Palestinians NGOs not buying U.S. anti-terror terms for aid

Special to World
Monday, January 5, 2004

GAZA CITY The United States has failed to persuade Palestinian non-governmental organizations to sign a commitment that they will not aid groups deemed by the State Department as terrorist.

The result could jeopardize U.S. plans to transfer tens of millions of dollars to the Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during fiscal 2004.

Over the weekend, the NGOs reiterated their rejection of the terms set by the U.S. Agency for International Development for the receipt of U.S. aid. The terms were drafted after the Al Qaida suicide strikes on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001 and presented to NGOs last year.

"It is not clear on what basis and upon which criteria the definition of 'terrorist acts' has been determined, especially in light of Israeli attempts to portray the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence as 'violent and terrorist acts,'" a statement by NGOs said. "Palestinian NGOs are developmental organizations that aid and empower Palestinian society through service-oriented activities and awareness raising, based on the principles of democracy, social justice, and respect for human rights."

The U.S. pledge, entitled "Certification Regarding Terrorist Financing," lists a range of commitments required from NGOs that operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They include a pledge that NGOs will not engage in activity with groups deemed as terrorist, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-sponsored Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

Raji Surani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said the U.S. demands will divide Palestinian society. Surani said U.S. AID has demanded that NGOs provide no assistance to or engage in contact with Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Hamas's Yusef Al Qiyadi, both of whom are in Israeli prisons.

On Monday, a coalition of NGOs was expected to announce plans for a campaign against the U.S. demands. The groups, included those linked to the Palestinian Authority, plan to lobby Washington to drop the AID conditions and hold protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources said the NGOs have been under pressure from Fatah and Hamas not to sign the U.S. commitment. Hamas is regarded as a leading funder of social programs in the PA areas.

Israel has sought to increase efforts to stop Palestinian insurgency financing but has failed to pass a law similar to the U.S. Patriot Act, which would grant the government wide authority to seize suspected insurgency assets. Last year, Israeli forces seized a large amount of money at the headquarters of PA Preventative Intelligence in Gaza City.

On Sunday, the Cabinet decided to accept the recommendation of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz that these funds will be used for what a government statement termed the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. The statement said the funds will be added to the budget of Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which oversees civilian projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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