RAMALLAH: A senior EU official has reaffirmed Europe’s commitment to the Palestinians after its support was partially suspended last year.
The comments were made by Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, during a meeting with senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah on Thursday.
The two parties also discussed the implementation of the new EU agenda for the Mediterranean and the accompanying economic and investment plan.
Varhelyi also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh and representatives of the East Jerusalem Christian community.
“Europe has been and remains a partner and a friend of the Palestinian people and an essential support for decades,” Shtayyieh said.
He stressed the importance of European financial support at a time when Palestine is affected by global changes and their impact on prices, and “unjust Israeli cuts to our funds”.
EU support to Palestine was partially suspended in 2021, causing significant damage to several groups, including those dependent on the social protection system.
Shtayyeh said delays in EU budget support “have negatively affected our ability to meet our obligations to groups that receive social assistance and employee salaries, and the work of institutions.”
But, he added: “We refuse to put conditions on European aid and we want to maintain a real partnership based on respect and cooperation, not on conditions.”
Shtayyeh briefed Varhelyi on the latest political developments and measures taken by Israel, including settlement expansion and land seizures, which were preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
He stressed the need to create a political path to salvage the two-state solution, end the occupation and establish an independent Palestine.
Varhelyi also visited the Qalandiya refugee camp and the Technical Vocational Education and Training Center, where he met Leni Stenseth, Deputy Commissioner of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Varhely said the visit was an opportunity to discuss ways to advance major EU projects such as Gaza’s central desalination plant and gas distribution for the enclave.
The EU, he said, would remain an “essential and unwavering supporter” of the Palestinians with financial support aimed at establishing accountable institutions for a future Palestinian state and supporting the emergence of an economy based on self-sufficiency.
He said the bloc would remain committed to a just and comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the two-state solution.
The EU Delegation also visited Augusta Victoria Hospital and met with representatives of hospitals in East Jerusalem.
Delegates were briefed on the financial difficulties and challenges faced by hospitals due to the backlog of unpaid health transfer bills issued by the Palestinian Authority.
Representatives from Augusta Victoria Hospital said the facility was facing a cash flow crisis which was affecting its ability to provide cancer treatment, posing a threat to the lives of its patients.
Since September, the hospital has had to discharge more than 400 newly diagnosed cancer patients, and about 580 cancer patients are at risk of having their treatment interrupted. The hospital has requested urgent grants from donors to help improve the situation.
Munib Younan, former chairman of the hospital’s board, told Arab News: “We deeply appreciate the support of the EU to Augusta Victoria…which provides medical services to hundreds of cancer patients. and kidney failure in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.”
Gerhard Krause, EU cooperation chief, said the bloc remained committed to helping the PA support hospitals in East Jerusalem and would continue to provide financial support to help cover the cost of referrals.
This, he added, would help maintain the availability and accessibility of essential health services for Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territory.
“We are aware of the complex financial crisis of hospitals in East Jerusalem,” Krause said. “We urge the PA to provide a sufficient and regular amount of advances to hospitals to avoid serious cash flow problems and a disruption in the provision of essential medical treatment and services.”
At the same time, hospitals in East Jerusalem “must implement the necessary reforms to improve the financial sustainability of hospitals and maintain the quality of health services”, he added.
The EU pays nearly $14.3 million a year to hospitals in East Jerusalem. Since 2012, the bloc and member states Italy and Finland have contributed more than $153.7 million to partially cover the cost of health referrals issued by the Palestinian Authority to hospitals.
East Jerusalem hospitals are an integral part of the Palestinian healthcare system, providing technical services not found anywhere else in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Patients who need medical services not available in the West Bank and Gaza – such as oncology, kidney care and heart surgery – are referred by the Palestinian Health Ministry to six health facilities in East Jerusalem : Augusta Victoria Hospital, Al-Makassed Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital, St. John Eye Hospital, Palestine Red Crescent Maternity Hospital and Princess Basma Rehabilitation Center.
According to a previous statement from the European Commission’s office in Jerusalem, until 2020 the value of support provided by EU countries to the PA was between $369 million and $381 million.
Of this total, approximately $165 million supports the PA budget, $100 million is used to support UNRWA, and the rest goes to civil society organizations.
“The deliberations within the EU institutions regarding the approval of the budget are still ongoing,” said an EU spokesperson, explaining that “the discussion is not over yet, and the EU contributes half of the value of social development allowances and does not bear all responsibility.”