Opinion

EU agenda: Diminishing support for Palestinians one clause at a time

The message from the EU is clear: acquiesce with our agenda or the money stops.
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After a lengthy correspondence on June 12 the European Union informed the Palestinian human rights organization BADIL that it was canceling their 1.7 million euro joint project, “Mobilizing for Justice in Jerusalem.” The reason the three-year program was canceled? BADIL refused to sign the so-called “anti-terrorism” clause added in the EU’s project conditions.

BADIL is not alone in rejecting those conditions. Last December, following the decision by the EU to incorporate this clause to all its grants, 230 Palestinian groups founded a national campaign to reject all politically conditioned funding. These include arts organizations like the Palestine Circus School, the Freedom Theater, and media groups like the Alternative Information Center. As a legal researcher at BADIL for six years, I have been following the issue closely. 

Palestinian nonprofits have overwhelmingly rejected the clause because it allows for the labeling of local political parties and resistance movements as terrorist organizations. As well, it imposes the EU’s definition of what constitutes terrorism on Palestinians, who must accept it – in effect, agreeing that their neighbors, friends, or relatives are “terrorists” – if they wish to receive European funding. What’s more, there is a participatory element where organizations would be asked to screen all persons and groups involved in funded projects, whether they are staff, participants to workshops, or beneficiaries of assistance. This would create a process of using civil society groups to decide who is a “good” or “bad” Palestinian based on European and Israeli criteria. This completely ignores the political context in which Palestinian civil society organizations operate. Categorized as a people “under colonial and foreign domination” by the United Nations, Palestinians have a recognized right to resist the Israeli occupation by all means necessary, including armed struggle. The unchecked criminalization of Palestinian resistance, presented as an essential condition for receiving European funding, ignores the root cause of these resistance movements: the ongoing dispossession of their land. 

The campaign organizations collectively asked the EU for a meeting to talk through the conditions, but its response was that the issue was not open for discussion. An EU official then claimed the clause pertains to all EU grantees, not only Palestinians. The campaign discovered, however, that the EU finalized contracts with other civil society organizations without this clause, including some inside Israel and in neighboring Arab countries. The campaign also found that the EU did negotiate contract conditions in other countries. Despite these findings, the EU has remained immovable in its decision to impose these new anti-terror conditions on Palestinian grantees.

The clause, officially known as “Article 1.5 (bis) of Annex II of the general conditions” is applicable to all EU grants issued in July 2019 or later. The new conditions require beneficiaries to “ensure that there is no detection of subcontractors, natural persons, including participants to workshops and/or training and recipients of financial support to third parties, in the lists of EU restrictive measures.” While seemingly innocuous to an outside eye, these kinds of conditions have specific intentionality and are not new to Palestinians. They represent a long line of international donors conditioning Palestinian civil society to create a division from political society. Western donors do not want Palestinian NGOs to engage in anything that might resemble national politics.

Following the Oslo Accords, Palestinian groups were exposed to a barrage of restrictions on funding that “encouraged” Palestinian organizations to divert their focus from national liberation to the peace process. A few years later, in 2002, USAID introduced an “anti-terrorism” clause, which resulted in many Palestinian organizations rejecting the American aid. Other international donors followed suit. The anti-terror clause introduced by the EU is the latest iteration of this trend.

Given the Trump administration has halted most U.S. funding to Palestinians, alternative funding from the EU and elsewhere has become essential to promote basic development and institution maintenance. The EU allocates around $390 million a year, making it one of the principal donors to Palestinian civil society and, as such, the row over this rider has very tangible consequences on the ground. With West Bank annexation looming, Palestinian civil society organizations that focus on monitoring and denouncing Israeli crimes will be weakened or collapse altogether. This defunding makes the EU complicit in Israel’s land grab.

Many regard the new clause as undoubtedly the result of Israeli pressure on European governments. In January of this year, shortly after the Palestinian National Campaign to Reject Conditional Funding was launched, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affair Gilad Erdan wrote the incoming EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell urging him to impose stricter conditions on grants or to stop funding Palestinian organizations altogether. Erdan has alleged groups who are affiliated with Palestinian lawmakers who are in administrative detention, or imprisoned without charge, have ties to terrorism. 

More broadly, EU diplomats and officials have noted the strong presence of Israeli lobbyists in Brussels, with ten new lobby groups having opened offices in the city since 2003. Lobbying activities have focused extensively on pressuring European countries to reduce or end their support for Palestinian civil society. 

While it may enjoy a more unbiased reputation, the EU is now following the U.S. lead when it comes to the Palestinians. Though Europe has not vocally supported Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, the EU’s failure to pose any meaningful challenge to annexation and its imposition of political conditions on Palestinian civil society result in clear complicity with crimes on the ground. Criminalizing Palestinian resistance while Israel commits daily war crimes in the occupied territory exposes Europe’s utter failure to support international law and the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. 

The message from the EU is clear: acquiesce with our agenda or the money stops.