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EU Divided on Status of Palestine Aid Following Hamas Attack on Israel

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Written By: Gloria Bertasini and Manfred Sintorn

Edited by Alex Marchan

Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini

On October 7, Hamas launched a massive surprise attack on Israel (see Clarke, 2023). The Commission’s response so far has been a rare display of internal disunity, as Commissioner Várhelyi (2023a; 2023b) announced on October 9 that the EU would review and immediately suspend all aid to Palestine only for Commissioner Lenarčič (2023) to contradict him, saying that humanitarian aid would continue for as long as needed. Later, on October 9, the European Commission issued a statement confirming that it will not suspend aid, but that it is launching an urgent aid review (2023).

Adding to the incoherent messaging, the Commission went on to clarify that there were no foreseen payments and that they therefore are not suspended. The review and possible suspension of aid would not cover assistance provided under the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (European Commission, 2023). Making the Commission’s position even less clear, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell Fontelles (2023) flatly rejected any suspension of payments, naming it a counterproductive action that would hurt EU interests in the region and embolden terrorists.

The disagreement is also being mirrored among member states and in the European Council. Ireland has criticised Varhelyi’s comments and quickly questioned the legality of a single commissioner suspending aid and, along with Spain, have expressed their disagreement over the cutting of aid, with Spain calling it an outrageous betrayal of European values (Brzozowski, 2023; Diaz, 2023). The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, has also stated that neither development nor civilian aid to Palestine should be cut off (2023), joining Borrell in citing the EU’s regional interests and humanitarian concerns.

More broadly, the EU’s member states have asserted Israel’s right to self-defence and underscored that all parties must adhere to international humanitarian law. High Representative Borrell has also articulated this stance, echoing a consistent call for all parties to exercise restraint. Cracks seem to be forming in the EU’s response to Hamas’ attack and the ensuing war, as member states appear split between wanting Brussels to show greater solidarity with Israel and a focus on highlighting broader humanitarian concerns. Many member states have suspended bilateral development aid pending reviews on whether the aid supports militant actors in Palestine (Government Offices of Sweden, 2023; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2023). Thus far, all member states have however committed to maintaining their direct humanitarian assistance to the region.

The EU’s position remains one of promoting peace and stability in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasising the need for all parties to respect international law and human rights. What that means in practice looks increasingly precarious, and member states seem to be developing different views of the ongoing conflict. As the situation continues to evolve and the Israeli response continues, further discussions will highlight what is arguably the biggest rift in the EU’s foreign policy since before Russia invaded Ukraine.

List of References

Borrell Fontelles, J. [@JosepBorrellF] (2023, October 9). The review of the EU’s assistance for Palestine announced by the European Commission will not suspend the due payments, as clarified by the Commission’s press release. [Tweet]. X.

Brzozowski, A. (2023, October 10). EU faces rift over Palestine aid, stance on Israel war with Hamas. Euractiv.

Clarke, E. (2023). Chaos Erupts throughout Israel and the Gaza Strip following Hamas’s Surprise Attack. Finabel.

Diaz Y. [@Yolanda_Diaz_] (2023, October 9).Esta decisión es indignante, una auténtica traición de Europa a sus propios principios fundacionales. La Comisión Europea debe rectificar y Europa liderar una acción internacional por la paz, no castigar a todo un pueblo. [This decision is outrageous, a genuine betrayal of Europe’s founding principles. The European Commission must correct its course, and Europe should lead international action for peace, not punish an entire population.][Tweet]. X.

European Commission (2023, October 9). The European Commission announces an urgent review of its financial assistance for Palestine. [Press Release].

Government Offices of Sweden (2023, October 7).Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström. Retrieved October 11, 2023, from Government Offices of Sweden.[Press Release].         tobias-billstrom/

Lenarčič, J. [@JanezLenarcic] (2023, October 9). While I most strongly condemn the terrorist attackatack by #Hamas, it is imperative to protect civilians and respect IHL. EU humanitarian aid to #Palestinians in need will continue as long as needed. [Tweet]. X.

Michel, C. [@CharlesMichel] (2023, October 9). In call with @antonioguterres, shared views following contacts on both sides with multiple leaders. Nothing can justify the atrocious terrorist attacks and crimes committed by Hamas against Israel and its people…[Tweet]. X.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark (2023, October 10). Denmark puts development assistance to Palestine on hold.[Press Release].

Várhelyi, O. [@OliverVarhelyi] (2023a, October 9). •All payments immediately suspended.•All projects put under review.•All new budget proposals, incl. for 2023 postponed until further notice.•Comprehensive assessment of the whole portfolio. [Tweet]. X.

Várhelyi, O. [@OliverVarhelyi] (2023b, October 9). The scale of terror and brutality against #Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual. As the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review, worth a total of EUR 691m[Tweet]. X.