European Commission Restores Funding to Palestinian NGO Blacklisted by Israel

After freezing funding for rights group Al-Haq last year following allegations made by Israel, the European body is set to reinstate it after finding no suspicions of fraud or misconduct, and no reason for an investigation

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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The Al-Haq Institute in Ramallah, last year.
The Al-Haq Institute in Ramallah, last year.Credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

The European Commission is set to restore funding for a project run by the Palestinian organization Al-Haq, after having suspended it due to Israeli claims that donations to the group were funding a terrorist organization.

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In a letter sent to Al-Haq this week, a European Union official said the commission's anti-fraud agency, OLAF, had completed its initial assessment of the Israeli claims and found no grounds for opening a full-fledged investigation. The letter added that OLAF found no suspicions of fraud or other financial improprieties in Al-Haq’s management of the project funded by the EU.

The commission froze funding for Al-Haq in May 2021 due to Israel's claim that it constitutes a terrorist group, and that EU donations were being used to finance terrorist activity.

The EU also froze funding for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, an organization active in the Gaza Strip – that money will also now be restored. However, the decision to reinstate the frozen funds doesn’t indicate anything about future EU funding for these organizations.

Israel itself outlawed Al-Haq only last October, together with five other Palestinian organizations, due to its claims that they were using some of their money to fund PFLP activity. In December, the EU informed Al-Haq that it was still reviewing Israel’s claims.

Shawan Jabarin, head of the Al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in Ramallah in October.Credit: Majdi Mohammed / AP

The organization charged that the European Commission was ignoring questions about the funding suspension and that it had violated a contractual commitment to Al-Haq. Two weeks ago, Al-Haq filed suit against the commission in a Brussels court.

Even though the EU has now restored the funding, Al-Haq doesn’t intend to withdraw the suit, arguing that the suspension damaged its reputation and impaired its activities.

Al-Haq’s director, Shawan Jabarin, said he never had any doubt that the suspension would be lifted, because “we knew the freeze, like Israel’s declaration about Al-Haq and other organizations, had no factual basis.” The suspension, he charged, was a purely political act intended to damage the organization’s reputation.

“We’re happy to see that the commission has retracted this harmful decision and returned to the right direction of supporting civil society and human rights,” he added.

Last month, diplomats told Haaretz that the commission’s decision to freeze support for Al-Haq back in May 2021 was a highly unusual move. They said that Oliver Varhelyi, the EU’s commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement and an ally of Hungarian President Viktor Orban, was behind the move.

“It was very strange to see the commission taking a different position than the member states,” one said.

Al-Haq also blamed Varhelyi for the decision.

Other European diplomats said the material Israel had provided to back its claims wasn’t persuasive.

The commission also announced recently that it would unfreeze aid to the Palestinian Authority. That aid had been frozen due to Israeli claims that PA textbooks contained antisemitic content.

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