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EU's Communication Debacle Over Palestinian Aid Puts Ursula von der Leyen in the Hot Seat

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to address a communications debacle surrounding Palestinian aid during Wednesday's meeting of European commissioners. The crisis began when Hungarian Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi made an announcement suggesting a cut to Palestinian aid, only for the Commission to subsequently clarify that payments would continue while they initiated a review of EU assistance for the Palestinian Authority. This situation caused an internal backlash and diplomatic fallout within the European Union.

EU's Communication Debacle Over Palestinian Aid Puts Ursula von der Leyen in the Hot Seat

European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer attempted to shift blame to Commissioner Várhelyi, stating that his announcement had not been preceded by any consultation within the College of Commissioners. However, Mamer had previously confirmed the substance of Várhelyi's tweets. This conflicting communication within the EU administration prompted significant criticism from both within the College of Commissioners and among EU member states, ultimately leading to the Commission's U-turn on the issue.

When asked about potential consequences for Commissioner Várhelyi, Mamer sought to downplay the situation. He emphasized the pressing need to focus on the rapidly increasing death toll in Israel and the Gaza Strip, suggesting that internal debates about who should have announced what were not the current priority.

Nonetheless, EU diplomats and officials expressed frustration over the communication mishap, as it not only created a diplomatic backlash at a critical time when officials were working with regional partners but also posed potential security risks for EU staff. By Tuesday evening, Várhelyi's tweet had garnered more than 5 million views. As a result, the matter is expected to be raised at Wednesday's College meeting of European commissioners.

The issue also reverberated on the international stage, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reaching out to European Council President Charles Michel to advocate against cutting EU Palestinian aid. Guterres highlighted the "complete siege" of Gaza by Israel in response to a recent attack by Hamas and expressed deep distress over the situation.

In response, Charles Michel, who represents EU member states, voiced his opposition to the reduction of essential development and humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians, fearing that it could be exploited by Hamas and exacerbate tensions and animosity.

This stance was echoed by the majority of EU countries at a meeting of foreign affairs ministers, with EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell indicating that 95% of EU member states opposed suspending payments to the Palestinian Authority. Borrell argued that the EU should consider supporting more, not less, in light of the developments on the ground.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French authorities supported the Commission's proposal to continue aid while reviewing the allocation of funds to ensure they do not support terrorism-linked organizations.

Nathalie Tocci of the Istituto Affari Internazionali noted the contradictions in the situation, stating, "Either we backtrack from two decades of foreign policy, saying that the funds actually did go to Hamas — which would be striking and devastating — or we continue saying that these funds didn't go to Hamas, neither directly nor indirectly. But then why would you need to suspend or review them?" This statement underscores the complex and politically charged nature of the issue facing the EU regarding Palestinian aid.



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