US seeks clarification after Israel declares Palestinian NGOs ‘terrorist’ groups

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said 'strong civil society' is important to 'responsible and responsive governance' (AFP).jpeg

Middle East Eye  / October 22, 2021

State Department says it was not warned of the decision, and says ‘strong civil society’ important to governance.

The US State Department said on Friday that it would seek clarification from Israel after it declared six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations and accused them of militant links, noting that Washington was not warned of the move.

“We’ll be engaging our Israelis partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing with reporters, as quoted by Haaretz.

“The Israeli government did not give us advance warning.”

“We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance.”

Earlier on Friday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz signed an order declaring that half-a-dozen advocacy groups are terrorist organizations.

The six groups are: Addameer, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and Defense for Children International – Palestine, and Al-Haq, a human rights organization that works with the United Nations.

“These organizations operated under the guise of ‘civil society organizations’, but in practice belong to and form an arm of the organization’s leadership, the purpose of which is to destroy Israel while taking part in terrorist acts,” Gantz said in a statement.

The statement accused the groups of being controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist resistance group, and employing “operatives who were involved in terrorist activities”.

The decision was swiftly condemned by major human rights organizations, including the Israeli organization B’Tselem, as well as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations,” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty said in a joint statement.

The two groups warned that the international community must now step up to protect Palestinian civil society.

The UN Human Rights Office in the Palestinian territories said it was “alarmed” by the announcement.

“Counter-terrorism legislation must not be used to constrain legitimate human rights and humanitarian work,” it said, and added that some of the reasons given appeared vague or irrelevant.

The move by Israel also comes as the administration of US President Joe Biden has been seeking to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem in order to handle relations with Palestinians.

Israel has been opposed to the move, however, Israeli and US officials are reportedly planning to form a joint team to handle negotiations on the matter, according to Axios.