EU nations have long been split in their approach to Israel and the Palestinians but the war in Gaza has entrenched those divisions. Some countries unilaterally suspended aid over the brutal nature of the attack, in which Hamas killed up to 1,200 people in Israel and took around 240 captive.
The joint EU funds provided an opportunity for political grandstanding, even though the money was never destined for Hamas, and pressure quickly built for a probe. Hamas was put on the EU’s list of terrorist groups almost two decades ago and funds must not reach it.
“The review found no indications of EU money having directly, or indirectly, benefited the terrorist organization Hamas,” European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters in Strasbourg, France, and he hailed that “the control system in place has worked.”
The investigation, which did not look into emergency humanitarian aid, also aimed to establish whether money was used to incite hatred or antisemitism. The 27-nation EU is the world’s biggest provider of assistance to the Palestinians. Almost 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) is earmarked for 2021-2024.
The commission said it had screened over 100 projects worth a total of around 331 million euros ($362 million). It said that 88% of contracts benefiting the Palestinians have been cleared, but it is seeking details from some NGOs and their partners about how the remaining 12% is being handled.
However, the commission did say that it is following up on allegations that two contracts worth a total of 8 million euros ($8.75 million) may have been used to incite hate speech and glorify terrorism. It declined to name those involved or provide details because no wrongdoing has been established.
The investigation did not hold up any payments as no development funds have yet been committed for 2023. EU officials said that it is normal for such money to be allocated toward the end of each year.
Up to 75 million euros ($82 million) earmarked to build infrastructure cannot be used due to the fighting in Gaza. Part of that money – 25 million euros ($27 million) – has already been converted into emergency aid after projects were abandoned due to the destruction.
The probe was launched in unusual circumstances. It came after an EU commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi from Hungary, announced after the Hamas onslaught that all development funds would be “immediately suspended. All projects put under review. All new budget proposals … postponed until further notice.”
Just hours later, the commission backtracked, saying in a terse statement that there would be “no suspension of payments.” Indeed, as the investigation showed, no payments to the Palestinians were even due.