The EU and UNRWA

MEMBERS OF the European Parliament meet in Strasbourg. (photo credit: REUTERS)
MEMBERS OF the European Parliament meet in Strasbourg.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Many of us know this expression, but not its origin from 16th-century England, when part of the estate of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Westminster was appropriated to pay for repairs to Saint Paul’s in London. That brief trivia tidbit aside, the expression fits very well when it comes to EU funding of the Palestinians.
On Thursday afternoon, after much advocacy work from us at Europe Israel Public Affairs and other groups, such as the excellent Impact SE, the European Parliament budgets committee recommended a €15 million freeze in funding to the Palestinian Authority until it changes its school textbooks.
Regular readers of mine will know that we at EIPA have done a lot of awareness raising on this issue. It’s bad enough that many schools under Palestinian Authority control are named after terrorists who committed terrible atrocities, encouraging pupils to emulate their lives, but textbooks, funded in part by EU taxpayers, refer to Jews as liars, sinful, apes and pigs and utterly refuse to countenance the existence of the State of Israel. It doesn’t take much head scratching to figure out why the Palestinian population is completely unprepared for peace. How can they be when they teach their children, as part of the school curriculum to hate, and to believe in the falsehood that Israel is a fabrication that doesn’t exist, and that martyrdom and resistance to the “occupation” are the way forward?
 So, when the news came out yesterday, our phones at EIPA HQ and WhatsApp were running red. “Is this true?” Yes. “Will the Commission accept the parliament’s recommendations?” Most likely, as under the co-decision procedure on budgets it can’t ignore the parliament. “Is the EU finally starting to wake up?” Sadly no.
No? That’s a bit defeatist isn’t it? You and others actually got one of the EU institutions to put pressure on the PA and introduced conditionality on aid, something that you have been harping on for years now? Where’s the beef, Benjamin?
All fair questions, dear reader. By the time you read this, it will be Strasbourg week (when the European Parliament decamps beside the Rhine to vote in plenary). On the agenda is UNRWA. As most of you know, the American administration cut its funding to the UN agency, which is unique as a refugee agency for exacerbating the very problem it is tasked to solve. Under its tenure, UNRWA has seen refugee numbers rise from some half a million at its inception, to roughly five million today. Think about it. That’s a bit like having a food aid program that actually contributes to famine isn’t it?
Anyway, long story short, we knew what was coming. Late on Thursday, once the €15 m. had had its few hours in the news cycle, the office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that it was giving UNRWA €40 m. to help bridge the gap in US funding to UNRWA.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul. We might be stretching the analogy a bit here equating ourselves to the parishioners of St. Peters (and our rabbis would probably have something to say about it, too), but what sense does it make to cut PA funding in half on textbooks (good by the way, and long overdue), while simultaneously funding a UN body that keeps Palestinians trapped in a spiral of permanent refugee status, with little prospect of quality of life, under a terrorist dictatorship that only underlines and complements the very narratives that are expressed in the textbooks, leading year after year to needless deaths, more hatred and entrenchment?
Send your answers on a postcard to EEAS HQ at Schuman Roundabout in Brussels if you figure that one out. Oh, and post your written responses, please – spare my already raw scalp from further self-inflicted scratching abuse.
The writer is the director of Europe Israel Public Affairs, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin.