A phone call between EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week has been misrepresented as EU giving the Palestinians an ultimatum on continued financial assistance.
The Israeli government announced earlier this year that it planned to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. In protest, the Palestinian authority cancelled or reduced its security cooperation with Israel and is refusing to accept the transfer of taxes that Israel is collecting on its behalf according to the Oslo accords.
The money amounts to up to €150 million per month or about 60 % of the annual revenues of the authority and until now several hundreds of millions in non-transferred taxes have been accumulated. This has aggravated the already difficult situation in the Westbank during the coronavirus crisis and rendering the Palestinian authority unable to pay salaries to its employees.
According to a statement issued by the European External Action Service (EEAS), Borrell and Abbas discussed among others the socio-economic situation and the prospect of Palestinian elections that have not been held since 2006. “High Representative Borrell reiterated the EU’s continued support to Palestinian state building.” Borrell expressed also EU’s commitment to a viable two-state solution.
However, according to unidentified sources in media this week, the Palestinian president was giving an “ultimatum” that EU would not provide any additional financial aid as long as the Palestinians refuse to accept the tax revenues collected by Israel.
Asked at today’s press conference (8 October) about the phone call and EU’s position on the issue, a spokesperson of EEAS dismissed the media reporting as totally misleading and a mixing up of the facts.
“Misrepresentation is usually done by those who aren’t part of the conversation,” Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for foreign affairs, said. “We aren’t in the business of giving ultimatums to our partners. There is no change in EU’s position when it comes to its cooperation with and assistance given to the Palestinian people and the authority.”
In fact, the EU and the member states continue to be the largest international donor of financial assistance to the Palestinians. “As firm supporters of the Palestinian authority, we are encouraging it to accept the tax revenues which in fact are their own money.”
Following the recent peace treaties between Israel and two Arab Gulf States, the annexation plans have in practice been cancelled. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu might not acknowledge it officially but they are definitely off the table as it was a condition by the Gulf States. Currently, he has more urgent things to attend to. Abbas who is losing the trust of his people refuses to climb down the tree.
What can the EU do to help both sides to solve the issue concerning the tax revenues? “Engagement with both sides,” Peter Stano replied. Confidence building measures would also help.
The Brussels Times