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Time is running out for the European members of Parliament to launch a probe into the longstanding claim that the Palestinian Authority has misused European taxpayers’ money to finance terrorist attacks. The British MEP Charles Tannock initiated a petition six months ago to investigate how 540 million euros of aid given to the PA since 2000 have been spent, as a comprehensive account for the funds has yet to be produced from the Palestinian Authority. British Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith made a last-minute plea for MEPs to support an independent investigation on Friday saying, “It is very disturbing to contemplate the possibility that our taxpayers’ money could be financing the bombs and explosives used to attack Israeli civilians.”
So far, only 140 MEPs have signed the petition calling for an investigation; 17 names short of the number required to schedule a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. If the remaining MEPs do not sign on by next week (Jan. 31) the investigation will be abandoned as it could not be completed before the next European elections in April 2004.
EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten has successfully persuaded 12 of the MEPs that wanted to sign on to the petition to withdraw their support on the basis that he has seen no evidence of misuse of EU money, and has accused the MEPs supporting the investigation of “flogging a dead horse.”
MEP Charles Tannock says he is astonished by his fellow Conservative Party colleague’s attitude: “My campaign has incurred the wrath of Commissioner Patten, who regards this initiative as a direct challenge to his authority and credibility. The sole purpose of this investigation is to clear the air, and I have always maintained a balanced approach to the Israel/Palestine question, favoring a peaceful settlement based on a two-state solution.” Commissioner Patten’s response is that he needs an investigation of PA abuse of his funds “like I need a hole in the head.”
Patten’s unwillingness to investigate how the PA used the money it was given by the EU seems remarkably peculiar considering that the EU Court of Auditors declined last November to approve the EU’s budget for the eighth year running, admitting it can only guarantee that 5 percent of taxpayers’ money is being spent properly.
Israel has persisted in trying to convince the EU that they should condition and monitor its funding to the PA to prevent misuse of its salary budget – which is partially funded by the EU. Israel presented Chris Patten with volumes of the PA’s own documents that were captured by the IDF over the last year, which contained evidence that the PA initiated and paid for terror attacks against Israel and funded the Tanzim, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and even Hamas operatives. (Both Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are recognized by the EU as terrorist organizations.)
Documents discovered by the IDF in 2002 that have been authenticated by the U.S. and German authorities prove that terrorists who carried out attacks on Israeli civilians have been on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll and were paid with checks ordered personally by Yasser Arafat and issued by the Ministry of Finance. The EU monthly budgetary assistance of euro 10 million is specifically designated to cover the salaries of PA civil servants and given to the Ministry of Finance.
A new IDF report due to be published by the end of this week includes letters and documents signed by Arafat ordering to pay the mortgages of the families of Hamas homicide bombers and a grant of $2,000 to each family; payment of $17,500 to senior Fatah official Tzafut Udah Rachmi, who also served as the head of Fatah’s Popular Resistance Committee – a terror group in Gaza which is supported by the PA’s Preventive Security Forces; payment of $9,000 to the “El-Farouk” rental car company in Gaza for damages incurred when a Hamas activist’s rented car was bombed by the IDF. This check provides clear evidence that Arafat and the PA, despite their public denials, also support Hamas’ terror activities. Other documents show how the PA’s Preventative Security Forces paid $1,200 to arrange “spontaneous” demonstrations in support of Marwan Barghouti, the former head of the terrorist organization Fatah/Tanzim in the West Bank, who is on trial in Israel for orchestrating attacks that killed 26 Israelis.
While Israel continues to provide aid to needy Palestinians and does not object to the EU’s aid, it is calling attention to the PA’s misuse of its own salary budget, as well as to the clear link between unmonitored EU aid to the notoriously corrupt Palestinian Authority (a survey taken last year in the West Bank and Gaza found that 70 percent of Palestinians believed there was widespread corruption within the PA) and their own safety, as demonstrated in the horrific double homicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv on Jan. 4. The Fatah-sponsored Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility, while the Fatah website in Arabic – also funded by the PA – praised the attack in Tel Aviv that killed 23 Israelis and foreign workers and wounded dozens more, boasting “our heroic martyrs broke through blockades to penetrate into the heart of Tel Aviv … killing many of the Zionist oppressors. We salute all martyr operations against our enemies.”
A recent report published by Human Rights Watch, a group not known for its pro-Israel bias, concluded that:
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades appear to have benefited from the routine misuse of PA funds. Arafat and other senior PA officials, as well as many rank-and-file Fatah members, have overlapping identities as employees or officials of the PA, on the one hand, and as members of Fatah on the other. This dual identity appears to have facilitated the use of PA resources to fund Fatah activities directly and indirectly, including payments to individual Al Aqsa Brigades activists. …
In July 2002, an EU representative stated to Die Ziet that “the EU will not accept that funds fall into the hands of terrorists organizations,” and last week Patten’s spokesperson Emma Udwin added that “the EU has no wish to take risks with funding terrorism.” It is for these very reasons that an EU investigation into this matter is warranted.
Rachel Ehrenfeld is the director of the NYC-based American Center for Democracy. Her new book, “Funding Evil” will be published in the spring. Sarah Zebaida is a free-lance journalist based in Jerusalem.