EU aid to Palestinian Authority blocked over ‘antisemitism’ in school textbooks

A Palestinian girl attends class online from her home in Dura in the occupied West Bank during a surge in Covid-19 cases (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Monitor  /  March 16, 2022

EU delays paying PA annual aid of €214m ($235m) after objection from Hungarian commissioner, with final decision to be made by the European Commission.

The European Union (EU) has withheld millions of euros in annual aid from the Palestinian Authority (PA), after Hungary’s EU delegate accused PA school textbooks of containing “antisemitism”, according to Haaretz.

Oliver Varhelyi, a Hungarian diplomat and the commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement in Brussels, has proposed that aid to the PA requires the removal of “antisemitism and incitement” elements in textbooks taught in Palestinian schools.

On Tuesday, the EU decided to delay paying the PA annual aid of €214m ($235m) until a final decision was made by its executive branch, the European Commission (EC), in the coming days.

Since it was established in 1993, the PA has relied heavily on foreign aid to pay its employees’ salaries and pump cash into the economy. However, in recent years, the USUK, and EU had been using these donations to push the PA for political compromise.

According to Haaretz, Palestinian diplomats travelled to Brussels this week in a bid to block the Hungarian proposal, first put forward in April 2021, from being adopted by the EU.

But the proposal was neither adopted by the EU nor scrapped, as it failed to garner a majority vote of 14 countries, leaving the EC to issue a final decision.

Around €150m ($165m) of the EU’s annual aid is reserved for the PA’s budget for salaries, infrastructure projects, and civil society groups.

A PA official told Haaretz that the Hungarian delegate was “behaving like the far-right in Israel, and constantly raising demands regarding the aid”.

At the same time, the Israeli government has not objected to the EU funding in principle.

Talks ongoing

Estephan Salameh, a PA policy adviser in the prime minister’s office, told Voice of Palestine radio on Wednesday that talks with the EU to transfer the annual aid were still ongoing.

“We received clear messages from the European officials that Europe is committed to supporting the Palestinian people,” Salameh said, adding that the EU confirmed the annual aid would resume “soon in the future”.

Salameh said that the European money would help ease the PA financial crisis but not solve it, criticizing Israel for “pirating” Palestinian tax money, which Israel has frozen several times.

Foreign support for the PA had helped pay its 137,000 employees, run its ministries and ensure access to water, electricity, and medical treatment in Palestinian towns and villages.

On Monday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr met officials in the PA, including Hussain al-Sheikh, the influential figure who oversees security coordination with Israel in the occupied West Bank. 

Haaretz said the US administration was pushing for shuffling personnel within the PA, calling for political reform and the holding of elections.

Al-Sheikh is seen in some circles as the man to succeed current PA President Mahmoud Abbas, 86.

In April 2021, the United States announced that it would restore the $235m in humanitarian aid to Palestinians halted by former President Donald Trump, including funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). 

Trump had cut off funding for Palestinians as punishment for them rejecting his administration’s initiatives, including the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem and his plan to end the conflict, which would have allowed Israel to keep all of its settlements in the occupied West Bank.