The Palestinian Return Centre's soft war with Israeli lobby

The Palestinian Return Centre's soft war with Israeli lobby
Comment: The recognition of the Palestinian Return Centre by the UN is part of a long history of struggle by pro-Palestine groups against Israeli influence, writes Sophia Akram.
4 min read
07 Sep, 2015
Several NGOs in the UK are leading the struggle against the Israeli lobby (Anadolu)

Last month, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) NGO Committee of the United Nations voted in favour of recognising the London-based Palestinian Return Centre, at a count of 12 votes for and three votes against, with three abstentions. The organisation is now accredited with UN consultative status.

Concerns were raised by those voting against that the organisation was aligned with Hamas. Such allegations were largely spread by Israeli lobby groups that "monitor" pro-Palestinian NGOs and their engagement with the UN, as their alliance is often in contravention to their own interests.

These efforts, the win and the allegations are significant for three reasons.

Firstly, although no evidence exists for any link between Hamas and the PRC, the mere assertion that there is one has been considered seriously.

This assumes that no future seat exists at the UN for the democratically elected political party that governs an officially recognised territory, which could be considered as a future state of Palestine.

     The allegations came from a clearly agenda-driven lobby comprising of, in this instance, two Israeli organisations

Secondly, the allegations came from a clearly agenda-driven lobby comprising of, in this instance, two Israeli organisations: NGO Watch and UN Monitor. The influence of these two organisations is worrying.

While many British MPs and MEPs wrote letters of support for the centre's UN recognition, many chose not to - because of the largely baseless allegations made by the two organisations, even though they were based on such weak evidence.

Spinwatch, an organisation that conducts public interest investigations, found that both any perceived link between the NGO and Hamas rely heavily on a single Meir Amit report. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre is a research group that has close ties with the Israeli military and the American Jewish Congress.

The report in question was found to be evidentially weak and the links between Hamas and PRC seemed to be based on occasional attendance at conferences by officials or former officials.

Assumptions and conclusions as to any link between PRC leadership and Hamas have been made on no hard facts and no citations are made for the case in the report. In addition, no other links have been found.

Thirdly, despite an intent opposition to their success, the PRC gained ECOSOC consultative status with the UN. What does this mean?

An NGO ECOSOC Committee was created in order to bring the experience of "the common people", into an organisation that was representative of the world. NGOs, whether national or international, often have grassroots engagement with issues for which the UN is responsible.

However, the history of NGO engagement with the UN has been shaky and at times futile. In the early years, back in the 1950s, states were so frightened of potential complaints against them that they tried to impose a self-denying rule to the mechanism, which prohibited NGOs from making complaints against their own states.

     The politics surrounding the admission of NGOs into the system saw many come under attack

The politics surrounding the admission of NGOs into the system saw many come under attack - much as the PRC has experienced.

Such resistance from states, as enshrined in Resolution 1503, made the work of the Human Rights Commission virtually useless.

Time, however, has seen NGOs find their home in thematic mechanisms and eventually country-specific groups within the UN, and have contributed to the anti-slavery and anti-apartheid movements.

Indeed, NGOs have proved vital to the work of experts such as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967, and to groups such as the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The accreditation will give PRC access and the ability to hold events within the UN, ultimately contributing to these mechanisms.

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East and Asia.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.