European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy
Suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority government
European Parliament Plenary
Brussels, 26 April 2006
The election victory of Hamas in January presented the EU with an entirely new situation.
We supported the Palestinian elections and respect their outcome. But the heart of the matter is the emergence of a Palestinian Authority whose government is led by members of an organisation included in the EU terrorist list and that continues, to this day, to attempt to justify suicide bombings in Israel.
In January, the Council and the Quartet set out clear principles for continued engagement with the Palestinian Authority. I am the first to regret that the new government has so far refused to renounce violence, recognise the right of Israel to exist or accept existing agreements. These principles are the expression of a commitment to work for peace by peaceful means. They are not new: they have underpinned our cooperation with the Palestinians for many years.
As a result, the Council, meeting two weeks ago, endorsed the decision of the Commission to temporarily put on hold assistance to, or through, the Palestinian government and its ministries.
The Commission’s action is a precautionary measure taken to ensure that no Community funds pass into the hands of Hamas. We have taken it pending the possible evolution of the Palestinian Authority position and a definitive decision by the Council on relations with the Palestinian Authority. It is not a definitive decision : we are currently reviewing all projects involving payments to or through the Palestinian Authority to see whether we can find alternative solutions. My services have already held a meeting with the office of Mahmoud Abbas to discuss implementing some of these projects through the Office of the President.
I want to make it very clear what this means. We have suspended payments going to the Palestinian government, but we have not suspended aid to the Palestinian people.
On the contrary : since the beginning of this year, we have stepped up our aid to the Palestinians. On 27 February, I announced a €120 million package of aid including help for the refugees, and with fuel bills. This means that we committed almost half our normal year’s budget in two months. €100 million of this has already been paid, five times more than we paid for the same period in 2005.
Honourable members, this represents an acceleration of our aid to the Palestinian people, not a suspension.
The Commission is all too aware that the economic, social and humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories is getting worse. I have seen the reports from the visit that some members made to the region in the last few days and I know you share our deep concern. We will come forward with further measures to help the population.
But we must be clear on one point : the key to preventing a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian territories lies with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, not the international community.
I have heard some people say that Europe has been paying the salaries of the PA. This is not true. Our support to the PA budget in the past has been linked to reform. At most, it covered less than 10% of the salary bill. A real problem now is Israel withholding Palestinian customs and tax revenues. These are Palestinian taxes which people have already paid. Withholding them means that basic services won’t be delivered, salaries cannot be paid, and families will suffer. Israel has also increased the closures of territory in the West Bank and into and out of Gaza. Addressing these problems will do more to help the Palestinian people than any measure the EU can take. The international community must intensify its diplomatic efforts with Israel on these two issues.
Honourable Members, on the Palestinian side, President Abbas has a key role to play, including in negotiations with Israel, and we are looking at how we might best support his Office. But we are not in the business of establishing parallel structures. We are rather looking at the possibility with other donors of establishing an international supervision mechanism which could facilitate the control of funds for donors to meet needs in the health and education sectors.
The Quartet meeting on 9 May is an opportunity for the international community to address this question as well as the measures Israel could take to ease the humanitarian situation.
I wish to conclude by stressing our wish to see an evolution of the positions taken by the Palestinian Authority government, not its failure. And in this way to address the contradiction between the positions currently espoused by members of the new Palestinian government (and by Hamas as an organisation) and the EU objective of a negotiated solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with Israel living side-by-side and at peace with a future Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.