The fact that the ties between Palestinian civil society groups and terrorist organizations have significantly deepened over the years should alarm anyone.

By Emily Schrader

A tactic made famous by Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leaders have a long and rich history of saying one thing to Western audiences, and another thing entirely to their own Palestinian audience. If recent reports are any indicator, that tradition has expanded to Palestinian NGOs, which are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the EU and European governments. The recent reports from the Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs paint an alarming picture of how terrorist organizations like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) are actively and intentionally using Palestinian NGOs to collect funds and promote goals of internationally recognized terrorist groups.

While the EU is aware of the problem, much more should be done. The EU and other European states who fund these organizations have taken a positive first step in conditioning funding to Palestinian NGOs on renouncing involvement with terror groups, but they must apply more scrutiny in how they disperse funds to such NGOs to avoid issues like this in the future. Additionally, NGOs with extensive ties to the PFLP should not be welcomed to advise international bodies such as the UN and EU on major issues in the region.

Nearly one year ago, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a report titled “Terrorists in Suits” about the Palestinian BDS movement and their ties to terror groups. The report named 13 pro-BDS Palestinian civil society organizations, as well as some of the activities of their leaders and involvement with terror. The report sparked a discussion over European funding for many of these NGOs, and at least in part, led to the EU’s recent demand that European funding to these groups be conditional upon Palestinian NGOs distancing themselves from terrorist organizations. Incredibly, the Palestinian response has been defending the NGO-terrorist alliance, and outrage over the demands that they reject what they call “political” alliances. At the end of 2019, over 130 Palestinian NGOs jointly refused to renounce ties to terrorist groups. This response ought to serve as a warning sign to the EU that increased scrutiny, perhaps even in the form of EU legislation, is needed to ensure financial transparency.

This month, nearly a year after the original “Terrorists in Suits” report, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs has released even more evidence not just about BDS groups, but about multiple Palestinian NGOs whose leaders, employees, and board members are active members of the PFLP, which has been recognized by the EU as a terrorist organization since 2002. The pattern is clear: Palestinian NGOs aren’t gradually becoming less extreme in their involvement with terrorism, but are becoming more involved and are using the language of human rights to obtain European funding.

One of the most egregious examples is the NGO for Palestinian “prisoner rights” Addameer. Addameer leaders regularly meet with EU officials and are very involved internationally. It even participated in the UN Human Rights Council’s discussions on Israel in 2018, and urges the ICC war crimes probe of Israel. They also hold “educational” events on campuses with students in the US. Multiple Addameer employees and leaders have a long and rich track record of terrorist convictions and, in several cases, have been Addameer employees and PFLP operatives simultaneously. It is problematic, to say the least, for the EU or UN to be advised on their decisions by organizations with such extensive ties to an EU-recognized terrorist organization.

From 2013-2019, Addameer received nearly $2.1 million from the EU and European member states, including Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain. The Basque autonomous community alone has given it over $920,000 in grants between 2014 and 2019. From 2014 to 2017, Addameer received $498,700 from the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (according to their website), a joint funding body financed by Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. With such significant EU investment, heightened transparency is an absolute necessity.

If the EU is not prepared to cut funding completely, they must double down and demand not only that Palestinian NGOs commit to not working with terrorist organizations, but also that they demonstrate complete financial transparency as to how their money is being spent. Palestinian NGOs should also be required to prove, in light of the evidence, that their employees and leaders are not active PFLP members, perhaps by a new disclosure requirement of past and present civil society affiliations.

The fact that the ties between Palestinian civil society groups and terrorist organizations have significantly deepened over the years, and that simultaneously their ties to European countries have also deepened, should alarm anyone. The EU, and other European states, have an obligation to ensure their grants are not being used to fund the expansion of terrorist activities. They also have an obligation to ensure that decisions made at the UN and EU regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not unduly influenced by groups with PFLP ties.