May 11, 2020

London - The majority of the international funding for Palestinian civil society institutions, whether governmental or private, is conditional to specific restrictions, as the financial grant is accompanied with projects and goals determined by the donor. Within the scope of the usual and current conditions, some of such conditions can be accepted while the rest cannot be accepted. The criteria for spreading what is acceptable and what is not is its consistency with the legitimate needs, rights, and interests shared between the donor and the institutions that receive the fund. Imposing financial conditions within specific time frames, are, for example, necessary to ensure achieving the pre-agreed results of the fund with special administrative and financial oversight. Such conditions are generally acceptable as they do not impose political and moral inconvenience for the institution receiving the fund, on the contrary, it requires a certain level of financial and administrative commitment to ensure transparency and at the same time consistent with the regular report requirement.

Moreover, the political conditions, that are consistent with human rights and international law, which should already be a priority between the two parties, are acceptable as well. Such conditions may include calling for the right of political participation, women empowerment, democracy and fair elections. Although such conditions may be considered political in terms of content, they are still considered acceptable as they are still in line with the recognized rights and the role of civil society institutions. However, the scope of restrictions and conditions imposed on EU funding for the Palestinian civil society institutions has expanded to include several rejected political conditions that coincide with collapsing of democracy, the escalation of human rights violations and crimes against the Palestinian people on the one hand, and the ongoing blockade on its civil institutions on the other hand.


European Union’s New Funding Conditions

In 2019, The European Union and some of its member states have included in their contract with the Palestinian civil society institutions a clause of “renunciation of terrorism” that follows the appendix of the list of European sanctions that consider the resistance and Palestinian political parties as a terrorist organization. In other words, this stipulation declares that no person or entity listed on the EU’s terrorism blacklist, known as a “restrictive list,” could benefit from EU programs or funds. Accordingly, Palestinian civil society has worked to mobilize its components and networks to reject this step. They have immediately launched the “Palestinian National Campaign to Reject Conditional Funding” (See Image 1 below) which issued a statement in which it criticized the EU’s policy severely and affirmed its total rejection of political conditions on funding. Also, the campaign declared its commitment to its position and its steadfastness on it “even if this would lead to the collapse of the Palestinian institutions and stops their work,” assuring that Palestinian resistance factions are not terrorist organizations. On their hand, the Palestinian Authority denounced the move without proposing any plan to translate its purely verbal position to an act on the ground that addresses the EU polity.

After months of protests by Palestinian NGOs demanding the EU to remove this stipulation, the EU announced a letter on March 20, 2020, clarifying this stipulation “it is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his / her exact name and surname ... corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive lists.” In other words, even if the Palestinian NGOs applying for the EU grant is an affiliate of EU-designated terrorist groups or individuals from there groups, the EU will still allow them to get EU taxpayer funding.

While many institutions have already signed contracts with the European Union within the newly added conditions, the Palestinian NGO Portal distributed a letter to its members regarding the conditions of the European Union under the title “Updates on the terms of the contract with the European Union.” The letter, according to many institutions who were against this condition, included many misrepresentations with unclear interpretation of the contents of the European Union clarification message regarding contracts funded by the EU which was announced on March 30, 2020.

The opposed institutions claimed this act as an unacceptable act that should be withdrawn immediately assuring that such institutions including the Palestinian NGO Portal represent only themselves and do not represent all NGOs. Thus, the Palestinian NGO Portal will have to bear all the consequences arising from causing division of Palestinian civil society and those resulting from the marketing of the signature on such humiliating conditions.

In the Palestinian context, accepting this condition would have a risky consequence that would deprive the Palestinians of their national rights, since this acceptance would mean:

-    Criminalizing the Palestinian struggle, revoking its legitimacy, and putting it under the category of terrorism.

-    Confirming the allegations of the Zionist-Israeli campaigns targeting national institutions and powers and providing a free instrument of condemnation that will increase the size of the attack on the Palestinian people and institutions.

-    Engaging in the global security system in what is called the war against terrorism.

-    Separating the national civil institutions from the political forces, and isolating activists from the civil work.

-    Acceptance in advance the classification of names of individuals or organizations that will be added to the terrorists’ list, especially since these lists are reviewed and updated periodically every six months and whenever the need arises (with no guarantee that no names of individuals will be added).


Israel’s hand on this movement

This addition should be seen in the context of the ongoing Israeli colonialism and the ability of its colonial institution to devise new mechanisms to impose control over the Palestinian civil society institutions. Whereas, this European Union move is the result of continuous Israeli pressure to compel the Union to refrain from funding many Palestinian organizations, especially those working to expose Israel’s colonial practices, violations of human rights, and crimes against the Palestinians. Indeed, Israel has adopted a wide range of fierce measures to restrict the space available for civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These measures included arbitrary detention, arrests among civil society activists, “security” justifications to impede the work of local organizations, and pressure on international organizations and donors to stop funding Palestinian organizations to deprive the Palestinians of the EU, in particular as a guardian in terms of human rights movement. This, in particular, is seen in the case of legal defense organizations that employ international law to report human rights violation such as Al-Haq Foundation and Al-Dameer Foundation, along with the development organizations implementing projects in Area C to support the resilience of communities suffering due to the practices of the Israeli army and settlers such as Bisan Center for research and Development.


