Trócaire has written to the Department of Foreign Affairs to seek clarity on the Irish Government’s position with regard to the suspension of funding to the Palestinian Authority. It follows the European Union’s recent threat to freeze direct assistance to the Authority at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on 10 April.
The European Council’s conclusions come at a time when Israel’s closure policies, particularly the restrictions on the movement of people and goods in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, are having a deep impact on social services and economic activity.
As a result, donor aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) is vital to the social and economic welfare of Palestinians. It accounts for about one quarter of Palestinian gross disposable income and pays the salaries of over 152,000 employees, helping to support over one million people, or almost one in four of the Palestinian population. Aid also supports the PA to operate 62% of primary health clinics, all the major general hospitals bar one, and 75% of primary and secondary schools.
If this functioning state apparatus collapses, it will be have a quick and devastating impact on the health and livelihoods of ordinary Palestinians. Conservatively, poverty rates are predicted to increase sharply from current rates of 60% of the population living on less than €1.70 a-day, to more than 74%.
The European Union, in its Council’s conclusions, claimed that it will continue “to provide assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people”, but does not say how it will fulfil this. Suggestions that international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or UN agencies might fill that gap is not the answer. Few NGOs have the capacity to channel such funds, nor the responsibility to act as a substitute for the Palestinian Authority. NGOs cannot be used as the social palliative to the European Union’s retaliatory measures.
The European Council’s conclusions also underlined the importance of the ‘Movement and Access Agreement’ concerning Gaza since Israel’s physical withdrawal from the strip in 2005. In reality, Israel has repeatedly closed the main trade access point, the Karni crossing, for two out of every three days so far this year. As a result essential food supplies including bread, sugar and yoghurt have become scarce for the 1.3 million people in Gaza. And agricultural produce destined for the European market — mainly cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers - is rotting at an estimated cost of $500,000 a day, according to the United Nation’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Trócaire is concerned that the double standards being shown by European Member States, including Ireland, will deepen the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Also, while threatening to stop aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, the EU remains vague about demanding that the Israeli Government abide by its responsibilities under international law, as well as its commitments to UN Security Council resolutions and agreements set out in the Road Map.
“The threat of suspending aid is another example of how the EU continues to apply double standards towards Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories,” said Justin Kilcullen, Director of Trócaire.
“To ordinary Palestinians, the EU’s response is seen as a form of collective punishment for electing - in an internationally-recognised free and fair democratic election - a Hamas-led government. At the same time, the EU has completely failed to apply any real pressure on Israel to abide by its responsibilities, in particular to desist from the expansion of settlements and the construction of the separation barrier on Palestinian land, which are contrary to international law,” he said.
Trócaire urgently calls on the Irish Government to provide practical details on how it will ensure that the basic needs of the Palestinian population will be met if it suspends aid to the PA. Equally, it demands that more stringent steps are taken to demand that Israel abides by its agreements and responsibilities.