Palestinian cash row: I stand by every word, Patten tells De Clercq

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.36, 4.10.01, p6
Publication Date 04/10/2001
Content Type

Date: 04/10/01

By John Shelley

EXTERNAL relations chief Chris Patten has accused former commissioner Willy De Clercq of acting according to "the worst traditions of partisan pleading" in the latest round of a war of words over funding for Palestinian schools.

In a letter to the Belgian MEP, Patten says he "utterly repudiates" accusations that he is soft on the causes of terrorism.

Last week European Voice reported that De Clercq and four other MEPs had written to Commission President Romano Prodi expressing "profound indignation" over comments which Patten made in a speech at the Parliament on 4 September.

They accused him of trying to play down the effect that anti-Semitic textbooks, allegedly being used in EU-supported schools, could have on the minds of Palestinian children. The deputies also complained that Patten gave "indirect, evasive answers to precise questions," on the nature of the EU's funding for the schools.

In a reply to the MEPs, written before the attacks on America but only made public this week, Patten insists he stands by "every word" of his speech. He tells De Clercq: "In the worst traditions of partisan pleading you have quoted select-ively from what I said to try to demonstrate that I was denying the importance of balanced education or excusing the promotion of racial hatred. I utterly repudiate that insinuation."

He continues: "It is deplorable that textbooks containing messages of racial hatred are still being used in some schools in the West Bank and Gaza. I understand that such books are being rapidly phased out and that is profoundly to be welcomed. But the European Commission does not finance the production and distribution of schoolbooks in the Palestinian territories, either directly or indirectly. The allegation that the Commission finances those books is therefore incorrect, and we have made this clear again and again," he says.

In their letter, De Clercq and the others attacked Patten for attempting to deny legitimate democratic control when he said, "I do not think it opportune that members of this chamber give the impression that we do not spend the money of the European taxpayer correctly."

In his reply, Patten criticises the members for bringing up the same issue "with monotonous regularity for over a year". "Endless repetition of this falsehood is not, to put it mildly, helpful. It is high time that we drew a line under the issue," he says. "The European Union as a whole - and the Commission in particular - has a proud record of seeking peace, tolerance and human rights in the Middle East."

A Green MEP, who was not among the original complainants, said that while deputies fully supported Patten's peace-seeking efforts in the Middle East, his remarks about their raising of the funding issue with "monotonous regularity" were not helpful. "The European Commission is a major donor to the Palestinian Authority and everyone knows it is impossible to keep track of every euro that is spent there. Once the money is handed over, so is the control," she said.

Possibly mindful of the row over his previous appearance before MEPs, Patten underlined his commitment to the fight against terrorism in a speech during the plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday (2 October). He said: "Some of us have friends who have been murdered by terrorists. There is no such thing as a good terrorist. There is no distinction between good and bad terrorism. "A terrorist is a man or woman, or, alas, a deluded child who sets out to murder innocent men, women and children to make a political point - the propaganda of the deed. That is not justified. It is never justified. I hope that when we start talking about definitions we will remember what terrorism really is. We will have views about the political roots of terrorism. We will have strong views about the importance of trying to find political solutions to some problems. However, I hope we will not be morally confused about what constitutes a terrorist act."

External Relations chief Chris Patten has accused former Commissioner Willy deClercq of acting according to 'the worst traditions of partisan pleading' in the latest round of a war of words over funding for Palestinian schools.

Countries / Regions