The Government of the Brussels-Capital Region approved on Thursday a proposal to choose the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a new priority region of Brussels development cooperation, meaning it will be eligible for increased funding.
State Secretary for International Relations and Development Cooperation Pascal Smet approved the proposal following consultation with relevant civil society organisations and following a fact-finding mission last year in East Jerusalem and Ramallah, which serves as the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
"Supporting the development of the OPT is now a priority for the Brussels Region," Smet noted in a statement, adding that he was "able to identify local realities and needs," during the recent visit. "I saw that we have a role to play there."
Message of solidarity
Brussels regulations stipulate that only priority regions are eligible for funding out of development cooperation initiatives.
The decision means that, from this year onwards, the government can actively offer support to associations that set up such projects here, for example in the areas of women and youth entrepreneurship, urban agriculture, the development of the service and hospitality sector, as well as waste management.
"I think it is important for the European capital to send a message of solidarity with the Palestinians and choose to assist them in this," Smet concluded. The Governorate of Ramallah and Al-Bireh will become the local partner of the future development cooperation agreement.
Belgian civil society organisations recognised by FPS Foreign Affairs as part of the cooperation can apply for project funding between €50,000 and €125,000. Other, non-recognised NPOs are eligible for project funding between €10,000 and €25,000.
Besides the Palestinian territories, Rabat-Salé-Kénitra in Morocco and Kinshasa in Congo are also priority regions for the Brussels Region. The agreements with Paramaribo in Suriname and Chennai in India expire this year.
'Devastating human toll'
The announcement followed a warning on Wednesday from Tor Wennesland, a Norwegian diplomat who serves as UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. He told the Security Council that 2022 was one of the deadliest years in recent memory in the OPT. "The violent trends that dominated the last months of 2022 continue to take a devastating human toll," he said.
During the latest reporting period, from 8 December to 13 January, 14 Palestinians were killed, including a 16-year-old boy who was caught in an armed exchange during an Israeli arrest operation against suspected terrorists in Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus.
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Wennesland cited the long-stalled peace process and pointed to rising political tensions, which have escalated due to ongoing Israeli settlement activities in the OPT, which most of the international community considers illegal, and a recent controversial visit to the Temple Mount (al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf) in Jerusalem’s old city — sacred both to Jews and Muslims — by the far-right National Security Minister of the new Israeli Government.
He stressed preventing loss of life must align with the international community’s ultimate goal," which he said was "ending the Israeli occupation, resolving the conflict, and realising a lasting two-State solution."