BRUSSELS (Feb. 2)
The European Union has taken an important step toward investigating whether its donations to the Palestinian Authority are being used to fund terrorism.
On Jan. 30, Francois Zimeray, a French member of the European Parliament, announced he had gathered enough signatures for the body to debate whether to form a commission of inquiry.
Zimeray succeeded in convincing 170 Parliament members to put an inquiry on the agenda. However, a majority of the 626-person Parliament is necessary to actually form such a commission.
Still, the petition marks a significant step for backers of an inquiry, who want the European Union to investigate Israeli allegations that the Palestinian Authority is using donor funds to finance terrorism.
Since the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s, the European Union has provided about $1.4 billion in various forms of aid to the Palestinian Authority. Since the intifada began more than two years ago, the European Union has been providing about $10 million a month in special assistance to help the Palestinian Authority meet its budgetary obligations.
Israeli officials have been especially adamant about the issue since an invasion of the West Bank last spring uncovered documentation that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Ararat had authorized payments to known terrorists.
Even if the E.U. money doesn’t go directly for terrorism, Israeli officials have argued, it frees up other funds that Arafat can funnel to terrorists on the payroll of the P.A. security services or in the various militias of Arafat’s Fatah movement.
“It is the Parliament’s job to supervise the executive,” David Sumberg, a member of the European Parliament from England, told Chris Patten, the E.U.’s commissioner for external relations. “If we cannot inquire on how the money is spent, we might just as well close our shop up.”
Patten has resisted the request, saying last fall that the European Union needs an investigation like it needs “a hole in the head.”
Though the inquiry demand is couched in the language of good government, Patten sees it as a veiled attack on the E.U.’s policy of supporting the Palestinian Authority, which Patten considers the only credible negotiating partner for Israel. In addition, supporting the Palestinian Authority allows the European Union to exercise influence in Mideast affairs.
“Do you want to uncover the wrongdoings of me and my staff or to make it impossible for the” European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm, to support the Palestinian Authority? Patten asked last November. “If the Parliament decides that the E.U. should not assist the Palestinians, it should say so and the commission would comply.”
Calls for an inquiry began last summer after Thomas Dawson, an official with the International Monetary Fund, indicated that the IMF doesn’t monitor foreign assistance the European Union provides.
“The IMF simply provides the E.U. with information about broad developments related to its budget,” Dawson told The Wall Street Journal last June. “It does not monitor or control every item in the budget.”
The petition was begun by Ilka Schroeder, a German member from the Green Party. But Schroeder wanted to keep a low profile, so most of the lobbying was done by Zimeray and Charles Tannock, a British conservative.
Zimeray and Tannock are known as friends of Israel, leading opponents to argue that the petition masked a pro-Israel agenda.
The petition’s success seemed in doubt until the last minute, but Zimeray ultimately managed to secure more than the 157 signatures necessary to put the item on Parliament’s agenda.
“Every single one is the result of much lobbying within the corridors of the European Parliament,” he said.
The signatures include many Germans, British and Italians, but practically no socialists or Greens. Zimeray is one of the only members of the European socialist group to sign.
Left-wing groups were reluctant to take a stand that might be construed as support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose policy of military retaliation for Palestinian terrorism is harshly criticized throughout Europe.
In addition, Parliament sources say Patten himself called deputies to discourage them from signing the petition, leading several members to retract their signatures.
Some who signed are considered friends of Israel, while others saw the proper oversight of E.U. money as a simple question of good governance.
In addition, some apparently saw the petition as a way to strengthen the Parliament while weakening the European Commission — though others refused to sign for precisely that reason.