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Palestinian NGO closes in on consultative status at UN

The Palestinian Return Center has taken a step toward consultative status as a nongovernmental organization dealing with Palestinian refugee issues, a recommendation that still needs ratification by the UN's Economic and Social Council.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers remarks on July 1, 2013 at the opening of the High-level Segment of the 2013 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

COLOGNE, Germany — The United Nations recommended on June 1 granting the Palestinian Return Center (PRC) a consultative status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and said the finalization of this status would take place in July.

The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations accepted the PRC's membership by a majority of 12 votes. Sudan, China, Iran, South Africa, Turkey, Pakistan, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Mauritania, Guinea and Nicaragua were among the states that supported the resolution while the United States, Israel and Uruguay voted against it and Russia, Greece and India abstained.

The London-based PRC is a Palestinian-British consultancy focusing on “activating the issue of the Palestinian diaspora, demanding their right to return to their homes and resisting all settlement and displacement schemes aimed at liquidating the refugee issue. The PRC also focuses on introducing the true dimensions of the Palestinian issue to the public opinion in Europe, especially in Britain.”

The PRC was granted membership in the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on May 6, 2003. In 2010, it applied to the ECOSOC for consultative status as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) dealing with Palestinian refugee issues. The UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, consisting of 19 countries, made a recommendation to grant the PRC consultative status as an NGO dealing with Palestinian refugee issues. However, this resolution still needs authentication from the ECOSOC, composed of 54 countries.

PRC head Majed al-Zeer told Al-Monitor, “The ECOSOC usually authenticates such decisions automatically. But in our case, we expect Israel to ask for another vote and mobilize some countries against this resolution.”

Zeer said that the importance of this step lies in the ability to regulate the PRC’s activities within the UN corridors, get a presence within the UN headquarters in Geneva and attend UN meetings, including those of the General Assembly. The PRC will be able to raise the issue of Palestinian refugees in these forums, officially address the states and promote the narrative of the Palestinian refugees.

In the wake of the recommendation to accept the request, Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the UN, criticized the move and said June 1 that the UN "gave Hamas a welcoming celebration at its main entrance." Israel considers the PRC a wing of Hamas in Europe.

Zeer said that Israel attempted but failed to convince a majority of members to vote against the PRC’s request, and encroached upon voting protocols by protesting the recommendation resolution instead of simply voting.

On Dec. 27, 2010, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak signed a decree declaring the London-based PRC “an illegal foundation in Israel” that is affiliated with the Hamas organization.

In April 2015, Israel and some Jewish associations in Europe protested against the PRC's activities, especially the calls for the return of Palestinians to the homes they were evicted from. These associations believe that the PRC is leading an international campaign to delegitimize Israel.

The American Jewish Committee in Berlin protested on April 22 against the Palestinians in Europe Conference organized by the PRC on April 25 in Berlin, and organized a countercampaign under the name “Berlin Against Hamas.”

Three days after the PRC was granted the recommendation on June 4, the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center issued a report claiming that Ismail Haniyeh, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, congratulated Zeer for receiving the observer status.

However, Zeer denied to Al-Monitor having received a call from Haniyeh or any other Hamas leader, and said that such Israeli reports aim to disrupt the PRC’s accession to the UN.

Zeer said that Sudan strongly supported the PRC’s accession and defended it with full force, and Sudanese adviser Mustafa al-Sharif made great efforts to put the PRC’s motion up for vote with friendly countries in the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations.

Asked about the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Zeer noted that the Palestinian diplomatic mission in New York also supported the request. Zeer said the PRC would not serve as a substitute for the official role of the PA and added, “We are an NGO that has nothing to do with the official Palestinian representation.”

Asked about concerns that the PRC’s accession to the UN may contribute to creating a parallel body to the PLO and its institutions overseas, Hossam Shaker, a media consultant in European affairs, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “There is no doubt that Palestine has an official seat in the UN and many international bodies, and the presence of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations at the international level is complementary and supportive for the official Palestinian presence.”

Shaker stressed in his remarks from Vienna that if the PA is facing pressure in the negotiation process, it can strengthen its position by responding to the positions and concerns expressed by Palestinian civil society.

Asked about the relations between the PRC and Palestinian institutions abroad, the Palestinian Assembly in Germany's chairman, Suhail Abu Shamala, told Al-Monitor in a phone interview from Berlin, “The PRC enjoys excellent relations with all of the Palestinian parties, be they formal or informal.”

Abu Shamala added that many official, popular, syndicate and political actors in Europe participated in the recent Palestinians in Europe Conference organized by the PRC, and it was a great success. The conference's final statement asserted all of the Palestinians’ rights, especially the right of return, he said.

Shaker said that the European political quarters do not usually comment on the UN granting a consultative status to NGOs. However, what is now certain is that the European political actors now have a Palestinian body they can address in international forums.

Abu Shamala added that a large part of the PRC’s activities involves direct encounters with politicians and decision-makers in the European arena, both in and outside legislative bodies, to discuss issues relating to refugees and the rights of the Palestinian people in general, and the PRC will undoubtedly strengthen these activities in the coming period.