By Mr. Freek Vergeer
The Dutch government must publish the Proximities investigation report on the links between the Palestinian NGO UAWC (Union of Agricultural Work Committees) and the terror organization PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). The report, commissioned by the Dutch Minister of Trade and Development in 2021, may answer the question of whether Dutch taxpayers have been inadvertently supporting a terrorist organization.
New governance culture of transparency
As part of the coalition agreement in 2021, the Dutch government expressed the intention to improve transparency and to strive for fair and trustworthy governance. Even though intentions seem to be good, there is a lot of work to be done on transparency when it comes to the Dutch cabinet’s attitude towards Israel. The investigation into the link between the PFLP and the UAWC is an illustrative example of this.
On 23 August 2019, Israeli Rina Schnerb was killed in a bomb attack. The attack was believed to have been carried out by the PFLP. Subsequently, two suspects were arrested. Not only were they connected to the PFLP, but they were also found to be working for the UAWC. The fact that The Netherlands recognizes the PFLP as a terrorist organization and Dutch subsidies flow into the UAWC, led to a call to research the matter. An external investigation into the links between the UAWC and the PFLP in the years 2007-2020 was announced by the Trade and Development Minister in July 2020.
This investigation was conducted in 2021 by ‘Proximities Risk Consultancy’ (Proximities). The firm was briefed to abstain from confidential intelligence information. The use of confidential sources would have made the disclosure of the investigation results impossible. The investigation was completed in November 2021. On 5 January 2022, the Dutch Ministers of Trade and Development and Foreign Affairs informed the House of Representatives about the completion of the investigation and their appreciation of it. The letter indicated that Proximities itself had to come up with a definition of the PFLP, as there is no internationally recognized definition of it. According to the Ministers, the definition used by Proximities also included some civil society organizations that ‘fall within the framework of the PFLP’ and ‘form the social branch of it.’ Since the results of the report haven’t been published, we cannot know for sure which organizations they are referring to.
Not public after all
Since there were enough leads to conclude that there were links on a personal and individual level between UAWC and PFLP staff and board members, the cabinet decided to discontinue subsidies to the UAWC. However, they decided not to publish the Proximities research findings. According to the cabinet, disclosure of the report could cause “disproportionate damage to the organizations identified in the investigation report as belonging to the social arm of the PFLP”. The statement continued to say that based on the “no harm principle”, disclosure was not an option. Rather, the Cabinet would share a confidential report about the investigation and a technical briefing with the House of Representatives only.
Do no harm principle
The principle of ‘do no harm’’, as referred to by the Dutch cabinet, is not an internationally recognized principle of law. Rather, it is a customary principle used by NGOs to integrate conflict sensitivity wherever it is relevant. The Proximities investigation, however, dealt with government funding of NGOs and therefore with the expenditure of taxpayers’ money. That is precisely when transparency is essential. After all, taxpayers have a right to know where their money goes.
Israeli army raids targeting Palestinian NGOs
On August 19 this year, in response to an Israeli army action targeting seven Palestinian NGOs suspected of financing terrorist organizations such as the PFLP, the Dutch government expressed its grave concern with the Israeli army raids. According to the statement, Israel has not shown sufficient evidence of the links between these NGOs and Palestinian terrorist organizations. The statement was put out along with some other European countries and emphasized that there is no information confirming the supposed links with the PFLP.
The chicken and the egg
In light of the Proximities research, the reaction of the Dutch government is highly remarkable, to say the least. It is very plausible that the Proximities research findings do provide answers to the matter. Also, it is likely that organizations targeted by the Israeli army raids (Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Union of Palestinian Women committees, Health Work committees, and lastly UAWC) were among those that Proximities counts to be part of the ‘social branch’ of the PFLP. However, the cabinet holds that information, refuses to bring it out, and then states that there is no evidence.
Where is the new, transparent Dutch governance culture when it comes to Israel-related issues?
In the light of the government’s commitment to transparency, and in order to clarify and underpin the remarkable statements of August 19, we call on the Dutch cabinet to publicly disclose the research findings of the Proximities report public. Taxpayers have a right to know if their money has been used to finance terror.