The EU diplomatically supports a two state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict based on two democratic entities which have secure borders and are at peace with each other. An honourable objective we should all support. Given this objective it is strange that the EU funds groups diametrically opposed to this vision. NGOs which oppose a two state solution, advocate the abolition of Israel, equate Israeli Liberal Democracy with apartheid South Africa and advocate recognition of and engagement with Hamas receive EU grants. A report by NGO Monitor entitled “Europe’s Hidden Hand, EU Funding for Political NGOs in the Arab-Israeli Conflict" details (in as much depth as the public can access) who we are funding and what the groups advocate. Its findings are pretty shocking.
NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict region receive funding by two main mechanisms. These are the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership for Peace (PfP). NGOs headquartered in the EU were financed under a third mechanism entitled co financing until 2008. As of 2008 these NGOs will be funded under a new program named “Non state actors and local authorities in development” which aims to pursue the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. It is too early to judge the success of this new program and given the change fruitless to assess the success of the previous program. Thus the NGO Monitor report mainly concentrates on assessing EU financing of NGOs active in the Arab- Israeli conflict region.
As one would expect of the EU – a body which has never had its financial accounts approved by auditors – it is difficult to ascertain accurate data on EU funding of NGOs. Finding out who is paid what, why, by whom and for what purpose is not easy to identify. Funding figures are displayed over different time periods making comparisons difficult. Requests to the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (the body responsible for distributing grants to projects executed by UN Agencies) for specific information and guidelines were not answered. NGO Monitor also notes “There are no mechanisms for the public (European, Israeli, or Palestinian) to follow or understand the process, applications are not available for the publics review, and no external party has access to the information necessary too challenge the EU’s judgment”.
Questions asked by MEP Paul Van Buitenen in December 2006 revealed what the EC are not prepared to tell us about its funding of NGOs. We are not entitled to a full list of the NGOs the EU funds (some don’t want to publicise their details). However, we are assured that grants are independently assessed. The identity of the ‘independent’ assessors chosen is not revealed. We do know the ‘independent assessors’ are chosen by the “headquarters” of the people they are assessing. An interesting fact this – these bodies choose who assesses them. I think if it was me and I was looking for a fair and impartial assessment of my actions I would choose my mum to do it. I reckon her assessment would be fair and unbiased. But then again under EU rules we would not be able to know the criteria under which she judged my decisions (detailed funding criteria are not revealed) nor would we know what mark she gave me (the results of these independent assessments are not open to public view). Given we are not told who is paid what, against what criteria and how successful they were in achieving their aims the value of this independent assessment is highly suspect.
The EU claims it funds projects in isolation on their merits. Indeed the authorizing officers cannot refuse an application based on a NGOs political stance. The EU does not fund the NGOs that operate these schemes they just fund the schemes. They do not consider the other political activities the NGO is engaged in. However, this distinction is false. Funding of specific projects raises the profile of an organisation. It supports its infrastructure paying for staff, equipment, office space, publicity for the organisation etc. It also frees up resources to spend on other activities. The report notes that organisations such as ICAHD and ARIJ which support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel do not operate strict separation arrangements when they display the EU flag on many of their publications. Publications not part of the specific EU project funded. The display of this EU flag essentially means these organisations are choosing to highlight their link with the EU and associate it with the publications that feature it and by implication their own organisation. In some quarters this may add credibility to their organisation.
However, even if the direct EU funding of NGOs was clear and transparent there would still be problems. This is because the report notes “NGOs are able to re-grant a portion of the funds they receive to other civil society organizations, yet NGO candidates are not required to identify the names of potential re-grant recipients when they submit their application”. Therefore, it seems you can make an application and gain funding for the Kids for peace and love campaign to provide starving kids with cookies. This money can then be given to the adults who hate kids program for general destruction. We do not know the identity of third parties re-granted money by the NGOs we support or the amounts involved because the EC does not publish this information.
The report notes that non partisan organisations do exist which focus on implementing a positive agenda bringing communities together. Some receive EU funding. These include The Arava Institute which funds environmental projects, Bitterlemons.org an internet dialogue forum between Arabs and Israelis and Internews Europe which the report says has worked to increase the “quality, diversity and professionalism of Palestinian local radio”. Each of these organisations promotes the EUs stated aim of “demonstrating the advantages of working together for mutual benefit and tangible results”.
Unfortunately the EU also funds many groups whose activities seem designed to nurture the hatred which sustains this conflict and frustrate the development of a two state solution to which the EU is committed. Christian Aids statements are particularly disgraceful. The collapse of the Palestinian Unity government and the conflict between Hamas and the PA are apparently “the predictable result of prolonged Israeli blockade and political isolation by the International community”. The report notes that “Hamas’ radical ideology...corruption, and terror attacks against Israeli civilians are entirely missing”. Such statements are part of a broader campaign by Christian Aid to encourage “boycott, divestment and sanctions” against Israel. How much of the 850,000 Euro granted by the EU is diverted towards these disgraceful campaigns which hamper genuine efforts to build peace and understanding in the region we do not know.
The report concludes with a series of constructive recommendations to ensure transparency and accountability in EU funding of NGOs. These include a complete list of NGOs funded by the EU by country, region and activity. We should know who applied for funding, who was approved and on what basis they were approved. Any list of the successful applicants should contain relevant details such as the recipient, contact information, amount, project name and a description of that project. This should be obtainable in a standardised format to enable comparisons between different bodies. NGOs applying for funding should have to disclose which other third parties they will fund through re-granting in advance as part of the applications process. This information should be publically available. Professional consistent impact assessments should be done regularly in to each program. These programs should be assessed against whether the activities of the NGO as a whole support achievement of the EUs regional objectives as stated in the relevant EU guidelines. Red Lines need to be drawn to ensure that the EU is not funding any activities by groups which engage in unacceptable behaviour. This behaviour includes calling for the destruction of a state or calling for its delegitimisation. This would bring the EU in line with standards set by private bodies such as the Ford Foundation which ensures its recipients do not “promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state, nor will it make sub-grants to any entity that engages in these activities”.
The system of allocation is clearly a shambles with little accountability or assessment of the value of making these grants. However this crisis also presents us with an opportunity. The European Commission issues “Calls for Proposals” on the web sites of its offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. All you need is to found/find an NGO with a base in Israel/Palestine think of a specific project and detail how it will fulfil the objectives of the CfP. Then submit an application. In each cycle of applications the EC receives up to 200 applications I think we can increase this number. The quality of the current winner’s projects standards indicates that standards are not high. It may be worth making an application.
Until the EU reforms its processes for granting, administering and assessing it’s funding to NGOs and makes the information public such funding cannot be viewed as legitimate. These funds will appear to be little more than a slush fund for the EU to play both sides of the conflict. Diplomatic commitments to a two state solution mean little when the EU funds groups engaged in promoting policies which make such a solution much harder to achieve.