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Israel has been appointed to serve on the United Nations committee on non-governmental organizations for four years beginning January 1.
Israel was given the endorsement to serve on the committee as a member of the Western Nations grouping by the UN Economic and Social Commission. The other three members of Israel's grouping are the United Kingdom, United States, and Turkey. Among the 18 other countries with whom Israel will serve on the committee are Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and Cuba.
Concurrently, the Israel Women's Lobby was accepted by that committee as a recognized NGO, allowing them to take part in international conferences and submit reports to the UN and other international bodies.
"This is part of the ongoing effort of Israel to partake in the civil society activities of the UN, just as any other western country contributing to the UN does," said Orli Gil, a Foreign Ministry official, regarding Israel's appointment.
Israel currently serves on five other UN committees dealing with drug trafficking, the environment, trade law, sustainable development, and planning UN activities.
Israel has a mixed history with NGOs operating here and in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian and foreign groups have often mixed political agendas with humanitarian work, drawing criticism from the government. On the other hand, NGO groups have sometimes charged that the Israeli government hampers their relief efforts.
Gil said that in assuming the committee position, Israel was not seeking to assert more control over the dozens of NGOs operating in Israel and the territories.
"We are now, in Israel, democratically mature enough to be able to recognize the importance of civil society here and not be afraid of somebody criticizing us," she said.
NGOs are increasingly in the spotlight since Israel and the international community have declared their unwillingness to work with the Hamas-led PA while at the same time maintaining humanitarian aid that flows to the Palestinian people.
It is through NGOs that the United States will send much of the $245 million in aid money and projects it is spending on the Palestinians in 2006. With the European Commission working on a mechanism of their own to transfer aid to the Palestinians while bypassing Hamas, it is possible that NGOs operating here will receive even greater funding and responsibilities than they have to date.
However, two weeks ago, a group of 32 NGOs operating inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip said that even with increased funding, they were incapable of duplicating the services that the PA provides to the Palestinian people.
Israel is in "constant dialog" with many of those NGOs, Gil said.
"We know about their activities and we help in any way we can, especially when its humanitarian and legal," she said. "We don't see them as operating against us. What we do have problems with are lawbreakers like [the International Solidarity Movement] and those who publish reports with incorrect factsâ€¦ I'm sorry to say that quite a few of them are publishing things that are out of context or even not true."