Paul Schneider

EU aid to the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian NGOs – a call for accountability

As former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry once said, foreign aid is not a gift. It’s an investment that comes with certain expectations. So it is with EU aid to the Palestinians. And that’s the subject of an important new report published by B’Nai B’Rith International (BBI), “Aligning Principles and Practice: EU Assistance to The Palestinian Authority and Palestinian NGOs – Rethinking the Approach to Meet Normative Goals.”   

The EU engages in external action through its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), seeking to foster its own prosperity by ensuring that its neighbors are economically and politically stable. As BBI explains, the “EU has exercised its normative power by laying out, in bilateral agreements with individual partner countries, a series of conditions—respect for rule of law, human rights and democratization—and has set out to offer financial assistance linked to reforms in these fields.” Under the ENP, the EU is the biggest provider of financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and several Palestinian NGOs. But the EU has failed to ensure that Palestinian beneficiaries implement its values. Therefore, BBI calls for improved oversight and accountability in several key areas.

Perhaps the most important of these is the EU’s funding of UNRWA, the UN agency established to “carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees.” One of UNRWA’s main activities is running 711 schools, responsible for educating 532,000 Palestinian students. According to Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General of UNRWA, those students learn about “human rights, equality and tolerance,” while teachers avoid “any educational content that is not in line with UN values.” But as BBI shows in its report, “there is strong evidence to the contrary. In 2017, a detailed report of UN Watch showed ‘UNRWA teachers and staffers celebrating the terrorist kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, cheering rockets being fired at Israeli civilian centers, endorsing various forms of violence, erasing Israel from the map, praising Hitler and posting his photo, and posting overtly antisemitic videos, caricatures, and statements.’” Other independent reports have exposed similar problems, including the promotion of martyrdom and jihad. All of this is well known, and confirmed in great detail. The EU has expressed concerns, but UNRWA has ignored them. As BBI argues, this “problem is ongoing and should raise questions about the future of EU funding of UNRWA.” “Morally, Europe’s taxpayers should not fund the salaries of people promoting hatred through the use of extremist materials and messages in the education of school children.”

Another problem area that BBI highlights is the risk that the EU, as the PA’s main donor, will contribute to the funding of terrorism and anti-Semitism. Here, the EU is bound by its own express regulations, prohibiting the financing of terrorism and money laundering. Nevertheless, as BBI shows, the EU overlooks “the controversial ‘pay-for-slay’ programme—monthly salaries paid by the PA to convicted terrorists and their families, which amount to more than 7 percent of the PA budget.” The EU “has never subordinated its contribution to a cessation of this practice.” Indeed, “when President Abbas explicitly declared that he would cut teachers’ salaries to keep paying terrorists, the EU, far from forcing him to desist, actually stepped in to top up the teachers’ salaries.”

EU transfers to Palestinian NGOs pose similar risks. The EU has adopted an anti-terrorism contract clause that applies to any such funding. But there are questions as to the clause’s enforcement. As BBI notes: “A detailed report by the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor has shown that, between 2011 and 2019, ‘the EU authorized grants of at least €37 million to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with ties to EU-designated terrorist groups.”

Moreover, the EU fails to take needed steps to reduce anti-Semitism within the Palestinian NGOs it funds. It has recently initiated a strong program to fight anti-Jewish prejudice while engaging with partner countries. Unfortunately, the EU doesn’t apply this program to the Palestinian civil society organizations that receive its funding. That discrepancy makes for “a fundamental contradiction. It is not possible to isolate those who declare support for anti-Semitism in the Middle East from those who possess similar views in Europe. The concept that poisonous ideas may be kept in a particular territory or region, in the modern era, is not only objectionable but also unrealistic.” The EU should leverage the power of its funding to bring Palestinian NGOs into line with its core values.

In sum, BBI argues: “Future assistance to the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian beneficiaries must hinge on local reforms to advance human rights, democratization processes and the rule of law as well as curtailment of incentives for terrorism and anti-Semitism.” The bottom line is this: “Agreements are bilateral, and the EU should hold its partners accountable for the monies is gives them.”

About the Author
Paul Schneider is an attorney, writer and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland and frequently travels to Israel.
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