JERUSALEM (AP) — The Netherlands said it will stop funding a Palestinian civil society group recently outlawed as a terrorist organization by Israel but rejected Israel’s main claims about the group following its own audit.
The Dutch government said Wednesday it found no evidence that the Union of Agricultural Work Committees had “organizational ties” to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a left-wing militant group, or was involved in funding or carrying out terrorism, as Israel has alleged.
The government nevertheless decided to stop the funding because it found evidence that individual members of the civil society group were linked to the PFLP, which has a political party as well as an armed wing, and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision, saying UAWC and the five other Palestinian civil society groups it designated as terrorist organizations in October are an “organic part” of the PFLP. Two former UAWC employees have been arrested and accused of carrying out a bombing in the occupied West Bank in August 2019 that killed an Israeli teenager, prompting the Dutch government to suspend funding pending an independent investigation.
UAWC said the funding cut-off announced this week was “shocking and deeply troubling,” as the Dutch had been one of their main donors since 2013. The group said it has no political affiliations and does not concern itself with the private political activities of its employees.
It said the Dutch decision was a “breach of trust” at a time when “Palestinian civil society is under unprecedented attack.”
Israel has provided little evidence to support its assertions that the six NGOs are fronts for the PFLP, and critics say the move is part of a wider crackdown on Palestinian activism. The decision makes it illegal to fund or support the groups and paves the way for the military to forcibly shut them down, though it has yet to do so.
The Dutch government’s conclusions stem from an independent audit carried out by Proximities Risk Consultancy. UAWC said it cooperated with the investigation but found “multiple factual inaccuracies, including several mistaken identities” in the findings. Proximities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A letter sent from the Dutch ministers of foreign development and foreign affairs to the Dutch parliament said the audit “has made it sufficiently plausible that there have been ties at the individual level between employees and board members of UAWC and the PFLP for some time.”
“The large number of UAWC board members with a dual mandate is particularly worrisome,” it added. “For the Cabinet, the findings about individual ties between UAWC and the PFLP and the lack of openness about this from UAWC, also during the investigation, are sufficient reason to no longer fund UAWC’s activities.”
The other groups outlawed by Israel are the Al-Haq human rights group, the Addameer prisoner rights group, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
All are based in the occupied West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.