Congressional Middle East Peace Initiative: Funding NGOs Not Peace
What a name: “Partnership Fund for Peace.” What a goal: promoting peace in the Middle East. That should sum up legislation introduced in Congress last week. But what a waste, because the Fund, which will be given $250 million of U.S. taxpayer money for its first five years in existence, is nothing more than a retread of past Middle East projects, so many of which are already being funded and not one of which has moved the peace needle one inch forward.
The stated overarching goal of the bill’s sponsors is to “help create the necessary conditions on the ground to support an eventual two-state solution.”
The bill’s sponsors are Democrats Rep. Nita Lowey (NY) and Senators Tim Kaine (VA) and Chris Coons (DE) and Republicans Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE) and Senators Cory Gardner (CO) and Lindsey Graham (SC). They claim the Fund is intended to promote economic health for Palestinian Arab companies and entrepreneurs, to improve the quality of life and stimulate the economy of Palestinian Arabs and to “further shared community building, peaceful coexistence, dialogue and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians by financing people-to-people peacebuilding programs.”
Using international funds to stop Palestinian Arabs from engaging in terrorism is the standard western response to the conflict. One stark difference is that PFfP funds cannot be made available either to the Israeli government or to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority or the PLO. That’s good. But the primary source through which funding will be distributed is non-governmental organizations (NGOs): that’s not so good.
THE LEGISLATION WOULD FUND MERELY A PART OF ONE NGO’S OWN ‘PEACE’ PLAN
The PFfP legislation is actually the funding dream of one such NGO, the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP). The sponsoring legislators are merely the surrogate birth parents of ALLMEP’s International Fund for Palestinian-Israeli Peace conceived of earlier this century.
After five years of lobbying and convincing center and leftist Jewish organizations to buy into yet another iteration of Middle East Peace Plans, ALLMEP hopes their pet project reaches fruition in this Congress.
The renewed impetus now, stated explicitly in the PFfP’s press release and in media accounts, is the imagined stalling of the Trump Administration’s peace plan due to the need for new Israeli elections. But the first wave of that plan is still scheduled for later this month in Bahrain. It is heavily weighted toward bringing in Arab stakeholders to provide Palestinian Arabs with a huge economic incentive to eschew violence and reduce their dependence on the utterly failed Palestinian Arab political – and terror-supporting – leadership.
PALESTINIAN ARAB ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE ARE THE UNICORNS OF MIDDLE EAST PEACE
Encouraging entrepreneurship and economic growth for Palestinian Arabs, and achieving peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Israelis are unquestionably admirable goals. But that Congress would put an NGO, let alone ALLMEP, in charge of PFfP reveals an appalling lack of due diligence on this project.
As one highly experienced, successful American-Israeli businessmen told this reporter, “I can’t think of a bigger oxymoron than NGO-driven economic growth.”
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with Middle East peaceful co-existence goals in their mission statements have multiplied like mushrooms in a neglected horse stall since the late 1990’s, with international funding to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Gerald Steinberg is the president of NGO-Monitor, a Middle East NGO watchdog organization. Steinberg responded to a query about the PFfP proposal.
Steinberg was not impressed. He called PFfP “more of a political statement (and wishful thinking) than a practical policy,” and pointed out that the millions of dollars already being funneled into NGO grantees “accomplish little to nothing, beyond PR for themselves.”
Steinberg warned what was likely to happen, “given the history of ‘peace’ NGOs that actually promote conflict, Congress would be well advised to ensure close oversight on how this money is spent.”
There are already well over 150 NGOs “active in the field of Israeli-Palestinian peace-building.” Of these, ALLMEP, a “supporting organization” named in the PFfP’s press release, is the umbrella organization for dozens of NGOs. And of these, several are more than a little problematic.
NON-PEACEFUL PEACE NGOs
The PFfP legislation forbids the use of funding for individuals or organizations involved in or advocating terrorist activity.
However, there is nothing to prevent such funds going to, for example, an organization whose regional director claimed that Hamas is “not a terrorist organization,” or who accuses Israel of attacking Islam, or who “speaks in support of the anti-Israel BDS” (Boycott of, Divest from and Sanctions against Israel) movement. All of this describes ALLMEP’s regional director Huda Abu Arqoub, according to NGO Monitor. ALLMEP, remember, is the prime mover on this PFfP peace initiative, and Arqoub’s claim about Hamas should be a big surprise to the U.S. State Department which for decades has classified Hamas as an official Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The Holy Land Trust, an ALLMEP member, has accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and accused Egypt of “complicity in Israel’s genocide of the people of Gaza.”