Additionally, some right-party organizations are influencing in Israel, such as the non-governmental organization Monitor which attacks the Palestinian -non-profit organizations and their international partners accusing them of “terrorism” and “anti-Semitism” and are strongly supported by the Israeli government. They are also moving against funding Palestinian organizations, even those belonging to the most moderate parties among the Palestinian civil society. The problem here is that the definition of terrorism by the European Union is consistent with the Israeli perspective and thus largely serves those endeavors to silence critical Palestinian voices.

During the last five years, Israeli and Zionist campaigns targeting Palestinian civil society, especially national institutions, have escalated. In conjunction with this, funding restrictions from different donors have escalated, as well. Those restrictions included conditions that have been resisted by the national institutions such as preventing institutions from engaging in the boycott of Israel campaigns and withdrawing investments from them as a sort of punishment (BDS), preventing them from promoting the right of return and prohibiting them from working in Palestinian areas like Gaza or Palestine 48.

However, Israel was not yet satisfied with its brutal policy against Palestinians but aimed to brainwash the EU to cut their funds on the Palestinian civil institutions as well. While the EU, known for being the biggest donor for the Palestinian civil institutions, used to finance the Palestinian Authority’s payroll of 125, 000 employees, Israel has accused the Palestinians of a misuse of EU funds causing the EU to suspend such funds starting from the end of 2002. However, the EU fund was resumed after a working group at the European Parliament declared the nonexistence of evidence that donations to the Palestinian Authority had been misused to fund terrorist activities.  Therefore, Israel was the first to reject the letter declared by the EU on March 31 demanding “the EU immediately to stop all support, monetary or other, for any factor that supports terrorism directly or indirectly.” Said the Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

The implication on the Palestinians and the Palestinian Civil Society

The European Union’s move comes at a very difficult time for the Palestinians. While Israel is preparing to include most of Area C and the Jordan Valley, the Palestinians come to be at their weakest stage, divided and fragmented and the Palestinian issue became marginalized and is no longer a regional priority. This situation is escalating by the new European Union restrictions that criminalize many Palestinian organizations that adopt moderate forms of resistance through international law, advocacy, and support for the resilience of local communities. These restrictions will further marginalize the Palestinian cause and will facilitate the institutionalization of Israeli colonial expansion because many Palestinian organizations will not be able to sustain their operations in monitoring and reporting Israeli crimes if they do not find alternatives to European Union funding, their biggest donor.

More specifically, while the list of EU goals includes many Palestinian resistance movements, many individuals and families will be affected as a result of this addition to funding contracts. Civil society activists, for example, who were previously arrested or placed in administrative detention that is rejected internationally can be classified as terrorists and thereby lose their eligibility to receive funding as well. Besides, organizations and groups supporting the boycott movements and its activities are usually seen as a threat to Israeli interests, and campaigns to delegitimize their activity in Palestine and many European countries are likely to increase.

It is necessary to point out the contradiction between the European Union’s speech and its policies. For example, the Union declares that it will not recognize Israel’s annexation of Area C of the Jordan Valley, but by cutting aid, it impedes the work of Palestinian NGOs that support Israeli threatened communities by expelling them from these areas. Indeed, the European Union will be complicit in the expulsion process, even if it claims not to recognize any possible annexation.


The EU’s new conditions in conjunction with Trump’s Deal of Century

The conjunction between the European Union’s new conditions on funding the Palestinian civil society institutions and Trump’s deal of century found to be not a sudden nor innocent coincidence. However, the Palestinian civil society checked this conjunction closely to reach to a point that this conjunction criminalizes the Palestinian resistance aiming to undermine the rights of the Palestinian people in general and their natural right to resist Israeli colonial and apartheid policies in particular. In this regard, what happens on the ground cannot be separated from what is happening at the political level in light of the political situation in which the United States tries to criminalize the struggle and criminalize the Palestinian politics. Therefore, this puts the European Union, which has already rejected the Deal of Century before, to clarify their position that criminalizes the Palestinian resistance as well. What is happening from the EU’s part is considered as a political retreat for the European Union with its position, especially this step comes at a time when the racist right parties in Europe are trying to impose their vision on the EU and its countries.

Therefore, the national campaign along with many Palestinian institutions rejected the new EU conditional funding especially Shafq network and the Kamanjati Association, which informed the European Union of their rejection of the conditions. However, the other civil society institutions who have already signed the conditions with the EU were called by the members of the campaign to withdraw immediately from these contracts and announce this in a clear position for the Palestinian people, considering their current agreement to such conditions in exchange for funding include deviations from the national role of private institutions and prejudice to the national vision.


