UK has ‘no plans’ to suspend millions in aid to Palestine

A 'Stand with Palestine' demonstration, close to the Embassy of Israel, in west London
A 'Stand with Palestine' demonstration, close to the Embassy of Israel, in west London - DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

Britain is under pressure to suspend aid to Palestine amid a growing international row over donations that could be used to fund Hamas.

Downing Street said it had no plans to end millions in foreign aid given to Palestinian territories via the UN after Germany, and Austria announced an end to development funds to Gaza. The EU also initially said it would halt all funding before it was forced into a U-turn.

But government sources suggested the payments could eventually be reviewed in a move to bring Britain in line with its European counterparts.

The UK’s last aid payment of £10 million was made to Palestine through the UN’s Relief and Works Agency in July, and was followed by a visit by James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, to a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.

The European Commission on Monday announced an immediate halt to aid payments and placed more than £600 million of future handouts to Palestinians “under review” amid fears the cash could fall into the hands of Hamas terrorists responsible for the attack on Israel.

Oliver Varhelyi, the EU’s neighbourhood commissioner, said: “The scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point. There can be no business as usual.”

But the Commission was forced into a rethink after several member states, led by Ireland, objected saying the money did not go to Hamas.

Downgraded to a review

Instead of an immediate suspension of funds, the Commission announced a review to ensure “no EU funding indirectly enables any terrorist organisation to carry out attacks against Israel”.

“In the meantime, as there were no payments foreseen, there will be no suspension of payments,” it added.

Josep Borrell, the bloc’s chief diplomat, said “the suspension of payments – punishing all the Palestinian people – would have damaged the EU interests in the region and would have only further emboldened terrorists”.

Some EU capitals were reluctant to freeze funds to Palestinians on the grounds it would punish civilians rather than the terrorists responsible for the deadly assault on Israel.

Others complained the decision was made without the consent of 27 member states, who are due to discuss future aid to Palestine on Tuesday at an emergency meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.

Ireland, which became the first EU state to officially recognise Palestine in 1980, questioned the legal argument for Brussels moving forward with a decision on aid without the backing of national capitals.

A spokesman for Dublin’s foreign minister said: “Our understanding is that there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual commissioner and we do not support a suspension of aid.”

The Spanish government, which currently chairs the EU’s rotating presidency, also raised objections to the Commission’s announcement.

A source in Madrid said it had “caused concern” enough for Spain’s EU affairs minister, José Manuel Albares, to demand a phone call with Mr Varhely to convey his “disagreement with this decision”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn said his country’s caretaker government did not support the move.

“We are the largest donor to Gaza. This help is important for young people. This is not money for Hamas. It is for the people of Gaza,” he said.

Italy said it would continue delivering bilateral humanitarian aid to Palestine.

Brussels has pledged more than £1 billion in financial support to Gaza and the West Bank, which are both controlled by Hamas, between 2021 and 2024.

Germany funding ceases

Earlier, Germany had announced it would cease its own bilateral support for the territories worth more than £107 million, while Austria ended its £16 million effort.

On Monday, a Labour shadow minister said aid to Palestine should be increased.

Speaking at a fringe event hosted by Labour Friends of Palestine at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Wayne David said he “would like to see the British Government not reducing its international aid, but in this unprecedented situation actually increasing support for the people of Palestine”.

But Mr David was later contradicted by Lisa Nandy, a fellow shadow minister.

Asked about his remarks, Ms Nandy told a conference fringe event: “We’ll always support the Palestinian people. We know that the situation for many Palestinians is one of utter despair and hopelessness about the stalled prospects of peace and security and prospects for their children.

“But in light of current events, it’s right that the UK considers how British money is being spent and whether that British money is being used appropriately or whether it’s being used to support acts of terrorism.”

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, told the conference that members must believe Hamas are terrorists if they are to remain in the party.

Ms Reeves said she had “no time for” Labour members cheering for the Palestinian cause in the wake of the murderous Hamas attacks on Israel.