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January 5, 2022 3:52 pm
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Dutch Government Cuts Funding to Leading Palestinian NGO, Citing Extensive Individual Ties With PFLP Terror Organization

avatar by Ben Cohen

Netherlands Foreign Minister Ben Knapen arriving at an international meeting in Paris in Nov. 2021. Photo: Reuters/Xose Bouzas/Hans Lucas

The Dutch government on Wednesday announced that it was cutting funds to a Palestinian NGO working in the agricultural sector over its ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the European Union, Israel, Australia, Canada and Japan.

The decision means that the Netherlands will not pay out the next installment of an aid grant to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), a Palestinian NGO that has so far received approximately $25 million of Dutch taxpayer money.

In a lengthy joint statement, Ben Knapen, the Dutch Foreign Minister, and Tom De Bruijn, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, said that research commissioned by the Netherlands cabinet from an independent consultancy had “provided sufficient evidence that there were ties at the individual level between UAWC staff and board members and the PFLP for a considerable period of time.”

The statement noted that “for the government, the findings on individual links between the UAWC and the PFLP and the lack of openness about this from the UAWC, also during the investigation, are sufficient reason to stop financing the activities of the UAWC. The Netherlands will not proceed with payment to UAWC of the last part of the financial contribution under the Land and Water Resource Management Program.”

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Last October, the UAWC was one of six Palestinian organizations proscribed by the Israeli government over their connections with the PFLP. Formed in 1967 as an ideological fusion of Marxism and Arab nationalism, the PFLP’s overarching goal is the violent defeat of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian state extending from the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan River.

The PFLP has carried out numerous violent attacks on Israel and moderate Arab targets over the years, including five suicide bombings during the Palestinian intifada in the early 2000s and the massacre in 2011 of five members of a Jewish family who lived in the settlement of Itamar in the West Bank.

The Dutch statement pointed out that the UAWC had received funding since 2013 because best practices in agriculture were “essential to the viability of the Palestinian economy and a future Palestinian state. This is why the Netherlands, along with many other donors, supports efforts by NGOs in this area.”

However, following the arrest by the Israeli authorities of two UAWC employees for an Aug. 23, 2019 terrorist bombing in the West Bank that claimed the life of a 17-year-old Israeli, Rina Shnerb, an internal investigation by the Dutch foreign ministry found that both men’s salaries had been paid in part with funds donated by the Netherlands. Last July, the Dutch suspended funding of the UAWC pending its external investigation.

The report by independent consultancy Proximities Research found “no evidence of financial flows between UAWC and the PFLP … Nor was evidence found of organizational unity with or direction by the PFLP,” the Dutch statement said. However, the investigation did establish 34 cases of individuals with PFLP connections who worked for the UAWC between 2007-20. “In the Cabinet’s view, the external investigation provided sufficient evidence that there were ties at the individual level between UAWC staff and board members and the PFLP for a considerable period of time,” the statement observed. “The large number of UAWC board members with dual mandates is of particular concern.”

NGO Monitor, an independent Israeli research institute focused on donations to Palestinian groups by national governments and foundations, welcomed the Dutch announcement and urged other governments to “follow suit.” In a statement, NGO Monitor highlighted the substantial funding received by the UAWC from a variety of international agencies during the last five years, including $12 million from the Canadian government, $25 million from the European Union and $8 million from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In a separate statement, the UAWC declared itself “shocked and saddened” by the Dutch decision, accusing the Netherlands of “not just abandoning UAWC, but Palestinian civil society at large.” Emphasizing that the Proximities Research report had found no evidence of financial transactions or shared infrastructure between the UAWC and the PFLP, the statement charged that “from the onset, this investigation was politically motivated and responded to the pressure of the Israeli government and malign organizations affiliated with it.”

The UAWC statement further criticized the former Dutch Development Minister Sigrid Kaag, who was in office in July 2020 when the decision to suspend funding was taken.

Pointing out that Kaag had witnessed the UAWC in action during a Feb. 2020 visit to the West Bank, the statement asserted that “no one understands the context in Palestine and the implications of the Dutch government decision to end funding for the UAWC better than Ms. Kaag.”

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