The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which fought Israeli forces for nearly two months this year, won a court ruling that could lead to it being removed from a European Union list of terrorist organizations.
The EU General Court in Luxembourg, in what was described as a procedural ruling, said that the bloc’s decision to place Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, on the list of terrorist groups wasn’t sufficiently thorough and was based “on factual imputations derived from the press and Internet.”
Israel reacted with anger to the decision, seeing it as the latest in a series of European diplomatic moves the country views as favorable to the Palestinian cause. The ruling came on the same day that the EU Parliament voted to back “in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood,” though failing short of a setting a deadline demanded by some lawmakers.
“We are not satisfied by the explanation offered by the Europeans that the removal of Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations is due to a procedural issue,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an e-mailed statement. “The burden of proof is on the European Union and we expect them to immediately return Hamas to the list that everyone knows it belongs on,” he said.
Hamas, which is also deemed a terrorist group by the U.S., is a militant Islamic movement that arose out of the Gaza Strip during the 1980s. Israel has conducted three major military operations against Hamas since it seized full power in Gaza in 2007 in an effort to halt rocket attacks on its communities in the south. Israel also maintains a partial blockade on Gaza that the United Nations says is harming Palestinian civilians.
“Removing Hamas from the terrorism blacklist is a victory for the Palestinian people,” Musa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in an e-mail. “Hamas calls on all those who put us on this list to correct their stance, because doing so has always been unfair.”
The EU downplayed the court’s ruling, saying it was purely procedural and didn’t affect the bloc’s policy.
“It does not imply any assessment by the court of the substantive reasons for the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization,” the EU external action service said in an e- mailed statement. It is “not a political decision taken by the EU governments.”
Separately today, the EU Parliament by a vote of 498 to 88 supported a resolution recognition of Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution, but said that it must go “hand in hand” with new peace talks.
“There is a growing wish in the European public and their elected representatives to see a two-state solution coming to fruition, and there is some impatience that very little progress has been made on this issue,” Lars Faaborg-Anderson, the EU ambassador to Israel, told Israel Radio.
While Hamas welcomed the court ruling, legal victories in sanctions cases at the EU courts often turn out to be hollow.
Iranian companies hit by sanctions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program know from experience that EU ministers often react to court setbacks by finding new reasons to re-include them on the list.
The court, however, didn’t unfreeze Hamas funds in the region, delaying the ruling for three months to give the EU a chance to appeal.
The court “stresses that those annulments, on fundamental procedural grounds, do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group,” the court said.
Hamas was added to the EU list in 2001 and has remained on there ever since. The organization’s challenge today succeeded because the EU had failed to “concretely examine” the factual elements to justify the freezing of the funds, the court said.
“It’s important to note that this decision doesn’t represent a change in EU policy on Hamas and was only based on a procedural issue, which we hope will be corrected and the ruling overturned during the next three months,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said by phone.
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.