The goal of a lovely sounding ALLMEP member, the Parents Circle Families Forum, is to advocate for “reconciliation, dialogue and knowledge of the other,” but it equates the grieving families of Palestinian Arab terrorist murderers with bereaved families of the murdered Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.
Yet another example of a highly inappropriate source for peacemaking is ALLMEP member Sikkuy, which “regularly accuses Israel of racism, and believes that Israel “exploits” the Holocaust “at the expense of the Palestinian people.”
An additional “supporting organization” mentioned in the PFfP press release is the Churches for Middle East Peace. Another entity with peace in its name, and like ALLMEP, CMEP engages in activities which are decidedly unpeacelike. Just last summer, CMEP partnered with a group whose board members have “close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.” The PFLP is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU, Canada and Israel.
And just two years ago CMEP hosted a speaker who not only advocated for BDS, but referred to it as “cool” and “fun.”
CMEP itself endorses a document calling for economic and legal warfare against Israel; denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel; and “rationalizes, justifies and trivializes terrorism, calling it legal resistance.”
In addition to worrying about the foxes guarding the henhouse, there are other factors that should make PFfP an anathema.
NOT SO HIDDEN DANGERS OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ARAB BUSINESS VENTURES
Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation has had some successes. Most of these have not required the intervention of outside governments or the creation of new government bureaucracies as is envisioned in the PFfP legislation. But even though this new initiative omits a role for the notoriously corrupt Palestinian Authority, the president of which, Mahmoud Abbas, is currently serving the 14th year of his first four year term, there are other players in the Palestinian Arab world who make such “normal” business cooperation untenable.
Khaled Abu Toameh is a Palestinian Israeli journalist who has written extensively on the intimidation experienced by Palestinian Arabs from their brethren when they are involved in “normalization” activities between Arabs and Jews.
When asked about the chances PFfP could succeed, Toameh told this reporter: “I don’t see how this would work when the Palestinians are busy campaigning against ‘normalization’ with Israel and threatening anyone who does business with Israeli companies.”
“Recently, we saw how students at Bir Zeit University expelled representatives of two Palestinian companies,” Toameh said, “who came to offer them jobs after accusing them of doing business with Israeli companies.”
Toameh pointed out that “several NGO’s are involved in the “anti-normalization” and boycott campaigns against Israel. It’s hard to see how any Palestinian would agree to publicly engage in any dealings with Israel or the US given the fierce incitement by Palestinian leaders and groups.”
Another recent example underscores Toameh’s point. As described in this news site just a few months ago, Israeli businessman Rami Levy has been an employer of Arab-Israelis and Palestinian Arabs in his more than two dozen supermarkets for many years. When Levy opened the $50 million Atorot mall in a poor, heavily mixed Arab-Jewish section of Jerusalem in January, Arab business owners initially flocked to be included and open stores in this, the only shopping mall in the area. It was also a wonderful employment and shopping opportunity for Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs.
The Arab leadership, however, warned all Arabs that any complicity in these “normalization projects” will be met with dire consequences, including the removal of commercial licenses, plus financial penalties under PA law.
“Normalization” is the derogatory term used by Palestinian Arab leadership for any cooperation with anything or anyone Israeli.
The Palestinian Authority’s official news agency warned Arabs cooperating with the Atorot Mall. It informed Arab citizens that boycotting the venture was a “religious, national and moral duty.” The leadership stated that any kind of economic normalization “is an act of intentional treason.” Opening day saw firebombs tossed from nearby Ramallah to make their intentions clear.
LIKELY CONSEQUENCES OF POURING $MILLIONS INTO YET ANOTHER PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE PROJECT
There are useful things that can be done to help further economic stability for the Palestinian Arabs. For one thing, investing in training to help bring Arabs into the high-tech world would be very useful as there are many Israeli companies which would love to hire skilled Arabs, according to several Israeli businessmen.
But the actual movers behind the PFfP legislation seem likely to ensure that the $250 million US taxpayer money will go no further towards moving the region towards peace than any of the past $100s of millions already thrown at it.
Given the dismal history of “peaceful coexistence” projects and the intimidation of Arab Palestinians seeking to engage with Israeli businesses, there is little likelihood that the PFfP money is going to be spent on anything approaching peace.
What is likely is that the legislation will boost ALLMEP’s ability to secure additional amounts from other sources, enabling it to continue spending international funds on “Middle East peace efforts” that merely fund NGOs with peace and cooperation in their names or mission statements.