EU confirms freeze on PA aid

EU: Hamas must "renounce violence, recognize Israel, stand by agreements."

palestinians eggs 88.298 (photo credit: AP)
palestinians eggs 88.298
(photo credit: AP)
European Union foreign ministers on Monday endorsed a freeze of EU aid to the Palestinian Authority government, but said they would seek alternative ways of providing money for humanitarian projects, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said after a meeting of 25 EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. "There will be no aid to [Hamas] government organizations, but we will maintain humanitarian aid," Bot said. "The Palestinian people have opted for this government, so they will have to bear the consequences." EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Europe continued to "stand by the Palestinian people." It would continue to provide money for electricity, food, education and other projects, so "their basic human needs will be met in the future," she added. European officials said that some low level-contact with Hamas functionaries to provide this aid might be necessary. The EU now hopes to use international organizations to channel this assistance. The EU foreign ministers issued a statement after the meeting saying they "noted with grave concern that the new Palestinian government has not committed itself to the three principles laid out by the Council and the Quartet in their statements of January 30: nonviolence, recognition of Israel's right to exist and acceptance of existing agreements." The ministers urged the new PA government to "meet and implement these three principles." They also said that the EU was "reviewing its assistance to the Palestinians against the new government's commitment" to these principles. At the same time, the statement said the EU would "continue to provide necessary assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian population." Israeli diplomatic officials said after the meeting that they were satisfied that the EU had decided to endorse the EU executive commission's recommendation last Friday to suspended direct aid to the PA and to continue the policy of refraining from holding any political or diplomatic dialogue with Hamas. "On a scale of one to 100, with the US position regarding dealings with Hamas being 100, I'd give this position about an 85," one senior official said. He said that the only problematic aspect of Monday's decisions were the likelihood that low-level functional contacts with Hamas would continue. One official said that the ministers also took up the question of whether European visas would be granted to Hamas-linked PA representatives to attend international meetings and that it was decided to deal with each case individually. France on Monday denied a visa to a Hamas representative invited to attend the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. Ferrero-Waldner reiterated that if the new PA leadership wanted all aid resumed, Hamas must "renounce violence, recognize the existence of Israel and also stand by the agreements" previous PA governments have signed with Israel. "It is right we attach consequences to the fact the Palestinian government is not responding to our expectations" that it commit to peace with Israel, said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He added that the suspension of direct payments to the PA would continue for a month, at which time the policy would be reassessed. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday the EU had "responsibilities not to see the Palestinian people suffer... But so, too, does the Hamas government because democracy carries with it responsibilities... not to go in for violence as a way of resolving arguments." Aid to the Palestinians from the EU and its 25 member nations usually totals around $615 million a year. Funds that have been suspended amount to about half of that, while the remainder comes from bilateral programs - some of which have also been suspended. The US, Canada and non-EU member Norway have also cut off payments. The cut in foreign aid comes on top of a decision by Israel to withhold some $50 million a month in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA. Nevertheless, the cabinet decided Sunday that the revenue being withheld could be used to pay Israeli companies providing the PA with gas, water and electricity, a sum that comes to about $30 million a month. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held a meeting with Treasury officials Monday to discuss this matter, as well as how international aid will now be passed to the Palestinians while bypassing the PA. The annual PA budget is about $1.9 billion. The $1.3 billion in foreign aid last year accounted for 32 percent of Palestinian gross domestic product, making Palestinians the biggest per capita recipients of foreign aid in the world. While the EU ministers said that humanitarian aid to the Palestinians would continue, the International Red Cross on Monday warned of a possible humanitarian and security crisis, and said the US and EU cannot expect aid organizations to fill in for the PA government if it is unable to maintain services. "Humanitarian organizations simply cannot replace the range of services that a public administration has to deal with," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross. "It's neither our role, nor do we have the range of capacities." The ICRC, which is mandated by the Geneva Conventions on warfare to protect civilians in combat and under occupation, said Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible under international law to ensure the basic needs of civilians in the Palestinian territories, including food and medical attention.