The EU on Tuesday gave the green light to continuing development aid to Palestinians after a review found no funds had gone to Hamas, but said tighter controls could be imposed going forward.
Brussels launched the assessment of its assistance following the surprise attack by Hamas against Israel on October 7 in which 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 240 taken hostage.
The 27-nation bloc is the biggest international aid provider supporting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, with nearly 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) earmarked for assistance from 2021 to 2024.
“The review found no indications of EU money having directly or indirectly benefited the terrorist organisation Hamas,” European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said.
“The review found that the control system in place has worked, and as a result payment to Palestinian beneficiaries and UNRWA (United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees) will continue without payment delays.”
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said it had cleared contracts worth a total of 216 million euros ($236 million) that include financial support for the Palestinian Authority and paying salaries of public servants.
But Brussels announced it now may apply tougher safeguards on its projects, including increased screening for any possible anti-Semitism.
“The commission has identified some additional measures, such as the inclusion of relevant anti-incitement contractual clauses in all new contracts and ensure the monitoring of their strict application at all times,” a statement said.
A senior EU official said Brussels was probing allegations of possible incitement to hatred and glorification of terrorism in the case of two of its 119 aid contracts, worth some 8 million euros.
Further projects worth 75 million euros — mainly to do with building infrastructure to supply drinking water to Gaza — were now not possible due to Israel’s war with Hamas, the official said.
The issue of aid to the Palestinians had highlighted deep divisions in Brussels over the approach to the conflict in the Middle East.
EU neighbourhood commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who comes from staunch Israel supporter Hungary, said after the Hamas attack that the bloc was suspending all its development aid.
Officials quickly rolled back that announcement insisting that no payments were frozen pending the review of the funds.
The EU review did not concern the bloc’s humanitarian support for emergency aid such as food and medical supplies for Gaza.
Brussels has quadrupled its humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians to 100 million euros in recent weeks.