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October 10, 2023 5:22 pm

Germany’s Stance on Aid to Palestinians Wrapped in Ambiguity

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avatar by Ben Cohen

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is seen at an EU meeting. Photo: Reuters/Gregor Fischer

Germany’s policy on development aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza walked an uneasy tightrope on Tuesday, as the government announced that payments were being “suspended” while the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee said that the flow of humanitarian assistance “in the narrowest sense” would continue.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock addressed the $77 million in humanitarian aid pledged for this year, underlining that there was “no financing for terrorist groups” and that it was “the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority [PA] to ensure that there is no escalation in the West Bank” following the invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists over the weekend. While that aid is being “temporarily suspended,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson later told German media outlets that the majority of this year’s allocation had already been transferred.

Germany currently has a $265 million aid budget for the Palestinians, half of which is distributed through bilateral connections with Palestinian organizations, with the other half funneled through UN bodies like UNRWA, an agency solely dedicated to the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Israeli war of independence and their descendants. Baerbock emphasized as well that Germany does not directly fund the PA.

In separate comments on German radio, Michael Roth, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, said that Berlin’s ongoing review of its aid policy towards the Palestinians “is certainly not about questioning humanitarian aid in the narrowest sense, i.e. that people are provided with medicine, that they receive clean water, that they get a roof over their heads.”

He then added, “I can hardly imagine anything else in these times.”

Asked whether the provision of aid had strengthened Hamas’ grip on Gaza, Roth replied that this was a regrettable consequence of “helping people in need.” Whether Germany will continue to bankroll the longer term projects it has committed to — among them a desalination plant and a jobs creation program aimed at young people — remains unclear.

Roth at the same time emphasized that “we must clearly stand with Israel and anything that is even suspected of helping a terrorist organization in any way must be stopped.”

Germany’s ambiguous position has resulted in frustration among some supporters of Israel, who argue that Berlin should be doing more in general to assist Israel.

“Instead of just hoisting Israel flags or covering airplanes with blue and white foil, one should ask whether and what help Israel specifically needs and wants,” Volker Beck, president of the German-Israeli Society, said in an interview with the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger news outlet. He argued that Germany had to be particularly mindful of the prospect of conflict between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon. “A military conflict with Hezbollah would be of a completely different magnitude for Israel — namely existential. This could claim lives on an unimaginable scale and must be averted urgently,” Beck stressed.

The divisions in Germany over aid to the Palestinians overlaps with those taking place inside the EU, which on Tuesday confirmed that the aid would continue to flow after one of its commissioners, Oliver Varhelyi, announced that funding had been suspended. Several top EU officials also criticized the German suspension, with EU Council President Charles Michel countering that the move would be exploited by Hamas.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Tuesday that the suspension of aid would amount to punishment of the “entire Palestinian people” and would not serve EU interests. The German news outlet tagesschau reported, quoting an aide to Borrell, that a “significant number of EU member states and international partners” shared Borrell’s position. The EU remains the biggest single donor to the Palestinians, with a budget of $650 million.

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