USAID, Palestinian civil society at impasse over anti-terror clause

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The United States has no plans to compromise over rules requiring Palestinian organizations to sign an anti-terrorism clause before receiving government funds, a US embassy spokesperson said January 13. The issue was highlighted this week when Palestinian minister of finance Salam Fayyad denounced a US government requirement that civil society groups pledge in writing not to support factions or individuals the United States has put on its terrorism list. Fayyad’s comments were made as the Palestinian NGO Network, an umbrella organization for civil society groups, began a campaign this month to inform Palestinian organizations that receive US funding about the new requirement.  

“We are aware of it,” the embassy spokesperson said of Palestinian opposition. “But the rules come from Washington, and there is no compromise in the war on terror.” All but two of the major Palestinian factions –” Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Fateh-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades –” have been named by the US as terrorist organizations by presidential order. Some individual Hamas leaders have also had their assets frozen using broad new US laws.  

As part of these measures, USAID contractors and their local partners were informed in early 2003 that they would be asked to certify that they had not and would not “provide material support or resources to any individual or entity that it [the organization] knows, or has reason to know, is an individual or entity that advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or has engaged in terrorist activity…’ By July, and after a freeze in the disbursement of funds, PNGO had announced that it opposed the signing of the new rules.  

‘The ball is in their court,” says Rima Awad of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Societies. PARC does not receive a substantial amount of US government funds, but it is working with others who do to try to find a solution. “We are service providers. We build clinics. We cannot deny services to someone because they are a member of Hamas,” is how she explains the Palestinian position.  

This is not the first time that Palestinians have been antagonized by the new rules instituted by the US government after the incidents of September 11. In December 2002, Palestinian organizations were angered to learn that in order to receive funding from the US Agency for International Development, personal information about their board members would have to be submitted to USAID for vetting to ensure that individuals or organizations were not affiliated with terrorist organizations named by the US State Department. Then, however, USAID worked closely with international and Palestinian aid groups to try to find a solution.  

This time, although USAID officials have met with the heads of local and international NGOs to hear out the complaints, there is no effort underway to compromise, according to US and USAID representatives. “We are talking to our Palestinian partners, and we hope that in the end they will come along,” says the embassy spokesperson. They liken the new paperwork to organizations’ commitments to provide equal opportunity and a drug-free workplace, and say that the new rule has been instituted without exception worldwide.  

But Rana Bishara of PNGO says that Palestinians require special consideration. She argues that the new rules can be easily manipulated in Israel’s favor. “This is part of a general campaign by pro-Israeli parties to put pressure on international NGOs not to support Palestinian development.”  

What is at stake is the $75 million that USAID has allotted to the West Bank and Gaza this year. Most international contractors that perform an intermediary role between USAID and Palestinian organizations have been required by their home offices to sign the new paperwork. While they have played an important role as advocates in previous donor disputes, this time that role has been limited.  

The US branch of CARE International is the second largest non-governmental organization in the United States. Most of its work at 70 offices around the world is funded by USAID. Right now, CARE is running, to the tune of $5 million, the largest health emergency program in the West Bank and Gaza. “The current situation in Palestinian society requires a major influx of aid, otherwise we are going to see a major collapse in socioeconomic indicators,” says CARE International’s senior program specialist Ayman Mashni. As such, CARE is doing its best to facilitate an agreement between USAID and its local partners that have signed on to the PNGO protest.

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