EU envoy: We still consider Hamas a terror organization

Lars Faaborg-Andersen says he understands Israeli concerns, but Wednesday’s court ruling ‘doesn’t have any practical effect’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)

The European Union still considers Hamas a terrorist organization and the EU court’s decision to remove the group from its blacklist will have absolutely no practical implications on the ground, the EU’s top envoy to Israel declared Wednesday.

Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen said he understood why Israeli officials are worried about the court ruling, since Hamas is “deliberately mischaracterizing” it, but added that he believes that he was able to alleviate their worries.

“It’s a technical, procedural decision that the court has reached. It doesn’t change the political position of the EU vis-à-vis Hamas, which is still that it’s a terror organization,” Faaborg-Andersen told The Times of Israel. “It’s important to point out that this has no immediate effect in terms of unfreezing the sanctions that we have against Hamas. We have an asset freeze against Hamas and Hamas members and that will stay in place.”

The EU will continue to adhere to the so-called Quartet principles, Faaborg-Andersen said, implying the union would refrain from interacting with Hamas as long as the group doesn’t renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“We’re looking into the case now,” he said about the court’s ruling. “We’re committed to finding remedial action, be it in the form of an appeal [or through other means]. And we’re committed to putting together a stronger legal case for getting them back on the list again.”

All EU sanctions against Hamas — mostly the freezing of funds — will stay in place for three months. The EU plans to appeal the court’s decision, Faaborg-Andersen said, noting that sanctions against Hamas would remain in place for the duration of the entire appeal process. The verdict’s impact “on the ground is null; it doesn’t have any practical effect,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the General Court of the EU in Luxembourg annulled, “on procedural grounds,” the union’s 2001 listing of Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations, a move that greatly angered Israeli officials.

“We are not satisfied with the European Union’s explanation that the removal of Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations is a ‘technical matter,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The burden of proof is on the European Union and we expect it to put Hamas back on the list forthwith, given that it is understood by all that Hamas — a murderous terrorist organization, the covenant of which specifies the destruction of Israel as its goal — is an inseparable part of this list.”

PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 05, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 05, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Commenting on the court decision as well as on the current wave of European parliaments calling for the recognition of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said it seems “that too many in Europe, on whose soil six million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and several right-wing Israeli politicians similarly slammed the court’s decision. Likud MK Danny Danon, for instance, said the Europeans appeared to believe that “their blood is holier and that the blood of Israelis is worthless.”

Faaborg-Andersen, who on Wednesday morning met with Foreign Ministry director-general Nissim Ben Sheetrit, said he understands Jerusalem’s concern about taking Hamas off the EU’s list of terrorist organizations, especially since Hamas celebrated the verdict as a victory.

“We were quite surprised also,” he said of the court’s ruling. However, Hamas’s interpretation of it is “totally contrary” to its actual meaning, he asserted. “They are taking it as a political statement. Obviously this is not a political statement; a court is not making political statements. It’s only the EU member states that can make a decision as to whether they consider Hamas a terrorist organization. And nothing has changed in that regard.

“When Hamas is deliberately misinterpreting the ruling of the court,” Faaborg-Andersen continued, “of course it gives rise to concern. Obviously, I understand. But it doesn’t change anything about the facts.” In his meetings with Israeli officials he’s been trying to alleviate any worries, he said, “and it’s my impression that [my explanations] have reassured them, up to a point at least.”

The court wants to see ‘some more tangible evidence’

How is it possible that a “procedural” mistake led the EU to remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations?

After Hamas was first placed on that list in 2001, the group contested the move, claiming that “Hamas is a legitimately elected government and, in accordance with the principle of non-interference in the internal matters of a state, cannot be placed on lists of terrorists.” The initial blacklisting “was not preceded by a notification of the evidence held against” Hamas, the group’s lawyers argued in a 2010 case, adding that the group was “not given the opportunity to present duly its submissions on that evidence.”

The court has now agreed that the decision to outlaw Hamas was not based on evidence from “competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet.”

“What the court is saying is that it would like to see some more tangible evidence,” Faaborg-Andersen explained. “We will surely find that evidence and resubmit it to the court.”

A similar scenario unfolded regarding the so-called Tamil Tigers from Sri Lanka, which had to be taken off the EU’s terror list due to insufficient evidence, he said.

“When you live in a society that’s based on the rule of law, judicial courts have a very important role. Sometimes courts are examining evidence and decisions and sometimes find faults in them,” Faaborg-Andersen said. “This is just something we have to take into account and then do our level best to present a better case next time around.”

Also on Wednesday, the European Parliament passed a resolution that “in principle” recognizes Palestinian statehood as an outcome of peace negotiations, and lawmakers in Luxembourg backed the recognition of a Palestinian state.

“If you look at the wording,” Faaborg-Andersen said about that resolution, “you will find that it’s totally consistent with what has been the EU’s position on this issue all along: that we are ready to recognize a Palestinian state in due course, as a result of a negotiation process.”

However, he stressed, it was important to keep in mind that “it’s the business of states to recognize other entities, and obviously not for the European Parliament or the EU as such, for that matter.”

The present wave of European parliaments urging the recognition of Palestine are to be understood as signaling “growing impatience among the European public and their representatives — be it in national parliaments or in the European parliament — about the lack of progress toward achieving a two-state solution.”

The EU wants to see a negotiation process resume “as quickly as possible,”Faaborg-Andersen said. “That is the key message that everybody’s sending right now — to both parties. Not only to Israel, but also to the Palestinians.”

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