European Socialists in the European Parliament, Iratxe García, and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, García expressed his concern about the blocking of EU support for the Palestinian Authority: “The violence in the region has been growing in recent weeks and the EU should be an active player in easing these tensions. I have already told the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, that it is totally unacceptable that EU budget support to the Palestinian Authority is withheld for fabricated reasons about textbooks by a single Commissioner , Olivér Várhelyi, who does not represent the EU’s commitment to the peace process in the Middle East”.
“It is of the utmost importance that we maintain the ability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its duties and care for the Palestinian people in order to achieve the two-state solution, the only one that can bring permanent peace to neighbors who are destined to live together. The EU’s political line is very clear, it always has been, and I will once again insist to President von der Leyen that the Commission must fulfill its responsibilities and not allow itself to be kidnapped by the interests of a single commissioner”, said Iratxe García .
“We have asked the European Union to provide its promised aid without conditions. We hope to achieve it soon”, Shtayyieh said at the beginning of the weekly session of the Palestinian Authority Cabinet last Monday in Ramallah, after meeting with Garcia but also with the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. .
This Tuesday, Jan Egeland, a Norwegian diplomat, former leader of the Labor Party and general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) since 2013, published a letter sent to the president of the European Commission in which he expressed the lives that were at stake for the blockade of EU aid to Palestine.
“These restrictions punish terminally ill patients who can’t get life-saving medicine, and force children to go hungry when parents can’t afford to buy food. The Palestinians are paying the cruelest price for the political decisions made in Brussels”, says Egeland: “The delay for a political position is putting lives at risk every day. We call on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to release the funds immediately so that she can continue critical assistance to vulnerable Palestinians and support for basic services.”