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Palestinian civil society rejects EU’s conditional funding | News

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Palestinian civil society organisations have formed a national campaign that rejects the European Union’s conditional funding based its “anti-terror clause”.

The stipulation, which was included in EU grant proposals late last year, identifies at least seven Palestinian political parties as “terrorist groups”, and calls for Palestinian civil society organisations to vet individuals to ensure they are not affiliated with such parties.

However, these organisations have described these conditions as “criminalising” the Palestinian national struggle against the Israeli occupation.

“The EU’s imposition of the clause and restrictive measures constitutes the criminalisation of the Palestinian liberation struggle and its freedom fighters based on Western criteria and standards,” said Lubnah Shomali, the spokeswoman for the anti-EU conditional funding campaign.

“It does not take into consideration the legal status of Palestine under international law – as a country and a people facing oppression and a foreign colonial domination.”

The response comes as Israel is expected to commence plans to annex areas in the West Bank and Jordan Valley on Wednesday. 

‘Security accomplice’

According to Article 1.5 of Annex II listed in the “General conditions applicable to European Union-financed grant contracts for external actions”, several Palestinian factions – including Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – are listed as terrorist groups or entities on the EU’s sanctions list.

EU Palestine

A Palestinian truck driver in the Gaza Strip places an EU flag on a fuel tanker as he waits for fuel coming from Israel [File: Wissam Nassar/AP]

The clause also calls on civil organisations to screen individuals involved in projects based on the EU Restrictive Measures – which have been denounced by the Palestinian national campaign as being forced to play the role of a “security accomplice against its people”.

This will create a situation in which recipient organisations are forced to determine who can and cannot benefit or participate in EU-funded projects, Shomali told Al Jazeera.

“Such policing actions fall under the purview of states and government agencies, not civil organisations,” she said, adding the credibility of Palestinian organisations will suffer in terms of their relationship with civil society.

‘Devoid of context’

Hanan Hussein, who works with the Bisan Center for Research and Development, said signing the anti-terrorist clause represents an agreement with the EU position.

“The vetting process includes banning anyone involved in a potential project that was ever arrested by Israel,” Hussein said.

“This is completely devoid of the context of our reality, which is living under an Israeli occupation. Are we, as civil society organisations that work for the betterment of Palestinian society, supposed to vet everyone who has been arrested by Israel?”

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The Palestinian National Campaign to Reject Conditional Funding, which has been signed by some 230 Palestinian civil organisations, calls on the EU to revoke the anti-terrorism clause from its contracts with Palestinian civil society institutions.

In a statement last December, the campaign pledged to take further action on the international and domestic level to “stand against and resist the criminalisation of Palestinian history, struggle, rights and its political parties”, as well as “attempts to implicate civil society in this dangerous trap”.

Palestinian political factions and forces are not terrorist organisations and their popular, national, and legal statuses are not determined by a European document,” the statement said.

Shomali said the campaign is not against conditional funding when it pertains to administrative or financial requirements, but against conditions that “marginalises or denies our inalienable rights”.

“While the EU has the power to set its own criteria and regulations, it cannot enforce this Western ideology on others,” she said. 

The campaign is involved in raising awareness on what it means to receive conditional funding from donors, and in obtaining a unified stance against the EU’s condition, which will force the EU to rethink its clause.

“The EU claims that the clause is not new and that this is only a technical or administrative distinction,” Shomali said. “But that is clearly not the case.”

Before 2020, the “anti-terror clause” was not imposed as a condition in EU grant proposals.

The United States on the other hand, under its USAID programmes, has always stipulated this clause in its funding of Palestinian projects across the occupied territories, but a vast majority of Palestinian organisations have refused to agree to the condition and accept American government funding.

At the time of publication, the EU’s representative office in the occupied Palestinian territories did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

‘Principled stance’

Last May, the EU faced pressure from Israel to take more decisive actions against Palestinian organisations following a letter sent by a senior EU official to Palestinian NGOs that assured them membership in, or affinity to, one of the Palestinian political factions, which included in its list does not automatically prevent a person from being eligible to participate in EU-funded programmes.

Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, for a “dressing down”, various Israeli media outlets reported.

“Israel utterly condemns and categorically objects to the Union’s policy on the funding of terrorist organisations,” the ministry said in a statement.

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In a first, the EU withdrew funding a month later from Badil, a Palestinian non-profit organisation that works to promote the rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons, after it refused to sign the “anti-terrorism” clause.

Badil’s proposed three-year project, titled Mobilising for Justice in Jerusalem, lost 6.5 million shekels ($1.9m).

The project was aimed at creating and developing a more institutionalised grassroots mobilisation and advocacy effort between Palestinian youth and social justice groups in the US.

Hussein – whose workplace Bisan Center defines itself as supporting the poor and marginalised “in their struggles to achieve their socioeconomic rights in the context of national and democratic liberation in Palestine” – said there has been a financial drain on such organisations that have refused the EU’s condition.

“Palestinian civil society is donor-dependent,” she said. “Bisan used to get its funding primarily from EU governments, but we withdrew our project concept notes for this year after they included the ATC [anti-terror clause] in their contracts.

“No doubt, we are going through a tough financial period at all levels within our organisation, which has affected employee salaries and inability to finish our projects,” she continued.

“But lack of money does not mean Palestinian civil institutions cannot take a principled stance against conditional funding.”

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