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Why EU funds to Palestinian NGOs became a victim of misinformation

The European Union, which has been under fire by Palestinian organizations for an "anti-terror" clause in its general grant contracts, launched talks with the NGOs to clarify stance and get them to sign pending contracts.
Palestinian boys walks past the remains of their family's dwelling, that was funded by the EU's humanitarian arm, after it was demolished by Israeli forces, near the West Bank village of Al-Eizariya, near east of Jerusalem January 21, 2016. In a development likely to further upset Europe, Israeli forces demolished six structures in the West Bank funded by the EU's humanitarian arm. The structures were dwellings and latrines for Bedouins living in an area known as E1 - a particularly sensitive zone between J

The European Union (EU) and the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), a coalition of 135 local NGOs, are engaged in talks to clarify a perceived change in EU funding criteria to Palestinian civil society.

Since the start of this year, the EU has been under fire by Palestinian civil society for an alleged “anti-terror” clause in their general grant contracts used to fund NGOs worldwide. 

The line in question relates to Article 1.5bis, under the title “Role of the beneficiary(ies)” in the General Conditions – Annex II to the Special Conditions of the EU grant contract, which states that grant beneficiaries and contractors "must ensure that there is no detection of subcontractors, natural persons, including participants to workshops and/or trainings and recipients of financial support to third parties, in the lists of EU restrictive measures.”

The EU restrictive measures list indicates seven Palestinian groups under the category of “terrorism” and issues a restriction in the form of “asset freeze and prohibition to make funds available.” Some groups on the EU list are official political parties under the Palestinian Authority (PA), such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. 

“The extension of European financing contracts did not come out of the blue,” Ahlam Wahsh, president of the General Union of Palestinian Women of the PLO, told Al-Monitor.

This has been a consistent policy of the EU to deem these Palestinian groups as “terrorists” since 2001, she said, adding, “What is happening now is the result of American Zionist pressure on the EU.”

Shadi Othman, communications and information officer at the EU delegation in East Jerusalem, confirmed that the EU restrictive measures list has not changed since 2001.

Article 1.5bis was part of the general conditions of the EU’s universally applied grant contract since 2018, he told Al-Monitor, noting that the current issue is "a result of misinformation spread online," which the EU is currently trying to clear through talks with the PNGO.

A rampant online campaign ensued after a December 2019 meeting between the EU and the PNGO, in which the PNGO apparently refused to sign pending contracts.

In late January, the Palestinian National Campaign to Reject Conditional Funding was created, spearheading this online movement. 

This campaign and the PNGO — which are separate entities not in coordination with one another but both coalitions of Palestinian NGOs — claimed the EU targets Palestinian political parties with this added article, labeling them as “terrorist organizations” and asking NGOs not to work with individuals affiliated with the political parties listed.

The PNGO coalition published a petition in January, which declared, “We announce our categorical refusal of politically conditional funding, whatever its size, even if it leads to the collapse of our institutions and their failure to perform their vital work.”

Groups on the campaign’s Facebook page pointed out the illegality to accept “conditional funding” under Palestinian law, citing Article 32 of Law No. 1 of 2000. 

“It will affect our work of course,” Khawla al-Azraq, director of the Psycho-Social Counseling Center For Women (PSCCW) based in Bethlehem, told Al-Monitor. PSCCW is a signatory of the PNGO petition and a co-applicant for an EU grant, in partnership with a Spanish organization. “It will reduce our [operations] and our beneficiaries. But what can we do? We can’t sign this declaration.”

Wahsh believes that potential EU grant beneficiaries were asked "to pledge that you are against terrorism and pledge that you will not deal with these organizations [on the restrictive measures list]." Azraq is under the same impression and stated the PSCCW’s inability to sign a “declaration.”

According to Othman, the EU never asked for such a declaration. “We are not asking organizations to discriminate between people based on their political affiliation,” said Othman. “We tell them simply to not transfer money to those on the list.”

He added, “Don’t send 100 euros [$111] from your [NGO] bank account to Hamas’ bank account. Nothing more, nothing less."

Othman noted that NGOs are already observing this rule, since it is illegal to channel money to political parties under Law No. 1 of 2000.

“There are no Palestinian individuals on the list now,” Othman said, clarifying what is meant by “natural persons” in Article 1.5bis and that any individual — no matter their political affiliation — can be invited to workshops or participate in activities funded by the EU. “But if they invited, let’s say, the head of Hamas — so you are inviting the movement — then we have an issue,” he added.

Othman expressed how the addition of this line was not intended to target Palestinians specifically, but is a general clause adhering to European law in order to thwart the channeling of money to individuals and organizations on the EU’s restrictive measures list. On this list, there are not only “terrorist organizations” but also governments, individuals and other entities involved in money laundering, trafficking, and so forth. 

Members of the PNGO were not able to give a comment until talks with the EU finished and an agreed-upon “letter of clarification” was published officially by the EU. The PNGO policy adviser and communications coordinator, Samer Daoudi, told Al-Monitor that they were "engaged in a positive dialogue with the EU, expecting that everything will be clear and agreed upon within one week [as of March 28]."

The PNGO has a history of denouncing “conditional funding” by a variety of individual European countries and the United States dating back to 2007. Issues with “anti-terrorist” clauses in the Palestinian context lie with the notion that Palestinians and allies believe these “terrorist” groups or acts of “terrorism” to be nothing more than a decadeslong struggle for freedom from occupation; especially when juxtaposed with violence from the Israeli side.

“It is not fair to consider Palestinians — who struggle for their identity, for their dignity — as terrorists. Our struggle is legal, according to international law,” Azraq said firmly, citing the protected right of occupied peoples to fight for liberation under the adoption of the Protocol Additional I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Each year, the EU allots nearly 350 million euros ($390 million) to Palestine, divided between the PA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and civil society projects.

“Stopping the EU work in Area C or East Jerusalem is a disaster in itself because we do a lot of major things that help alleviate the situation,” Othman pleaded, expressing his fear over what he labels as misinformation to affect EU partnerships with Palestinian civil society.

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