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A fight over external funding between the PAGO (Palestinian Authority governmental organization) and other Palestinian NGOs is taking place at the moment. This crisis was in fact created by the foreign donors who ceased checking whether the NGOs were independent or not.
Today independent NGOs are considered "useless" and rather ineffective.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas created in his office a so-called Jerusalem Unit, which is aimed at attracting foreign aid and funds which previously would have gone directly to local, independent NGOs. As its head, Abbas appointed a lawyer who used to work with an NGO. By this tactical move, he successfully blurred the lines between a governmental organization and an NGO and maintains financial and political control over the independent NGOs.
The head of this new unit is meeting with representatives of Western countries to raise funds and convince and encourage foreign donors to give money to the Jerusalem Unit, which will decide to which NGOs it will pass on the money. That means that NGOs can no longer go to foreign missions, and if they attempt to, some missions will tell them to go to the President's Office/Jerusalem Unit and request money from them.
To give an example: A small independent NGO based in east Jerusalem applied for funding to a European country's diplomatic mission in Ramallah. It was told that the mission has an agreement with the President's Office/Jerusalem Unit (within which there was created the Jerusalem Foundation), and that it had transferred $1.5 million as a contribution from its country's Foreign Ministry. The small NGO then contacted the Jerusalem Unit to get funds from it. The unit asked it to submit a proposal of the project for which it was seeking funding. The NGO complied and asked for $30,000. Months passed but the NGO has not yet received an answer.
When the NGO asked whether its proposal had been accepted, it was told the Jerusalem Unit was still dealing with the bureaucratic procedures concerning the submission. The Jerusalem Unit received the money at the beginning of this year, obviously without an idea of how and to whom it wanted to give the money. I am convinced that the lawyer at the head of the Jerusalem unit will give his former NGO priority in funding.
At one point the small Jerusalem NGO complained to the European country's representative office that it had received no answer from the Jerusalem Unit. The office wrote a letter to the Jerusalem Unit asking for a financial report and a narrative report about what was happening with the substantial donation.
As a result the small NGO received a phone call from the unit deriding the NGO for daring to complain about the President's Office to a foreign country. After six months of warnings, threats and intimidation, the NGO has received only a third of the money it originally applied for.
HOW CAN NGOs stay independent and politically neutral if they have to apply for funds through the President's Office? How can they be effective when made so dependent? How can ordinary people trust them after they have become de facto employees of the president?
Democracy never has been imposed by political leaders or governments. Instead, democracy is by definition determined by people. If the international donors start playing the role Abbas and the Jerusalem Unit have created for them, democracy in Palestinian will never be realized.
In August one Palestinian was killed by Israel whereas 36 were killed by other Palestinians. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, 282 Palestinians have been killed by gunfire, 43 died of unknown causes, one was beaten to death, seven fell victim to so-called honor killings and one Palestinian was legally executed (the numbers of the West Bank are 19, three, eight, four, four).
The international donors should keep this state of violence and lawlessness in mind when giving money to the PA.
The writer is founder and director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group based in east Jerusalem.
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