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June 14, 2022 3:59 pm
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As EU Releases Funds to Palestinian Authority, Foreign Leaders Flock to Ramallah

avatar by Ben Cohen

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Ramallah. Photo: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman

A slew of foreign dignitaries visited Palestinian leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, discussing issues ranging from continued aid to the Palestinian Authority to de-escalating tensions with Israel.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and a US delegation headed by Barbara Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, all held talks with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at his office in Ramallah.

Von der Leyen’s meeting with Shtayyeh took place the morning after a vote by the European Commission — the executive body of the EU — in favor of releasing funding to the PA that had been held up due to objections in Brussels to the presence of antisemitic images and themes in Palestinian school textbooks. The EU is the single largest donor to the PA, having provided more than $2 billion during the past decade, much of which is used to pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants.

“As Team Europe, we are the largest donor in Palestine, with around EUR 600 million per year,” von der Leyen said at a press conference following the meeting. “I am very glad to announce that the EU funds for 2021 can be disbursed rapidly. All the difficulties are gone.”

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Von der Leyen — who on Monday discussed a natural gas export deal with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, as the EU attempts to find energy sources outside Russia — asserted that the global impact of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine would be felt acutely among ordinary Palestinians.

“Palestine is dependent on imports of Ukrainian cereals – like many other vulnerable countries in the world, too,” she said. “And as Russia is blocking the export of wheat from Ukraine via the Black Sea, the situation is very difficult right now.”

While von der Leyen did not specify whether future aid to the PA would be conditional, Palestinians were quick to claim a political victory.

“The Palestinian political system rejected all the conditions and dictations,” Abdul Allah Al-Atira, an aide to Shtayyeh, told the Arabic news outlet Al-Watan. Al-Atira claimed that the EU would now release approximately $220 million in funding for the PA, which would be disbursed in the main to hospitals and other institutions in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Impact-se, an independent NGO that tracks the Palestinian school curriculum, noted in a statement that the EU’s announcement “did not specify if some of the funding would remain conditional based on a reform of the PA curriculum.”

The group argued that given “the importance of PA textbook reform to the Parliament and Commission, one can only assume that a partial funding freeze over textbook incitement remains on the table.”

Shtayyeh met later on Tuesday with an American delegation headed by the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Barbara Leaf, and her deputy, Hady Amr. A readout of the meeting published by the Palestinian WAFA news agency stated that the Palestinian prime minister reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, urging as well that the US reopen its consulate in eastern Jerusalem which was merged with the new US Embassy in Jerusalem in Oct. 2018. Shtayyeh also denounced what he called “Israel’s attempts to Judaize the city of Jerusalem and divide Al-Aqsa Mosque in time and space.”

Meanwhile, Italian leader Draghi said following his meeting with Shtayyeh that he would “continue to work to reduce tensions at all levels.” Draghi and Shtayyeh signed six development accords worth 12 million Euros, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

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