EU Releases Aid to Palestinians
06/19/2002 3:31 PM EDT
By PAUL GEITNER
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - European Union lawmakers voted Wednesday to release $17.7 million in aid to the Palestinians that had been held up over accusations some of the money was going to fund terrorism.
The vote included a demand for disclosure about how the money is spent. It came after EU external affairs commissioner Chris Patten defended efforts to track the more than $1.3 billion spent in the past decade on projects in the occupied territories.
"We have found no evidence of EU funds being used for any purposes other than that for which they were intended," Patten told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee.
He also said the committee risked undermining the EU's credibility if it blocks assistance that had been approved last year by the 15 member states.
"If we turn our back on this, any words about Europe having a part in the Mideast peace process are pretty worthless," he said.
The committee put off its vote two weeks ago following charges that some EU money had been used to fund weapons or support terrorist activities.
Investigators from the European Commission, which administers EU aid, met with Israeli government and security officials and sought comment from the International Monetary Fund, which monitors EU payments and reports monthly on whether conditions are being met.
Patten conceded that corruption in Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority and other problems made it impossible to know where every euro finally ended up.
"It's an impossible question to ask in the real world," he said. "We are doing everything we can do and will follow any other constructive advice."
The measure calls for Patten to make additional efforts to provide what chairman Elmar Brok called "full transparency and full information" about where EU money is spent.
"We can't send out the message that whatever happens, however much tensions escalate, Europe carries on paying," said Armin Laschet, a German conservative.
Since June 2001, EU aid has included $9.4 million a month in budgetary assistance to the Palestinian Authority to make up for Israel's refusal to hand over customs and taxes it collects on the Palestinians' behalf.
Patten argued that by preventing the financial collapse of Arafat's "legitimate" administration, which was established under earlier peace accords, the EU "has prevented even greater chaos and anarchy" by helping to ensure the continued delivery of health, education and other services.
"If there is to be a Palestinian state, there has to be a Palestinian Authority," he said, describing the EU as promoting reforms toward a "free society and free market."
Most committee members expressed satisfaction with the investigation, while pushing for even stronger vigilance.
The lone opponent to the measure, Olivier Dupuis, complained that the West has been too willing to back authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks, to win support in the fight against al-Qaida.
"This is the opposite of the message we should be sending to the Arab people, which is support for democracy," he said.