(JTA) — A number of European countries — in addition to the European Union’s governing body — are considering suspending their financial assistance to the Palestinians in the wake of Hamas’ attacks that have left over 1,200 Israelis dead.
The EU and many of its member states provide over $700 million annually to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. Many consider Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg announced Monday that his country was suspending all of its aid of close to $20 million. He did not distinguish between aid to Gaza and to the Palestinian Authority, which is based in Ramallah, Reuters reported.
Denmark and Sweden both announced on Tuesday that they would suspend developmental aid but continue to send humanitarian assistance.
Others are publicly wrestling with the issue in public view — including the European Union, which has see-sawed in statements from different officials.
European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said Monday that the EU would postpone all new payments, including for the current year “until further notice.” He said there could be no “business as usual” given the atrocities.
Then Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner, said after an emergency meeting of EU and Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers on Tuesday in Oman that the body would not be freezing Palestinian aid. He said an “overwhelming majority” of European foreign ministers supported continuing aid and that “some decisions” by the Israeli military in recent days — including the decision to cut off power and water in the Gaza strip — are “contrary to international law.”
But on Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission — one of the EU’s executive branches — signaled that the EU would indeed review its funding stance.
“Our humanitarian support to the Palestinian people is not in question. Yet it is important that we carefully review our financial assistance for Palestine. EU funding has never and will never go to Hamas or any terrorist entity. So we will now again review the entire portfolio in light of an evolving situation on the ground,” she wrote in a statement.
Ahead of the ministers’ meeting in Oman, Spain was among the member nations arguing that suspension of aid would be “counterproductive.” Acting Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares told Spanish media it was unfair to punish the Palestinian people.
According to Reuters, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte agreed with that stance and said aid to Palestinians should continue, since they also were the victims of Hamas. France, too, has rejected the total suspension of aid.
Germany announced Monday that it was reviewing its funding portfolio and will investigate Hamas for suspected murder, manslaughter and hostage-taking, the tabloid BILD first reported. Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed that German citizens were among those kidnapped by the terrorists.
Svenja Schulze, head of Germany’s economic and development ministry, told German media that all Palestinian projects would be reexamined thoroughly after the “shock” of Hamas’ violent attacks against civilians. Around $132 million had been earmarked for bilateral development in 2023-24.
In Germany, popular sentiment is increasingly critical of Israel’s settlement policies, though a survey of 2,512 adults last April marking Israel’s 75th anniversary showed overwhelming support for efforts to normalize relations between Israel and its neighbors. More than two thirds supported the notion of closer cooperation between Germany and Israel. About 60% agreed that Germany has a “special” relationship with Israel due to the Holocaust.
Felix Klein, the country’s commissioner against antisemitism, told the BILD newspaper that “all German and international aid funds for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank should be reconsidered.”
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in a statement argued that “The Palestinian terror that we see was also financed with German taxes.” He called for “an immediate end to all financial support.”
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Germans to “guarantee the safety of our Jewish fellow citizens” by showing solidarity with them.