Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- In Gaza, the NGO network is closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the European “Red-Green” alliance, comprised of the European Left and the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The NGO network in Ramallah, however, belongs to the historical Palestinian Left – the former Communists and the Marxist terror organizations such as the Popular Front and the Democratic Front.
- The NGOs in Ramallah are very radical, marked by hatred of Israel and the U.S., and they foment tension between Europe and the U.S.
- In the last Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, the leftist parties won only meager percentages and barely qualified for the Palestinian parliament. They maintain their political power thanks only to the NGO frameworks, which are buttressed by European money.
- Mustafa Barghouti is the spokesman of the Ramallah NGOs. He was the leader of the Communist Party in the West Bank. In the 2006 presidential elections, he ran against Abbas and won 20% of the vote.
- When former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Barghouti instigated a demonstration against him.
The latest round of violence in Gaza, called the “March of Return,” which began on March 30, 2018, was not initiated by Hamas but by civil-society organizations known as “non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” At first, Hamas was halfhearted in its support, but when the marches began and captured headlines in the Middle East and the world, Hamas took charge of the activities and pushed the original organizers—the civil-society contingent—out of the way.
The organizations that instigated the return marches and sparked the latest violent eruption in Gaza are the same ones that were behind the flotillas to Gaza, including the infamous Mavi Marmara, and they have launched subsequent flotillas.
In the Palestinian power structure, two main forces, Fatah and Hamas, are usually seen as contending with each other. Yet in light of the recent events in Gaza – and the outbreak of opposition in Ramallah to Mahmoud Abbas’ sanctions against Gaza – it is also important to take note of the NGO network.
The NGOs’ activity in Gaza has gained momentum. Ramallah, the political hub of the Palestinians, is host to a dense network of NGOs.1
There is a major difference between the respective civil societies in Gaza and Ramallah. In Gaza, the network is closely-linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the European “Red-Green” alliance, comprised of the European Left and the Muslim Brotherhood. The NGO network in Ramallah, however, belongs to the historical Palestinian Left – the former Communists and the Marxist terror organizations such as the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, and so on. Were it not for the Ramallah NGOs, these movements would have vanished long ago from the Palestinian political landscape. Europe, which finances this network, is essentially preserving them; without its support, they would not exist.
Despite their different backgrounds, however, the civil-society organizations in Gaza and Ramallah cooperate and interact with each other.
There are various NGOs in other West Bank cities. Those in Ramallah, however, have built up their presence, and Ramallah is not only the official political hub of the Palestinian Authority, but also of Palestinian civil societies. They preceded the Oslo Accords2 and work outside of the official framework of the Palestinian Authority.3
Such organizations tend to be active in dysfunctional regimes like the Palestinian Authority. They fill vacuums in domains critical to the ordinary citizen, such as education, health, and environmental affairs, in which a dysfunctional regime has difficulty providing services.
Wikipedia defines such organizations thus:
Commonly referred to as NGOs, [they] are usually non-profit and sometimes international organizations independent of governments and international governmental organizations (though often funded by governments) that are active in humanitarian, educational, healthcare, public policy, social, human rights, environmental, and other areas to effect changes according to their objectives.4
These organizations are of special importance in Muslim countries, where Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas fill the void left by dysfunctional governments to establish charity organizations and, through them, to recruit supporters and build infrastructures for terror.5
Europe is financing most of the needs of the NGO network in Ramallah, and between Europe and this network a symbiotic relationship has emerged. The NGOs get their budgets from Europe, and in turn they provide European diplomacy with their outlook on the situation in the Palestinian Authority and the conflict with Israel.
This symbiotic relationship has a destructive effect both on Europe and the Palestinian issue. The political forces that form the backbone of the NGOs in Ramallah are very radical, marked by hatred of Israel and the United States, and they foment tension between Europe and the United States.
Alongside the Palestinian leftist movements, such as the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, the Communist Party and others that have long ago lost their place in Palestinian society, there are other groups, such as the Fatah Tanzim, that Europe can finance only within the NGO framework. In the most recent Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, the leftist parties won only meager percentages of the vote and barely qualified for the Palestinian parliament.6 They maintain their political power thanks only to the NGO frameworks, which are buttressed by European money. If such groups were not so anti-Israeli and anti-American, they would devote themselves to beneficial social and public activities. Europe, however, provides them with a stage for incitement and also assimilates the toxic messages that they spread. Meanwhile, Europe is closed to Palestinian voices from outside of Ramallah – for instance, from Nablus, where the top officials oppose BDS, the top agenda item for the Ramallah NGOs.7
Europe may have tried to forge a pro-European leadership for the Palestinians out of the NGO network. When Salam Fayyad resigned as prime minister and set up an NGO of his own, which employed the son and wife of jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian Authority tried to close it, but Europe stepped in to protect it.8 Ultimately, Fayyad gave in and shuttered his organization.
The NGO Monitor website9 keeps close track of these NGOs’ damaging activities and Europe’s close relationship with them. The bottom line is that these NGOs continue the tradition of the 2001 Durban Conference, which tried to expel Israel and the United States10 from the international community.11
The relationship between the NGOs and the Palestinian Authority is complex. On the one hand, the Palestinian Authority fears that the NGOs are an alternative governmental network that Europe will promote if the Palestinian Authority collapses and that they are already dealing with matters that fall under the Palestinian Authority’s purview. On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority has adopted political ideas from the NGOs, such as BDS and the nonviolent struggle accompanied by European pressures on Israel.
Because of the close relationship with Europe, the various terrorist fronts that make up some of the NGOs could not keep promoting terror. Instead, they developed a modus vivendi suited to what European public opinion can accept—the “peaceful” (silmi) nonviolent struggle for “national liberation.”
Arafat’s Fatah could not go along with this nonviolent doctrine, as the First and Second Intifadas made clear. At first, the NGOs tried, with European support, to spearhead a wide-scale public struggle in the form of strikes and demonstrations, but Fatah undermined this approach by instigating terror attacks. The Second Intifada assumed a purely terrorist nature and removed the NGOs from the stage.
Fatah sees the NGOs as a competing force that endangers its rule and follows a different strategy from Fatah’s ideological “struggle.” At the same time, Fatah is prepared to pay heed to the NGOs’ doctrine and to adopt parts of it that do not nullify the “struggle” doctrine.
When the First Intifada ended and the Oslo Accords emerged, Mahmoud Abbas made statements that diverged from the Fatah strategy of struggle. At a meeting of the Fatah Central Committee in Tunis in October 1993, he declared: “The era of the revolution has ended. The stage of building has begun.”12
(How unfortunate that he has forgotten today what he said then.)
The interaction between the NGOs and the Palestinian Authority is evident in the fact that the two radical leaders of the NGO network have served or are serving in official PA posts. Riyad al-Maliki is now foreign minister and has infused the NGOs’ methods directly into Palestinian foreign policy; Mustafa Barghouti, who is the spokesman of the NGOs, was information minister in the unity government headed by Hamas.
There is, however, a difference between the two leaders. Whereas Barghouti is linked to Hamas and even to Islamic Jihad, Maliki told this writer after Hamas won the 2007 elections that if Hamas were to take over the West Bank, he and others of his generation would emigrate.
Whereas Maliki makes use of the NGOs’ methods as official policy, Barghouti continues to act as spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s policy of hatred and vilification.
It is worth heeding what Mustafa Barghouti says because there are indications that the PLO may officially adopt his outlook or essential parts of it.13
A short time before the return marches in Gaza began, senior Fatah sources in Ramallah outlined to me a scenario they had planned for the West Bank: mass marches of children, women, and old people to the IDF’s barriers in a way that would compel the IDF to fire at “unarmed civilians,” with the resulting images of “the cruel Israeli war criminals” disseminated worldwide.14
Eventually, this plan was implemented in Gaza, not in the West Bank. It is the modus vivendi of the NGOs.
For many years, Mustafa Barghouti advocated an approach based on the resolutions of the Durban Conference, which focused on ousting Israel and the United States from the international community.15
In his interviews, he often describes Israel as an apartheid state and calls to boycott it, put the settlers on trial, and wage a nonviolent intifada against Israel, thereby mobilizing international public opinion against it.16
Who is Mustafa Barghouti?
He was the leader of the Communist Party in the West Bank and was associated with Edward Said and Haidar Abdel Shafi, leader of the Communists in Gaza. In the 2006 presidential elections, he ran against Abbas and won 20 percent of the vote. Where he was born is unclear. He claims that it was in Jerusalem,17 but a more persuasive case is that he was born in the village of Beit Rima near Ramallah,18 in the rural area that is home to the large Barghouti clan. His claim that he was born in Jerusalem is reminiscent of Arafat’s assertions and may stem from his ambition to lead the Palestinians.
He is a cardiologist by profession and worked many years at the Al-Makassed Hospital in east Jerusalem. His Palestinian nationalism accounts for his hatred of Israel, and his roots in the Communist Party may explain his loathing of the United States. But there is a difference between his hatred of Israel, which is vitriolic and violent, and his statements against the United States, which are circumspect and cautious but reject all U.S. peace initiatives.
Together with Haidar Abdel Shafi, Ibrahim Dakkak (a Communist from east Jerusalem), and Said, Barghouti established a political party called the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI).
On its Facebook page, PNI declares its “goal: to adopt the option of popular muqawama [resistance], and reliance on ourselves as the path to liberation, to alter the balance of power vis-à-vis Israel.”
Barghouti took part in establishing [the network of] Palestinian civil-society organizations. Monitoring his statements reveals a duplicitous use of English and Arabic. In interviews to the West, he says one thing, in interviews in Arabic another. In the West, he is a liberal, a fighter for human rights who even “helps Israel help itself.” In Arabic, he is uncompromisingly extreme, opposes normalization with Israel, is close to Hamas (as noted, he was information minister in the unity government it headed), and dismisses the U.S. peace initiative.
For example, in a taped interview with Huffington Post, Barghouti said:
There isn’t any place in the world where apartheid is so systematic as it is today in Palestine….
This is unbelievable. You have a situation where a husband and a wife cannot be together. If a husband is from Jerusalem and his wife is from the West Bank, or the opposite, they cannot live together. This is what you see are acts of ethnic cleansing.
So we ask ourselves: how do we make the Israelis change their minds? How do we convince them to stop the oppressive system which is hurting our future and their future…? We have to make their system of occupation painful; and we have to make their system of occupation costly. This can be done through only two ways: either you turn to violence, which I totally disagree with, I don’t believe in and I think is counterproductive; [or] you turn to non-violence and mobilizing international pressures on Israel, as people did in the case of the apartheid system in South Africa. We have the same situation in Palestine. That’s why I speak about divestment and sanctions to encourage non-violence. This is the only way we make non-violent resistance succeed, by having an international component, especially in the United States. We are not talking about boycotting Israel, or Israeli people. We are talking about boycotting occupation and about divestment from occupation and military industry that is exploiting people, that is destroying people’s lives and that is consolidating an apartheid system.19
In other words, the nonviolent struggle is better than a military struggle because it will gain Western sympathy for the Palestinians and generate an array of pressures on Israel that will break it as South Africa was broken; hence the comparison of Israel to the apartheid regime.
This statement was made in English for the Western public. Yet in Arabic, for the Palestinian and Arab public, Mustafa Barghouti speaks entirely differently. In Arabic, he supports the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Popular Front terror organizations.