EU gives Israel green light to destroy donor aid

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 13, 2023

Israel is ignoring the European Union’s requests for compensation for its destruction and theft of EU-funded projects in the occupied West Bank.

And Brussels is doing absolutely nothing about it.

This less than entirely surprising revelation came in a response from the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – to a question from two dozen members of the European Parliament.

The lawmakers pointed out that since 2016, Israel has demolished EU-funded structures in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, valued at almost $2.5 million.

In June alone, occupation forces delivered demolition or stop-work orders to more than 50 structures funded by the EU or individual member states, valued at another $250,000.

“This was the highest number of aid structures placed at risk of demolition in a single month since the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs began keeping track,” the lawmakers observed.

In the last two decades, according to estimates by one human rights group, Israel has destroyed EU-funded projects to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Ethnic cleansing

Brussels has repeatedly asked Israel to pay for the destruction of EU taxpayer-funded property but the lawmakers noted that “the Commission admitted that the use of diplomatic and political channels has not been successful.”

As a result, the lawmakers said, “Israel has seen no repercussions for illegal demolitions and human rights abuses.”

This impunity remains intact, according to Janez Lenarčič, the European commissioner who responded to the lawmakers’ question.

“On a number of occasions, Israel was requested to return, or compensate for, EU-funded assets that have been demolished, dismantled or confiscated by Israel,” Lenarčič said, but that has met with no success.

Lenarčič reaffirmed that the EU sees the demolitions and Israel’s colonization of occupied Palestinian land as illegal.

Nonetheless, “a list of possible options to secure compensation from Israel for EU funding lost in demolitions has not been discussed,” Lenarčič admitted.

This relaxed approach contrasts with how Brussels regularly metes out punishments to other countries.

“We have an EU that sanctions, isolates and condemns countless nations around the world for perceived infringements of human rights, and sometimes even targeting people in countries for electing leaders that EU financial capital perceives to be a threat to its interests,” Mick Wallace, one of the European Parliament members who co-signed the question, told The Electronic Intifada.

“The crimes of these nations put together wouldn’t come close to the horrors perpetrated by the Israelis against the Palestinian people,” added Wallace, who represents Ireland as part of the Left parliamentary grouping.

Ducking responsibility

Passing the buck, Lenarčič told the lawmakers that “it is for the Council, acting by unanimity, to decide on the possible adoption of EU restrictive measures.”

The EU Council, made up of representatives of the bloc’s governments, is indeed responsible for adopting “restrictive measures” – EU jargon for sanctions.

But EU procedure is that “decisions on the adoption, renewal or lifting of sanctions regimes are taken by the Council of the European Union, on the basis of proposals from the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy.”

The high representative, effectively the EU’s foreign minister – currently Josep Borrell – is something of an institutional hybrid. As well as heading a diplomatic service, Borrell is part of the European Commission.

What this boils down to is that the first step would be for the Commission itself to draw up a list of proposed sanctions against Israel, which Lenarčič admits the body has not done.

Borrell recently admitted that the EU is effectively a puppet of Washington, which may help explain his inaction.

So what is Brussels doing apart from offering lip service?

According to Lenarčič, “the EU is engaging in public advocacy that includes frequent visits of various sites in the occupied Palestinian territory” by diplomats.

That’s obviously a reference to the regular photo-ops staged by EU diplomats which do absolutely nothing to restrain Israel, but serve to falsely whitewash Brussels as some sort of protector and defender of Palestinian rights.

Much of the recent destruction has been in Masafer Yatta, an area south of Hebron that is a focus of Israeli ethnic cleansing, land theft and settler-colonization.

The Israeli military this month revealed that it plans to imminently expel 1,000 Palestinians from the area, half of them children – a war crime.

Yet despite this, Brussels maintains its close embrace and material support for Israel and its most hardline lobbyists – effectively giving Tel Aviv a green light to continue or even accelerate the destruction and ethnic cleansing.

“No matter what the Israeli administration does – even when they wantonly bomb and destroy EU-funded infrastructure – the EU weapons contracts keep coming, the grants, investment and funding keep coming,” lawmaker Mick Wallace said.

He added: “There can be no other conclusion than this: The brutality that the increasingly far-right Israeli state apparatus perpetrates against humanity in Palestine and beyond is completely in line with EU values.”

Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada