The Court of Justice of the European Union on Wednesday decided to keep Hamas on the EU blacklist of terrorist organizations.
The court thus surprisingly disqualified a 2014 ruling by a lower EU court that said Hamas should be removed from the list on procedural grounds, a move that sparked vehement protests from the Israeli government at the time.
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen welcomed the decision.
“The current listing of Hamas remains in force and the European Union continues to consider Hamas a terrorist organization,” he told The Times of Israel on Wednesday morning, minutes after the court issued its ruling. All restrictive measures against the group — an asset freeze and a ban against soliciting or mobilizing funds — remain in force, he added.
Even if the court had decided differently, its ruling would have only applied to the Hamas’s status between 2010 and 2014 and would not have affected its current status, he stressed.
In 2010, Hamas appealed its placement on the union’s list of terrorist organizations. Four years later, the EU’s General Court ruled in the group’s favor, arguing that insufficient evidence had been presented to merit the blacklisting. Hamas had been placed on the list based “not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet,” the court ruled in December 2014.
The EU Council immediately appealed that decision. Wednesday’s ruling by the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice ruled in the Council’s favor.
“We welcome the fact that the ECJ has upheld the EU Council’s appeal and set aside the judgment of the General Court concerning the listing of Hamas from 2010 to 2014. The EJC has thus confirmed the legality of those listings,” Faaborg-Andersen said.
“We recall that the appeal and the General Court’s judgment did not concern the EU’s subsequent listings of 2015-17,” he added.
2/ The EU continues to consider Hamas a terrorist organisation; measures restricting its activity remain in force
— EU in Israel (@EUinIsrael) July 26, 2017
Wednesday’s decision came as a surprise to many in Jerusalem, since in September Eleanor Sharpston, an advocate general of the Court of Justice, said that the General Court was correct to remove Hamas from the blacklist in 2014.
The ECJ usually follows the recommendations of its top lawyers.
But on Wednesday, it ruled that the General Court in 2014 “made an error of law,” according to a press release.
“With regard to Hamas, the Court observes that the General Court annulled the continued freezing of funds solely on the ground that the Council had not referred, by way of justification, to national decisions by competent authorities,” the press release stated. But such “national decisions” were only required for a group’s initial listing, not for their subsequent retention on the list, the court ruled. Hamas had been on the EU’s list of terrorist organizations since it was created in 2001.
“The Court of Justice therefore sets aside the 2014 judgment of the General Court. It refers the case back to the General Court so that the latter may examine the facts and arguments on which it did not rule in its 2014 judgment. Since the General Court’s judgment has been set aside, the Council measures by which Hamas’ funds continue to be frozen are to remain in force for the time being.”
In 2014, the General Court had also ruled that the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers group be removed from the EU terror blacklist. On Wednesday, the higher court upheld that decision despite the General Court’s “error of law,” arguing that the EU Council failed to convincingly explain why it believes the group intended to continue terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the EU’s political demands on Israel as “absolutely crazy.”
The European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, after the September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Hamas has opposed the sanctions, arguing that it is a legally elected government and therefore has the right to conduct military operations against Israel.
The European Jewish Congress welcomed Wednesday’s decision to keep Hamas on the EU terror list.
“This ruling is an important political message for the fight against international terror, which knows no difference between countries and peoples and strikes in the hearts of European countries as well as commonly in Israel.” Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC, said. “It also sends a clear message that those who oppose peace in the Middle East by acts of murder and terror have no place within the European Union.
“Hamas is a part of an international terror network and has murdered countless people,” he continued. “One just needs to look at Art. 7 of their charter to know their proudly stated genocidal aspiration to the mass murder of Jews all over the world.”
AFP contributed to this report.