The state of Palestinian civil society at this stage

Activists and researchers are still warning the Palestinian NGOs to continue relying on conditional Western aid to fund local organizations and projects. Despite the national initiative efforts to reorganize based on local resources and volunteer work to launch and sustain via projects, these initiatives do not rise to a collective and strategic orientation. The largest and most influential segment of civil society continues to largely rely on politically and ideologically conditional international aid that imposes numerous restrictions on the work of civil society actors.

The hegemony of this group of organizations led to the stagnation of the Palestinian society, de-politicizing the social components, the emergence of the new elite that is different from its surrounding, and the waste of millions on useless projects. In this regard, the Palestinian civil society was absent in the division between Fateh and Hamas, and its organizations did not launch strategic initiatives to counter the effects of the divisions. The result was that the Palestinian civil society became more fragmented after a decade, as the priorities of the operating organizations in the West Bank different from those of their counterparts in the Gaza Strip. Thus, although civil society should be an arena for resistance and mobilization against fragmentation, it has become part of the fragmentation itself.

There are 3,400 Palestinian civil society organizations registered with the Ministry of the interior, many of which were registered since the “Oslo” agreement with the encouragement of donors who provided nearly $34 billion to Palestinian institutions during the period between 1994 and 2017. As soon as the EU funding declared the new funding conditions over 132 institutions have issued a statement in which they addressed the EU and expressed their rejection of this condition and demanded its removal from contracts. However, this may lead to a serious threat of a complete closure for those institutions which also would immediately lead to a huge number of employees to lose their jobs if the EU insists on this condition. The other risk following this movement is that there are countries such as Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Belgium that follow the conditions of the European Union in their direct funding, and this means that the institutions will lose their historical donors.


Strengthening the Palestinian civil society and confronting fragmentation

Although the European Union restrictions may be detrimental to many local organizations, they still should be seen as an opportunity to develop a collective strategy that goes beyond traditional and formal Western aid. The pressure caused by the systematic cut-off of the international donor assistance will prompt many organizations to seek alternative resources within the Palestinian society in Palestine and the diaspora. Also, this pressure will lead to collaborate with the civil society movements and solidarity groups around the world that will all provide international platforms for advocacy and possibly financial resources to help to rebuild Palestinian civil society along new lines.

Civil society organizations need to prioritize civil society activities that focus on participatory and democratic structures centers on the human race and national social organization. Therefore, there should be organized efforts to open an internal dialogue focusing on the role of civil society in the agenda of national liberation, national mobilization, participation, resistance, knowledge, and anti-colonial policies. This must be joint with a perception of alternatives to the current aid system by finding new solidarity-based sources to fund the civil society activities. This could include self-financing programs that involve more Palestinians in the diaspora, international solidarity groups, and social justice movements that would help reduce dependence on conditional funding

In essence, the “no to the European Union condition” position, is not a Palestinian position that came for no reason. On the contrary, this situation requires a strategic position that puts an end to the donors’ response to Israeli conditions and accusations. Such position will indeed lead to several possibilities, including the collapse of some institutions that rely completely on the European Union’s funds, or the severe reduction of those institutions’ operations and work in general (this is primarily the responsibility of the institution because it was not prepared for such movement in advance). 

However, imposing such appendixes and clauses on civil institutions and forcing them to recognize such clauses is legally and morally unacceptable. Such conditions force the civil society institutions to abandon their legitimate and national rights recognized in the international law, ignoring the fact that Palestine is under occupation, and the inalienable rights of the Palestinians as a people subjected to persecution ignoring the people’s right to resistance, right to return and right to self-determination.

Besides, these conditions ignore the roots of the cause of the conflict, delegitimize and criminalize the history, and the resistance of the Palestinian people. Despite the assurance of the European Union regarding the absence of any Palestinian figure in the lists of terrorists and annexes of the European Union, the regulations imposed on organizations that receive European funding obligate them to carry out what they call “examination and audit procedures.” This means discrimination based on political affiliation and pushing the institutions to play the role of an accomplice security agents against their people. These measures lead to the isolation and delegitimization of civil society institutions at the national level, as well as additional fragmentation of the Palestinian national movement. Accordingly, the complete rejection of these conditions comes because they do not constitute a common understanding and do not agree with the Palestinian people’s rights and national priorities. This, again, calls Palestinian civil society to stand steadfast and search for alternative sources, including national sources, especially since national civil work originated voluntarily in its origin before being flooded with politically conditioned foreign funding.

There are no liberation battles without victims and sacrifices, and the national civil institutions are the best suited to present such a model in a difficult period that the Palestinian people are going through. The battle is not a battle of “winning opportunities against Israel”, nor a battle of intelligence and texts. The battle is a battle of a position for the rights and dignity of the Palestinian people. National civil institutions must announce strongly and clearly that what is required from the European Union is to review its policies and withdraw its recent condition on their funds, as the national civil institutions are not required to fall into the EU’s polytheism in exchange for its millions of dollar while those institutions stay without identity and affiliations.