Jerusalem24– The European Commission officially announced the disbursement of EUR 224.8 million in aid to Palestine after EU member states voted overwhelmingly in favor of resuming aid on Monday following a year-long hiatus.
The announcement came as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, currently on a four-day tour of the West Bank and Israel, met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah yesterday.
“I am very glad to announce that the EU funds for 2021 can be disbursed rapidly,” Von der Leyen said during a press conference. “All the difficulties are gone. We have made clear that the disbursement will take place.”
Von der Leyen did not specify a timeline for the release of the funds.
“Tangible” improvements for Palestinians on the ground
EU Representative to the Palestinians Sven Kohn von Burgsdorff said after a meeting with Shtayyeh that the European Union remained “a consistent supporter” of the Palestinians, and that the funds allocated would “support the Palestinian Authority (PA) in providing basic services to its citizens and protecting the poorest families through a social protection program, as well as stimulating reform in important economic sectors.”
Von der Leyen listed several areas earmarked for funding, namely EUR 145 million to support the PA in paying civil servants’ salaries, social allowances for families, settling bills for East Jerusalem hospitals, and purchasing Corona vaccines; EUR 36 million is dedicated to “improving living conditions” in East Jerusalem in response to “the continuing deterioration of social, political, and economic conditions”; and EUR 30 million will go to private sector development, including a gas pipeline and a water desalination plant in Gaza.
“These are tangible steps on the ground that can improve the lives of the Palestinian people,” said von Burgsdorff.
Could future aid be contingent on elections?
The EU expects to provide up to EUR 1.152 billion in financial support between 2021 to 2024, according to von Burgsdorff.
While von Burgsdorff said that the EU remained one of the main donors to the Palestinians, he warned that financial support would not “be sustainable and will not be sufficient in the absence of fundamental and decisive political changes.”
He stressed the “indispensable” need for national democratic elections to form a government that is both accountable and representative of all its citizens.
“These elections will not only contribute to the resumption of a meaningful political process, but will pave the way for a democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian state for the sake of security and peace.”
During a meeting in Ramallah on Monday with Member of European Parliament Iratxe García Pérez and attended by von Burgsdorff, Shtayyeh called on the EU Parliament to pressure Israel into allowing general elections to be held in all of Palestine including East Jerusalem.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem have the right to participate in elections under the 2005 Oslo Agreements and have voted on three occasions, but with considerable difficulties.
Palestinian civil society has accused the PA of using Israeli hindrance to voting in East Jerusalem as an excuse to avoid holding elections, most recently in April 2021.
Palestinians have not gone to the polls since Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005.