Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Palestinian organizations are refusing to accept U.S. foreign aid this year, rather than sign a pledge promising that the money will not be used to support terrorism.

“This requirement is a worldwide requirement, not just for Palestinians,” said Portia Palmer, a spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “The majority of the [nongovernmental organizations] worldwide have signed it.”

The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization’s Network (PNGO), an umbrella organization comprised of 92 Palestinian aid groups, is urging its members to refuse to sign the pledge.

The network includes hospitals, clinics, seniors organizations, human rights and law groups and other civil organizations. Phone calls yesterday to PNGO headquarters on the West Bank were not answered.

Groups such as Hamas do run social programs, but the groups also were behind many of the 106 suicide bombings conducted against Israel in the past three years.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, which has received about $300,000 a year in U.S. aid in the past, refused to sign the pledge and will forgo U.S. funding this year.

“We would like to take funds from them, but without conditions,” Faiq Hussein, Red Crescent deputy director, told the Associated Press.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the United States has distributed $1.3 billion for Palestinian programs in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in humanitarian and economic assistance.

Congress has appropriated $125 million for Palestinian programs for 2003.

Miss Palmer said USAID did not have a number of how many Palestinian aid organizations were refusing to sign the pledge.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said that the refusal to sign the pledge should not be seen as support for terrorism, rather that in Palestinian society it is politically expedient to reject the funds than endure the tremendous political pressure they will face for signing the pledge.

“This is not clearly understood in the United States,” said Mr. Zogby. “The idea of providing no ‘material support’ is such a broad brush stroke, it compromises the ability of the humanitarian organizations to function.”

He said making Palestinian organizations judge who is and who is not a terrorist is a prescription for creating civil war in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

In response to September 11, President Bush signed Executive Order 13224, requiring all recipients of U.S. aid to guarantee that their organization does not support terrorism.

The order, in effect since the end of 2002, requires Palestinian organizations receiving U.S. aid to sign a pledge that they do not “provide material support or resources to any individual or entity that advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or had engaged in terrorist activity.”

The pledge exempts “medicine and religious materials” from the restrictions.

PNGO, which held an organizational meeting Monday, is urging its members to seek alternative funding from Europe and Japan, which do not require a similar pledge.

Private foundations are also wrestling over who or which groups to fund.

In November, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, sent a letter to the Ford Foundation asking it to deny funding to anti-Semitic Palestinian groups, in particular the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), which is a member of PNGO.

LAW was an active and effective organizer against Israel at the 2002 U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, which became a platform to accuse Israel of practicing racism against Palestinians.

Ford, which gives roughly $3.4 million a year to Palestinian groups, now requires a pledge similar to the one required by USAID.

“Ford will not support organizations that promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state,” wrote Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. The letter also said LAW’s funding from Ford had been terminated.

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