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How Europe's Good Intentions Harm Gaza
By GERALD M. STEINBERG
In response to the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas, European leaders have issued the familiar calls for peace and made the usual four-hour pilgrimages to the region. Yet little has come out of this European engagement, with the Continent remaining "a payer, not a player" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If anything, the war between Hamas and the Jewish state can in part be blamed on the massive and unaccountable aid Europeans have poured into the Palestinian territories. The European Union and its 28 member states continue to channel millions of euros, pounds and kroner annually to both Hamas-controlled Gaza and the West Bank, without responsible supervision, transparency or oversight.
In Gaza, instead of building schools and developing a functioning economy, Hamas diverted resources into the two main local "industries": acquiring thousands of missiles and building a huge underground infrastructure designed to terrorize Israeli civilians. The miles of concrete-lined strategic tunneling under houses, schools and hospitals are estimated to have cost €1 billion, which wouldn't have been available without European aid.
The EU's Court of Auditors issued a detailed evaluation of aid to the Palestinians in December 2013. Yet the contributions to the war industry were noticeably missing. The report discussed the EU's project for private-sector reconstruction in Gaza, which pays for buildings "destroyed or damaged during the Israeli 'Operation Cast Lead' offensive of 2008." But there was no mention of the role of these structures as facades for the underground maze. Auditors visited Shifa hospital in Gaza City, but their report doesn't mention the concrete bunkers below the emergency room, which house a Hamas military command center, according to Israeli officials.
By contrast, the report repeated the standard EU slogans condemning Israel for trying to protect its citizens from Hamas attacks, writing that "restrictions on Gaza are particularly severe." Framing the conflict this way promotes the Palestinian-victimization narrative, which is then translated into intense pressure on the Jewish state to relax restrictions. When Israel accedes to such demands, Hamas accelerates its acquisition of thousands of missiles and the transformation of Gaza into an underground terror fortress.
Many of these policy blunders are closely linked to political nongovernmental organizations that Brussels funds and turns to for "expert" advice. Israeli "human-rights" groups, such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and B'Tselem, are close EU partners. In public statements to international bodies and in their press releases, these groups frequently condemn Israeli policies but ignore the war crimes of Hamas.
Similarly, Europe has been a central source of funds to United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, which for six decades has helped to perpetuate the conflict by treating generations of Palestinians as "refugees." Unrwa facilities, like the rest of Gaza, are closely integrated into the Hamas war structure. On two occasions during the current conflict, deadly missiles have been found in Unrwa schools. Unrwa reported turning them over to "local authorities," which according to Israeli officials means Hamas.
Chris Gunness, UNRWA's spokesman, frequently echoes Hamas messaging in the mainstream media, and European officials then amplify his talking points in their capitals. His Twitter account and interviews are replete with indictments of Israeli actions in Gaza, but his condemnations of Hamas rocketing of Israeli civilians are muted, if they are issued at all.
Many individual Western European states have also inadvertently empowered extremism. The Dutch government, for example, has provided at least €300,000 to the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation. The Christian aid group is a major funder of Electronic Intifada, an anti-Israel website notorious for its rejectionist stance toward Israel's right to exist. Electronic Intifada's founder, Ali Abunimah, routinely uses inflammatory, ugly rhetoric against the Jewish state, labeling Gaza, among other things, a "ghetto for surplus non-Jews" in a 2010 tweet.
When Europeans finally find the courage to conduct full, independent and credible investigations of these policies, the reports will make tragic reading. This could take some time. The European Parliament in 2004 ordered the EU's Anti-Fraud Office to investigate previous funding for Yasser Arafat. A decade later, that report remains top secret—a blatant affront to democratic principles.
Before European statements can be taken seriously in this conflict, Brussels must become a more responsible player by keeping closer watch over whom and what it funds.
Mr. Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.