Press Release

Minister Gennez puts Palestine on the European agenda

At the informal EU Council of Development ministers, Minister Gennez sounded the alarm about the escalating violence and the shrinking space for peaceful coexistence, democracy and civil society in the occupied Palestinian territories. She calls on her European colleagues to take action together: "2023 is already the most violent and deadly year in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in more than 10 years. The escalating violence and systematic occupation of Palestinian communities and the demolition of houses and schools makes daily life virtually impossible. The violence and tensions also have far-reaching consequences for local democracy and human rights organisations, and for the development projects that have been built up with European support. Europe cannot idly stand by."

According to a recent official report by the UN Human Rights Council, civil society in the occupied Palestinian territories is under enormous pressure. Intimidation, targeted legislation, harassment and even brutal violence, both by the Israeli authorities and by actors in Palestine itself, are making it increasingly difficult for human rights organisations. Women activists, in particular, are targeted.

"In Israel, extremes are gaining influence. Finance Minister Smotrich has said he wanted to wipe the West Bank village of Huwara off the map. Israeli settlers are becoming increasingly aggressive in the West Bank, with no meaningful pushback from the Israeli government. In the occupied Palestinian territories, too, the space for democracy and open public debate is shrinking. More than two years after the scheduled date, there have been no elections. Freedom of expression is under pressure. In short, the growing influence of extremes makes a peaceful, lasting solution to the conflict increasingly difficult," Gennez says.

Minister Gennez has therefore explicitly put the deteriorating situation in Palestine and the increasing violence on the agenda of the informal EU Council for Development ministers. Belgium has long advocated a sustainable two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. That is why the minister once again called on her European colleagues to work together on a trajectory that could lead to this two-state solution, embedded in a coordinated international approach. She also suggested a Team Europe approach to monitor and evaluate the situation on the ground. That way, the impact on European development projects and organisations working with EU support can be mapped out and assessed even better. The intervention garnered support from several countries, including Spain, the current President of the European Council, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, as well as the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.

In addition to the demand for more attention and permanent monitoring, Belgium itself will lead by example: "Our international solidarity will focus on strengthening civil society in Palestine through our Civic Space Fund. This is a fund we recently set up a to support human rights organisations and activists in the partner countries of our development cooperation. We must continue to stand up for democracy and human rights, and we must continue to fight against extremes everywhere. If we don't act now, when will we?" said Gennez.

Following the coup d'état in Niger, the meeting also discussed the instability in the Sahel and the impact on development cooperation and humanitarian aid from the EU and its member states. A discussion on the reform of the Multilateral Development Banks and the 'triple transition' – social, digital, climate – completed the agenda. Finally, Minister Gennez lifted the curtains on the priorities of the Belgian EU presidency starting in January 2024: health as an important building block for sustainable prosperity states, also in the Global South.