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Middle East: EU Announces Aid Package For Palestinians, Laments Escalation Of Violence

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Brussels, 13 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today announced a 28 million euro ($33 million) humanitarian-aid package for the Palestinian territories.

The grant takes the EU's assistance to the Palestinians since September 2000 to 147 million euros, making it the largest provider of humanitarian, as well as development aid.

A commission press release says the money will go to support more than 1 million of the most vulnerable people living in Gaza and on the West Bank. Most lack proper access to food, water, basic services, and economic opportunities.

Diego de Ojeda, a commission spokesman, today called on other donors to increase their aid, too. "The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. There is a need for international donors to step in and alleviate the plight of the Palestinian population, suffering from closures [of borders] and all of the consequences of closures, and the terrible violence, basically on a daily basis," de Ojeda said.
"The main problem is not the lack of coordination among donors, or a lack of funding, or any other technical aspect, but the fact that the political stalemate [persists] in the region since at least the year 2000."


The commission press release quotes the bloc's commissioner for humanitarian aid, Poul Nielson, as saying that "only a lifting of the closure policy and of the constraints faced in implementing aid programs" can reverse the situation.

However, EU officials admit they have little, if any, access to or impact on Israeli policy. EU envoys have been routinely shunned by the Israeli government in retaliation for maintaining ties with the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yassir Arafat.

De Ojeda said today the EU's efforts to resolve the crisis are confined to meetings of the so-called Quartet, bringing together the United States, the United Nations, Russia, as well as the bloc itself. All four are sponsors of the so-called "road map" to peace in the Middle East.

De Ojeda noted the EU can do little to bring about a resolution to the conflict on its own. "Both as regards the humanitarian situation, and as regards general economic development in the West Bank and Gaza, the main problem is not the lack of coordination among donors, or a lack of funding, or any other technical aspect, but the fact that the political stalemate [persists] in the region since at least the year 2000. Of course, we're trying to exercise a positive influence on the situation. The channel we have for that is the Quartet. The EU contributes to quartet discussions," de Ojeda said.

Officials in Brussels privately admit that greater U.S. involvement remains key to generating sufficient political will on either side to end the conflict.

One EU official today said the bloc still hopes U.S. policy has not completely changed in the wake of a press conference last month by President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in which Bush appeared to lend his support to unilateral moves by Israel. The official said EU governments were a "bit lost" after the statement.

The EU has repeatedly said it will only support a negotiated settlement to the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.

A Quartet meeting in early May, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, resulted in a joint statement that reaffirmed the commitment of all parties to the road map, as well as to a negotiated solution.
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