Divisions and confusion roiled EU member states over aid to Palestine a day after the European Commission said it would review the EU’s assistance amid the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza.
The disarray between member states began Monday after a Hungarian commissioner for the bloc — who affiliates with a party allied with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — announced that the European Commission was immediately suspending all development aid to Palestinians.
This “unilateral decision” by Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi was opposed by Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal, while Austria and Germany said they had independently suspended aid to Palestine.
The Commission said Tuesday that Varhelyi made the announcement without consulting with other commissioners. The Commission clarified that payments had not been suspended, but that the bloc would conduct an “urgent review” of the aid.
The EU’s top foreign minister, Josep Borrell, urged Israel not to cut off food, water, and electricity to Gaza, adding that most EU countries opposed suspending aid because “not all the Palestinian people are terrorists.”
“One man’s unilateral proclamation on something he doesn’t have the authority to do” raises the question of whether “we end the system of mandating [the European Commission] to have 27 commissioners, one per member state,” writes EU politics journalist Dave Keating. Varhelyi acted unilaterally to push forward Hungary’s national policies, defying the commission’s rules. ”[Commissioners] are forbidden from taking instructions from their home country. But that doesn’t stop them,” Keating says.
Once seen as a key player in the Israel-Palestine issue, the EU has now been “sadly reduced to little more than a passive bystander" in the region because of internal divisions, said Shada Islam, an EU political analyst. The bloc’s “cautious approach” hasn’t won the EU any favor either with Palestinians, who want more vociferous European support of their rights, or with Israel, where EU diplomats have failed to obtain high-level meetings. While the EU still has leverage over both sides, it has yet to use that leverage to realize its objective of creating a two-state solution, “which currently seems a distant fantasy,” said Shimon Stein, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany.