The European Union’s top court on Wednesday (26 July) upheld the bloc’s decision to put Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on its terrorism blacklist.
The European Court of Justice overturned a 2014 ruling by the bloc’s second highest court, saying it “should not have annulled Hamas’ retention on the European list of terrorist organisations”.
The lower court sparked outrage in Israel and Washington when it said Hamas should be dropped from the list because the EU had made the decision based on information from the media and internet.
But the Luxembourg-based ECJ said that in doing so, the General Court had “made an error in law” and it would now have to examine the case again.
However, in a related ruling, the ECJ said that the General Court’s 2014 finding that Sri Lankan rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should not be on the terror list was correct.
The Hamas ruling came as a surprise since one of the ECJ’s senior lawyers had said in an opinion last September that Hamas should not have been included on the terror list because procedural mistakes invalidated the EU decision.
The court rarely rules against the advice of its top lawyers and there had been concerns that if the ECJ agreed with the General Court, then already tense EU-Israel relations would have been hit again.
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) said it welcomed the outcome as “an important political message in the fight against international terror.”
Israel regularly berates the European Union for being soft on terrorism and bluntly rejects EU criticism of its Jewish settlements policy.
The European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, after the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Hamas opposed the sanctions from the start, arguing that it is a legally elected government and therefore has the right to conduct military operations against Israel.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and fought three wars with Israel, the last in 2014 which caused massive destruction and left more than 2,000 people dead.
The original 2014 ruling by the General Court annulled the EU sanctions listing on procedural grounds.
It said that rather than establishing independently that Hamas was a terrorist organisation, the European Council of EU member states had instead relied on publicly available information.
The EU member states then appealed that decision, believing the lower court “was wrong in its assessment of the way in which the Council relied on information in the public domain”.
The EU maintains an active sanctions policy, targeting individuals, groups and states, including several other Palestinian entities.