The EU lacks a decisive and clear policy in the Middle East conflict and towards Palestine. Its aim is rather to contain the conflict and not let it spin out of control.
The EU support for Palestine has kept the Palestinian Authority afloat and the economy surviving – though barely – but has done nothing to resolve the conflict. Its aim is rather to contain the conflict and not let it spin out of control. Occasional reprimands addressed to Israel or half-hearted measures like the EU labelling efforts – do not constitute a decisive and clear policy and do not do justice to the EU’s power– let alone its values. In other words, the EU policy towards Palestine and the Middle East conflict is a non-policy.
The EU is one of the largest funders of the Palestinian Authority. Since 1994 the PA has received more than 6 billion euro in EU aid . Most of the support has been directed towards supporting the Authority. Additionally the Member States have given bilateral aid to the PA, paying the salaries of employees, empowering the security forces etc. Funds are paid under the PEGASE (Mécanisme Palestino-Européen de Gestion de l'Aide Socio-Economique) mechanism. With this programme the EU helps the PA build the institutions of a future independent Palestinian state. Through the payment of pensions and salaries of civil servant, it ensures that essential public services keep operating. PEGASE also provides social allowances to Palestinian households living in extreme poverty and a contribution to pay the Palestinian Authority's bills due to East Jerusalem hospitals.
Since 2012, the EU and its Member States have donated over $67 million in efforts to relieve the financial burden facing six hospitals in the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network . This amount has been donated to cover the referral fees of patients for treatment to East Jerusalem Hospitals by the Palestinian Ministry of Health for a period of over three years.
Reminder: Israel has occupied Jerusalem in 1967 and formally annexed it in 1980. The Palestinian population was not annexed though; it was given the rather precarious status of residents. Since Israel calls Jerusalem its undivided and eternal capital, Palestinian hospitals and schools in East Jerusalem should in fact be funded by Israel.
In spite of the EU support, the Palestinian economy has not been allowed to develop and flourish due to the Israeli restrictions and security demands, the closure of the Gaza strip and the fragmentation of the West Bank. The EU money disbursed to support the Palestinian economy is therefore spent in vain. It only helps to manage the crisis and keep Palestinians afloat. Akiva Eldar, a prominent Israeli journalist, has – already ten years ago – called this situation an ‘occupation de luxe’.
Israel has carved up the Palestinian territory into fragmented and largely isolated areas. 23 % of historical Palestine between the Mediterranean and the Jordan constitute today’s Palestinian territories. 60% of the occupied territories are under direct Israeli administrative and security control, thus making it impossible for Palestinians to put these areas to their own use. Natural resources in these areas (water, land, quarries) are used for Israel’s own needs – in contravention of International Humanitarian Law.
The EU is supporting communities and projects in Area C. But in the last years and more pronounced since the current extreme right-wing government came into office in 2015, EU funded projects are being destroyed and humanitarian aid is prevented from reaching those in need. From March to August 2016 there has been a marked increase in demolitions. During six months, structures funded by the EU or EU Member States for a value of 242,725 euro were demolished, pushing the 2016 total up to 412,662 euro. For ECHO, the financial losses incurred due to demolitions represent 2,4 % of the annual budget for humanitarian aid for the West Bank (compared to 1,32% in 2015 and 0,58 % in 2014).
It seems as if the support given by the EU for the Palestinians does not serve a political goal anymore – or that this goal is put on the backburner. Instead a new term was introduced into most of the projects, certainly in all projects in East Jerusalem, the term ‘resilience’. The projects no longer aim to change the current situation which is going from bad to worse, they are simply intended to help Palestinians withstand the grievances of the occupation and keep their head above water.
In November 2016, the Palestinian government, together with UNDP held a Resilience Conference in Amman. It became very obvious during the proceedings that the support for Resilience comes in lieu of a strong political support towards an end to the occupation.
For the EU replacing political pressure with support for resilience proves my point that there is in fact no valid EU policy in the face of Israeli occupation.
The support for the Palestinians from the EU and the EU Member States lacks coordination and direction. There is a multitude of players on the ground – the EC, the Member States, NGOs and so on. They face an aggressive Israeli policy of occupation, dispossession, expulsion and expansion that allows the international community not much more than keeping the Palestinians alive and quiet. The divide in the EU itself, the grave differences of opinion and of approach between the Member States, the diverging interests paralyse the EU and make a cohesive, coordinated, goal-oriented and value-based policy virtually impossible.