“To the best of our knowledge, it is correct that we have not received a specific warning about upcoming designations,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said when asked at an update. Press. On Monday to respond to Israel’s claim that it had in fact notified administration officials in advance of the decision to classify six Palestinian rights groups as terrorist organizations.
However, he said the United States “looks forward to hearing more details” from an Israeli delegation expected in Washington later in the week.
Price said on Friday that the United States would “urge our Israeli partners to obtain more information on the basis of these designations,” which Jerusalem says are justified, alleging that the groups were indeed operating as a weapon of the Front terrorist group. popular for the liberation of Palestine. .
“We believe that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are of crucial importance for responsible and responsive governance,” Price added, in what appeared to be a tacit rebuke of the decision. by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
But it was the spokesperson’s assertion on Friday that “the Israeli government did not give us advance warning” that sparked a firestorm in Jerusalem.
In a briefing to reporters on Sunday, a senior Israeli official said a Foreign Ministry official visited Washington and briefed the US State Department’s Counterterrorism Office of the decision. imminent and had given him relevant information before Gantz’s announcement.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a State Department briefing in Washington on Monday, March 1, 2021 (Tom Brenner / Pool via AP)
However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that the information was probably not passed on to the Office of Near Eastern Affairs, which is dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, due to an “internal incident” within the State Department. This led Price to say there was no notice of the move, the official assumed.
Intelligence linking organizations – including larger ones with significant support and oversight from the European Union and other international bodies – to the PFLP was “rock-solid,” the official insisted. He said the material included “unequivocal evidence including video footage, photos, payment receipts which link said groups to support for terrorist activities.”
However, another Israeli official confirmed to The Times of Israel on Monday that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, as well as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other cabinet members, had also not been informed in advance of the situation. Gantz’s decision, which casts doubt on how an official in Lapid’s office could have been sent to Washington last week without his knowledge.
In addition, the Israeli authorities have yet to release any evidence linking the six groups (Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, ADDAMEER – Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Bisan Center for Research and Development, al-Haq Organization, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI -P), and the Union of Agricultural Working Committees) to the PFLP.
Some critics of the designation have compared it to Israel’s 2016 arrest of Muhammad Halabi, who headed the Gaza office of the global Christian aid organization World Vision. Halabi has been accused of joining the ranks of Hamas and diverting millions of dollars from World Vision’s budget for humanitarian projects and channeling them to the terrorist group that runs the enclave.
But five years after the dramatic accusations, the case has continued to drag on, with more than 160 hearings and minimal concrete evidence provided by Israeli authorities to substantiate their claims against Halabi, who has remained in prison since his arrest.
The senior Israeli official said on Sunday that another Israeli delegation, this time including an envoy from the Shin Bet security service and the Foreign Ministry, would be sent to the United States this week armed with “unequivocal” information proving that the six Palestinian human rights groups had terror ties.
Gantz’s blacklisting of Palestinian groups sparked a swift reaction around the world, the EU, the Palestinian Authority, Progressive Democrats, American Jewish groups, and international and Israeli human rights organizations. man expressing criticism.
Israeli military and civil laws prohibit supporting or joining a terrorist group, and violators can face years in prison. The Israeli authorities can also seize property belonging to terrorist organizations and prohibit the financing of their activities. Donors can also face significant prison sentences.
Israeli authorities have previously accused the PFLP of stealing millions of euros from civil society organizations affiliated with its members to fund terrorist activities.