WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- When Ilka Schroeder, a former member of the European Parliament, spoke of the EU's Middle East policy as an "anti-Semitic war it is helping to finance against Israel" and said Palestinians were being used as "cannon fodder for Europe's hidden war against the U.S.," her words went unheeded.
Now OLAF, the European Union's anti-fraud office, after probing the issue, is sending investigators to Israel to interview Palestinians in Israeli prisons to ascertain whether European funds to the Palestinian Authority are used to support terrorism.
This development, reported in the Aug. 5 London Telegraph, comes after the Berlin-born Schroeder, 26, spent the major part of her five-year term in Brussels challenging the way the Palestinian Authority spends EU funds while the EU continued to send millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to the PA. Some of this money, she claims -- based on Israeli government reports from the spring of 2002 -- is channeled to a black budget and used to support terrorist activities against Israel.
European Commissioner for External Affairs Christopher Patten dismissed the charges at the time as "Israeli propaganda."
The European Commission declares on its website that EU aid to the PA is conditional upon "full responsibility placed on the (PA) Finance Ministry for managing the Palestinian Authority payroll."
"People tell me I'm altruistic because I'm not Jewish," Schroeder told United Press International. "I do not like the word 'altruistic.' The issue of anti-Semitism is really important. To stop this cruel development, these inhuman ideologies, that's why I do it," she said in a phone interview from Berlin.
Schroeder summarized her thesis in a Dec. 22 address to the Center for German Studies at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel.
"The Europeans supported the Palestinian Authority with the aim of becoming its main sponsor," she said, "and through this, challenge the U.S. and present themselves as the future global power. Therefore, the al-Aksa intifada should be understood as a proxy war between Europe and the United States."
She elaborated her position in an earlier address in New York.
"You have only to see the exhibitions on Israel and Palestine in the European Parliament's foyer -- where Israel is accused of sociocide and branded as an apartheid state -- to know which side the EU is on," she said.
The EU's primary goal, Schroeder said, is the internationalization of the conflict to underscore the need for its own mediating role. "The longer the conflict continues and the deeper it gets, the more evident is the incapability of the U.S. to moderate a peace process. ... This is why the EU does not wish the (Palestinian Authority) to give up too early and why the EU is strengthening the PA. ... The Palestinians are ... cannon fodder for Europe's hidden war against the U.S. ...
Schroeder made it clear that she does not believe EU officials conspired with PA leader Yasser Arafat to wage war against Israel. Rather, a convergence of interests emerged, with both Europe and the Palestinians sharing an interest internationalizing the conflict. The oil-dependent Europeans, with sizable Muslim minorities, want a sphere of influence in the Middle East independent of Washington. The Palestinians know international troops can do little to curtail guerrilla attacks but can hamper retaliation by armies such as the Israel Defense Forces.
British author Bat Ye'or has described this alignment as a "Euro-Arab alliance that gave birth to Eurabia."
"The EU has been completing a slow metamorphosis into the 'Christian' arm of the Pan-Arab world, different in religious observation but united in its views of Israel and America," she wrote in a July 27 article published in FrontPageMagazine.com.
In her New York address, Schroeder decried the prospect of German soldiers in East Jerusalem -- with or without the blue helmets of the United Nations.
Schroeder was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 as an undergraduate studying economics in the Free University of Berlin. She then switched to Political Science and earned a Masters degree while serving in the European Parliament. She left the Green Party in 2001 to become an independent member after becoming disillusioned with some of their policies.
She began her political career opposing the war in Kosovo and denouncing globalization.
The 1999 war against Yugoslavia, the outbreak of the second intifada against Israel in the autumn of 2000, compounded with policy changes in the international arena following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington prompted Schroeder to address what she perceived to be blatant anti-Semitic policy in the European Parliament.
In 2002, she began a campaign to convince the other members of Parliament - then 626 and now more than 700 -- of her belief that EU funding to the PA was being spent illegitimately and had to be curbed.
Her decision followed the presentation of material to the European Commission discovered in the West Bank by the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002. This material linked EU budgetary aid with terrorist activities. Documentary evidence uncovered in Arafat's Ramallah headquarters showed orders, many bearing the signature of the Palestinian leader himself, to the PA minister of finance, -- recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of EU funding -- to pay members of the al Asqa Martyrs Brigade for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel.
