SUMMARY: The World Bank Palestinian NGO project (WB-PNGO) aims to support “the overall professional, and strategic development of the Palestinian NGO sector”. It has been relatively successful, compared to other funders. However, the NGO Portal funded by the World Bank is a notable exception, providing a platform for extremist political NGOs such as PCHR, Al Haq, the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights and ARIJ; and has been as source of funding for Al Mezan, which was involved in its development. These organizations are exploiting the World Bank’s resources for external attacks against Israel, (including the use of terms such as “apartheid”) rather than focusing on internal development objectives.
Established in 1997, the World Bank Palestinian NGO project (WB-PNGO) aims to:
- Deliver services to the poor and marginalized in Palestinian society, using NGOs as the delivery mechanism;
- Improve the institutional capacities of NGOs receiving grants under the project; and
- Support efforts by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian NGO sector to strengthen their working relationship, including support for the development of a positive legal framework for the sector.
Split into two phases, the WB-PNGO and WB-PNGO II projects will together have provided US$41.9m for Palestinian NGOs by June 2006. WB-PNGO represents a unique approach by the World Bank – supporting NGOs directly, thereby bypassing the corruption and social service failures of the Palestinian Authority. In this way the Bank hopes to use NGOs to deliver much needed services, to strengthen these organizations in their contribution to Palestinian civil society, and to “suppor[t] the overall professional, and strategic development of the Palestinian NGO sector”.
WB-PNGO is managed by the Welfare Association Consortium, including the Welfare Association as the major partner, along with the British Council and the Charities Aid Foundation. However, the World Bank and the PA retain a no objection right over NGOs and projects suggested by the project manager, and performs continuous monitoring, publishing analyses of the projects’ impact. The September 2005 progress report (page 11) for PNGO II reported “substantial” progress in providing “much needed services”, and “targeting the poor and marginalised communities (60% of beneficiaries) and also in terms of their contribution to strengthening the institutional capacity of beneficiary NGOs”. The WB-PNGO also funds the $250,000 NGO Portal, an interactive website that provides services, information and a professional community for Palestinian NGOs.
WB-PNGO has been largely successful in channelling its funds towards NGOs with clear development agendas and conforming to the project’s funding guidelines. NGO Monitor notes that the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) was funded in the first phase of PNGO, but that it does not benefit from PNGO II. ARIJ takes a highly political and biased approach to its research, and is involved in the divestment campaign. However, the end of funding for ARIJ has removed this issue from the agenda.
Thus, the major concern involving World Bank funding for politicized groups is the NGO Portal, which provides a platform for incitement and is being exploited for extremist political campaigning. When NGOs distort reality to erase any background of terrorism and defence against it, employ vocabulary such as “war crimes” and “apartheid” intended to demonize and deligitimize Israel, such NGOs have placed themselves beyond the norms of human rights campaigning. The NGO Portal not only allows the participation of NGOs involved in this kind of activity, but some of its operational funds go to Al Mezan that “was contracted to assist in the development of the Portal”.
The exploitation of the Portal for externally directed political attacks is illustrated by its homepage of 7th December 2005, which headlines a PCHR press release entitled “Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Launch More Attacks on Palestinian Civilians and Property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. With an emotive (spontaneous?) picture of a distressed Palestinian woman clinging to tree with an army jeep in the background, the article erases any context of terrorism as it describes the “attacks” and “violations” of the IDF in the past week, calling on the international community to hold Israel accountable for “war crimes”. One of the “News” items, also on the Portal’s homepage is a press release from Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. Entitled “Al Mezan Condemns Israeli Offensive against Palestinian Cities and Towns,” this piece condemns Israel for its “military offensive on the Gaza Strip”, entirely removing the cause of this action – the firing of rockets by terrorists from Gaza into Israel.
According to the Portal website, Al Mezan is both a member of the Portal and part of the “executing agency”, given responsibility by the Welfare Consortium for the implementation of the Portal project. The evidence presented in this report shows that Al Mezan is abusing the Portal for political campaigning and to promote its highly biased view of the conflict. Given Al Mezan’s record of a virulent anti-Israel agenda that exploits human rights rhetoric for political ends, its involvement in the Portal is inconsistent with the World Bank’s objectives of promoting peace and cooperation.
Furthermore, the Portal’s editorial policy states that its purpose is to “provide technologies and tools to facilitate exchanges of credible and broadly based information on development,” and that “users must be able to trust that the selection of resources, issues, … on the site is unbiased, and is based solely on fact, careful analysis and the perceived needs of the PMO and Masader audiences”. In addition to promoting the work of many humanitarian NGOs, the Portal also publicizes the agendas of NGOs who promote anti-Israel demonization, political campaigning and incitement. These include the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, which uses rhetoric of apartheid and accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing;” Al Mezan, ARIJ, PCHR and Al Haq. The World Bank (in correspondence with NGO Monitor) claims that “[m]embers of the Portal are free to post any information about the projects they are managing” and it “cannot forbid NGOs from being members of an instrument that is established as a service to the NGO community”. However, the positions promoted by a number of NGOs that benefit from the Portal are inconsistent with the guidelines and the objectives of the World Bank in promoting peace.
The World Bank’s PNGO project supports a wide range of basic social services for the Palestinians. But by allowing the NGO Portal to be exploited by some NGOs for external attacks against Israel and incitement, the focus on internal development and promotion of Palestinian civil society is diluted and distorted.