Jerusalem24– The European Commission (EC) voted last night overwhelmingly in favor of unfreezing funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA), after a year-long hiatus that has left Palestinian hospitals scrambling for funds and PA employees without regular salaries.
26 out of 27 member states voted in favor of unfreezing the aid, with only Hungary voting against.
The EC postponed the transfer of $223 million in aid to the PA in 2021 when EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, who is tightly aligned with Hungary’s right-wing government, put forward a condition to change the curriculum in West Bank schools because of “incitement against Israel and anti-Semitic content” – even though the textbooks were found to be broadly compliant with UNESCO standards.
A letter signed on 8 April by 15 EU member states expressed their reluctance at imposing conditionality on funds at a time when educational reforms were already underway and the PA was experiencing severe financial duress.
The PA is currently indebted to the tune of $2.37 billion, with international aid to the Palestinian budget steadily decreasing from $1.3 billion in 2013 to just $129 million in 2021. The PA regularly delays payment of public sector workers’ salaries for months at a time.
A months-long push to end the freeze
In addition to the misgivings of EU member states, the Israelis themselves expressed concern at the thought of the PA, which coordinates with Israel on matters of security and is instrumental to maintaining the status quo in the occupied territories, going without funding for too long.
At the end of 2021, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz urged the Biden administration to pressure EU and Arab countries into increasing financial aid to the indebted PA.
The Palestinian Authorities held a number of meetings with EU officials throughout 2022 calling for the funds to be disbursed without preconditions, the latest of which came in early May when Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh traveled to Brussels.
On 24 May, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) pleaded for on an immediate release of the funds, highlighting the case of East Jerusalem hospitals – which receive a significant portion of their budget via the PA – who have been unable to properly care for cancer patients since September 2021, resulting in preventable deaths. The NRC also spoke of social assistance recipients who were left unable to access health services, medications or basic necessities when the Ministry of Social Development stopped disbursing social funds.
Conditions surrounding funds release unclear
The EC has not yet revealed whether the aid will actually be conditional, though PA officials have claimed it will be.
An EC spokesperson further refused to comment on whether President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, currently on a four-day tour of the West Bank and Israel, would be making any announcements during her visit.
Von Der Leyen is due to meet Shtayyeh today in Ramallah.
An EC spokesperson told Euronews that the procedure to transfer the funds should be finalized in the coming days and the funds released as soon as possible. The spokesperson added that the hospitals in East Jerusalem as well as social funds for vulnerable Palestinian families would be “the priority.”
Dr. Fadi Atrash, CEO of Victoria Augusta Hospital in East Jerusalem, told Jerusalem24 that they had been informed of the imminent release of the funds, but were still waiting on an official announcement from the EU.