OLAF began an investigation in January 2004. EU officials traveled to Israel to see if these findings were justified, and this was followed by the decision to interrogate al-Asqa Martyr's Brigades members.
The EU has been one of the major donors to the PA since 1971, when the European Commission made its first contributions to UNRWA, the U.N. Agency for Palestinian Refugees. The European Commission states on its website that $3.81 billion was granted to the PA between 1994-2001, including grants from the commission, independent grants from the then-15 EU member states, contributions to UNRWA and loans from the European Investment Bank.
As OLAF took action, Schroeder single-handedly undertook to establish an inquiry committee in the European Parliament, intended to investigate claims of illegitimate aid diversion.
Schroeder said her proposals for an inquiry committee were met with much resistance. Not only was she a woman challenging a male-dominated institution, but she was the youngest member of Parliament.
"Once I started this initiative, I was politically more or less dead for them," Schroeder told UPI. She did not stand for reelection in the June polling.
The inquiry stalled, yet Schroeder was undaunted. She referred to her colleagues who wished to ignore the issue as "simple-minded anti-Semites" and accused EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten of "winking approval of terrorist attacks funded by the EU."
EU Commission spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez denied any allegations of misspent EU money.
"We take such accusations extremely seriously, and so far we have not been able to find any misuse of funds," Gonzalez told UPI.
"Our own reputation and the name of the EU Commission would be at stake," she said in a phone interview from Brussels.
Regarding the latest investigations of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, Gonzalez said this is a matter for OLAF and "the Commission has nothing to say on this." The antifraud office of the EU works independently of the commission, Gonzalez said.
The European Commission's website states that conditions attached to EU assistance to the PA have contributed to placing "the Palestinian Authority to a level of fiscal responsibility, control and transparency which rivals the most fiscally advanced countries in the region."
Rejecting Schroeder's proposal for a thorough investigation to be led by an inquiry committee, the presidents of the European Commission set up a Working Group "in order to downplay the importance of the issue," Schroeder said. The Working Group simply reported that the International Monetary Fund does not have control over PA spending and therefore cannot know how EU funds are spent.
Yet the European Commission states on its website that it continues to fund the Palestinian Authority on condition of "a single treasury account monitored by the IMF." Direct budgetary assistance continued to be directed to the PA even after it was discovered that PA spending does not comply with conditions set out by the European Commission.
"Instead of coming clean, the EU Commission, headed by Patten, and the Conference of Presidents thought it was better to sweep the investigation under the carpet," Rachel Ehrenfeld, a witness on the Working Group and director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, told UPI.
Patten views the monthly 10 million euros in direct budgetary assistance as "an important contribution, in order to prevent further collapse into anarchy, chaos and misery." The money is supposed to go into "basic public needs" -- education, healthcare, police, and salaries of civil servants. The European Commission has just approved a further package for the West Bank and Gaza of 124.25 million euros, according to its website.
Schroeder admits that Europe is not a "monolithic bloc," and interests differ from country to country.
In a Dec. 22 interview with the Jerusalem Post, Schroeder spoke of the reaction she received from the European left when initiating the inquiry into misuse of funds.
"They thought I was absolutely crazy and couldn't understand why anybody would stand up for Israel. It has been hardest to make my point among the left because they are the most into anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism," she said. However, the lack of support she received from her colleagues did not surprise her.
"Most of the parliamentarians are in line with the Commission's EU policy in the Middle East, and they don't want to make public where exactly the EU money is going," Schroeder told UPI.
Schroeder's disdain for anti-Semitism has encouraged her to set up a Center against anti-Semitism in Berlin. She will be visiting the United States in September, having accepted an invitation from Georgetown University to teach politics in Washington, and hopes to use the trip to raise funds for her new initiative. Schroeder sees an obvious need for this establishment given the high levels of ignorance she perceives throughout Germany.
After the EU voted en bloc in favor of a U.N. resolution against Israel's security barrier, EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana visited the Jewish state. On July 23 opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres told Solana that the EU must sever all ties with the Palestinians unless changes were made in the PA. But Solana admonished Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that the EU would be involved in the peace process -- and the Middle East -- "whether Israel likes it or not."
According to Schroeder, that's half the problem. "The way things are right now, I would expect Europe not to be very helpful for Israel (in facilitating peace), but it would rather increase the danger since any peaceful negotiation at the moment would lead to at least a weakening of Israel," she told UPI.