EU official urges probe ensuring no funds benefit Palestinian terror backers

Official in charge of relations with EU’s neighbors tells bloc’s envoys to Israel, Palestinian Authority ‘to look deep’ because ‘if there is any concern, we will act immediately’

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

Olivér Várhelyi, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, May 2020 (Twitter)
Olivér Várhelyi, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, May 2020 (Twitter)

A senior European Union official on Tuesday said he asked the bloc’s representatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories to investigate whether any EU funds are benefiting terrorists or their supporters.

“We have received a number of requests from the Israeli authorities in that regard, also from the public in Israel. I took immediate action, I asked both the heads of delegations in Tel Aviv but also in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to look into the matter,” Olivér Várhelyi, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, said during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“They will have to look deep, and if there is any concern — any concern — we will act immediately,” the Hungarian-born diplomat added.

“There is no terrorist financing from EU funds. As long as there are EU funds that will not be happening. This will not be tolerated. And if it happens, it will be rectified. And I will see it to it myself that it is done and delivered.”

Várhelyi, a former Hungarian ambassador to the EU, is known as a supporter for Israel. His position at the EU Commission includes “strengthening relations with the EU’s neighboring countries.”

Earlier this month, Brussels and Jerusalem argued over the possibility of the EU funding terrorists and their supporters, after the bloc’s envoy to the Palestinian territories said in a letter that individuals affiliated with or supportive of terrorists organizations are not automatically ineligible for EU support.

The Foreign Ministry on May 7 summoned the the EU’s ambassador in Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, for a dressing down after a letter emerged in which a senior EU official stationed in East Jerusalem assured the Palestinians that membership in or affinity to a terrorist organization does not automatically prevent a person from being eligible to participate in EU-funded programs.

“Israel utterly condemns and categorically objects to the Union’s policy on the funding of terrorist organizations. The policy essentially grants permission for incitement, support, and involvement with terrorism,” the ministry said in a statement released shortly after Giaufret was reprimanded by Anna Azari, Jerusalem’s deputy director-general for Europe.

While the European Union insists that no money goes to individuals pursuing terror activities, Israel is protesting that funds from Brussels can still go to projects or programs that will benefit supporters of an outlawed group, such as a grant to a researcher who is also affiliated with Hamas.

“We demand that the EU immediately end all support, financial or otherwise, for any entities that support terrorism whether directly or indirectly,” then-foreign minister Israel Katz said at the time. “As past experience teaches us, terrorism is terrorism, and any assistance provided it will only bring about additional terrorism.”

Bedouin children stand on the rubble of two EU-funded classrooms destroyed by the Israeli army in the village of Abu Nuwar in the West Bank, February 4, 2018. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

In that letter, signed by the East Jerusalem-based head of the EU’s mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, had sought to address concerns from Palestinians that projects would lose out on funding because of a stipulation that no person or entity listed on the EU’s terrorism blacklist could benefit from EU programs or funds. It was impossible to check the personal background and political affiliation of every single applicant, Palestinian groups complained.

In a three-page response to the Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO Network, Von Burgsdorff wrote that “it is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname… corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive lists.”

While several Palestinian groups — including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — are listed by the EU as terrorist entities, no individual Palestinians are mentioned by name.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists attend the funeral of a fellow fighter in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 14, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The EU rejected the Israeli officials’ statements, insisting that it does not support terrorism in any way.

“Allegations of the EU supporting incitement or terror are unfounded and unacceptable and we strongly object to any such suggestion,” a spokesperson for the union’s delegation in Ramat Gan told The Times of Israel at the time.

“The EU has strict rules to screen and vet the beneficiaries of EU funds,” she went on, stressing that all recipients of EU funding must ensure that these funds “are not made available, either directly or indirectly, to entities, individuals or groups” that are listed on the bloc’s terrorism blacklist.

“This includes ensuring that there is no detection of subcontractors, natural persons, participants in workshops and/or trainings or recipients of financial support made to third parties subject to EU restrictive measures,” the spokesperson said. “We confirm these rules make the participation of entities, individuals or groups affiliated with terrorist organizations incompatible with any EU funding.”

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