The Palestinian Legislative Council has rejected a US-sponsored demand that Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) refrain from transferring funds to individuals or groups that engage in terrorism.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) 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 al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
About 30 Palestinian NGOs have declared that they would not sign the anti-terrorist commitment. Many of the groups obtain funding from the US agency and American philanthropists.
On Wednesday, the PLC held a session in Ramallah during which its members discussed the USAID demand and decided to support the Palestinian NGOs’ position in rejecting it.
Azmi Shuaibi, chairman of the PLC Economic Committee, said the anti-terrorism commitment is in violation of the Palestinian Authority law that forbids charitable organizations and NGOs to accept conditional aid. He described the commitment as an illegal and immoral demand.
He noted that the Palestinians have already rejected this demand and accused Israel of exploiting the issue to "distort the Palestinian national struggle" by defining it as terrorism.
Shuaibi said the decision to vote against the anti-terrorism clause was also taken out of fear that other donor countries might follow suit and ask the Palestinians to sign the pledge.
Shuaibi told the PLC that the PA and Palestinian NGOs have been negotiating with USAID in an attempt to persuade the American agency to change its policy, but to no avail.
He said that USAID made some amendments to the clause, but the Palestinians remain unsatisfied. He described the amendments as "ambiguous and politically-motivated." Hassan Asfour, chairman of the network of Palestinian NGOs, said during the meeting that the PA cabinet has also rejected the US anti-terrorism commitment at his recommendation. The new terms were set by USAID after the 9/11 attacks and presented to NGOs in 2003.
Palestinian NGOs have rejected the demand as "provocative," saying they will never sign the pledge.
"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 [consisting of] terrorist acts,’ " a statement by the 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."