Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation begins working visit to Palestine on Monday

On Monday, Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir will travel to the Palestinian territories for a five-day working visit. Palestine has been a partner country for Belgian development cooperation for over twenty years. By visiting the region now, the minister wants to show that despite the war in Ukraine, Belgium has not forgotten about the Palestinians.

The programme of the Minister mainly focuses on the fate of ordinary Palestinians in the occupied territories, with special attention for women and young people, education and employment. "If young people make progress, Palestine has the prospect of a better future," Minister Kitir said. "I know myself how important education and employment are."

In the next few days, she will be making a site visit to Zone C, on the West Bank, to ascertain the humanitarian situation. This will include, for example, the difficulties faced by Palestinian women about to give birth in order to reach the hospital in time. In Hebron, a school visit is on the programme. About five years ago, Palestinian classrooms and solar panels that were co-financed with Belgian development funds were demolished by the Israeli government. In Ramallah, Minister Kitir will meet the Palestinian Prime Minister as part of a new bilateral cooperation programme. An official meeting with an Israeli policy-maker is not on the schedule, even though this was the custom during past ministerial visits.

For several of her field visits, the Belgian minister will be shown around by UNRWA staff. This UN organisation was set up after the so-called Nakba, the great flood of refugees in 1948. After US President Donald Trump largely stopped funding UNRWA at the beginning of 2018 and the organisation faced financial problems, then-Development Minister Alexander De Croo announced that our country would support the organisation with €19 million. UNRWA is currently active in the fields of education, health care and housing for five million refugees in the region.

Gaza strip visit still uncertain

It is not yet certain whether Minister Kitir will also visit the Gaza Strip. The last visit of a Belgian minister to the Gaza Strip dates back to 2005, by former Minister for Development Cooperation Armand De Decker. His successor Charles Michel was refused entry to Gaza by the Israeli authorities in 2010.

Kitir's visit comes at a time when tensions between Israel and the Palestinians are running high. Since 22 March, there have already been six attacks, committed by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, in which seventeen Israelis lost their lives. The Israeli authorities subsequently carried out a wave of arrests in Palestinian territories. At least 26 people have been killed in protests there in recent weeks. The Minister's visit falls between Eid al-Fitr and Nakba Day.

Last year, Belgian development aid to Palestine was criticized. A report by the Israeli intelligence service accused Palestinian NGOs of passing on Belgian aid to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which the EU considers a terrorist organisation. After an internal investigation, Minister Kitir said that she maintains confidence in the Belgian partner organisations and in the control systems.



Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir. - © BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE

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