Several aid groups’ frustrations a few weeks ago are starting to turn into relief as the European Union adopts a tougher line against the growing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
The European Commission on Friday is expected to make public guidelines restricting funding to Israeli entities, including NGOs, that operate in the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where Israeli settlements are considered “illegal” under international law.
The new guidelines require Israeli entities that wish to apply for EU funding to submit a declaration that their operations will not take place in those areas.
The notice comes a few weeks after 80 organizations suggested the EU exert the ”right pressure” on Israeli authorities with regard to ongoing demolitions of Palestinian infrastructure in Area C, where more and more housing units are being built for settlers.
The European Union has a long-standing agreement with Israel that says it will not provide money for any settlement operations in the occupied territories. While the country receives only a small mount of funding from the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument, Israel is also eligible to receive assistance under the EU Partnership for Peace Program, and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.
EU officials however recently found out that two Israeli entities operating beyond the so-called 1967 Green Line were using research grants approved by Brussels.
While the money in question may not be much — some €2 million, according to an aid official who spoke on condition of anonymity — the act breached that agreement. And now the guidelines are expected to prevent such “glitch” from happening again, the official told Devex.
“What will happen now is that if they are caught lying, they will, by law, be obligated to reimburse funding that they have received. That’s the big change,” he said.
Many high-ranking Israeli officials expressed fear that the guidelines would hurt Israeli infrastructure and construction companies operating in the territories, but the guidelines will not so much affect Israel, Devex sources argued, explaining that most EU aid are channeled to the country, not to the territories.
Instead, it’s a welcome move from the EU, which the source said is finally upholding already existing policies: “It’s not a policy shift. The shift is that actually now they are respecting their own policy.”
NGOs and peace organizations also need not worry as they are not covered in the guidelines.
“The directive made sure that organizations working for the benefit of Palestinians are not gonna be affected,” he explained. The directive clearly notes: “These guidelines do not cover EU support in the form of grants, prizes or financial instruments awarded to Palestinian entities or to their activities in the territories.”
Some Israeli officials are suggesting the government freeze EU projects in Area C in retaliation.
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