The relation between civil society institutions and the Palestinian Authority

Written by: Sa’eed El Maqadmah ‎
PCDCR’s General Director.‎

‎1.‎ General frame:‎
‎1.1‎ Introduction:‎
This report sheds light on the relation between civil society institutions and the ‎Palestinian Authority 14 years after the establishment of PNA according to Oslo ‎agreement in September 1993 between the state of Israel and PLO.‎
‎1.2 Basic Information:‎

This report considers West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories of historical Palestine ‎occupied in 1967.According to Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in its ‎latest statistics; WB population is almost 2.5 millions while GS’s is 1.5 millions. The ‎geographical area of both WB&GS constitutes 22% of the historical Palestine ‎‎(27,000km2).‎
The political system in Palestinian Occupied Territories (territories govern by the ‎national authority) is a parliamentary-presidential one governed by the constitution or ‎what commonly named as the basic law which was modified twice.‎
The basic law controls the relation between the three governance components: ‎
Executive authority: including presidency and government.‎
Legislative authority: represented by the legislative council.‎
Jurisdiction: presided by the supreme jurisdiction council.‎

Many of hiatuses and ambiguous items and articles in the basic law caused ‎authority’s duplications between the presidential institution and the government. ‎There is no constitutional court to settle the conflicts between the authority ‎components. This leaded to many constant conflicts resulted in the current incisive ‎political split in Palestinian territories.‎
The first cycle of presidential and legislative elections had been carried out in 1996. ‎The late president Yaser Arafat had won the presidential elections of this cycle while ‎the legislative elections had resulted in constituting a legislative council of 88 ‎members most of them from Fateh and few were independent members. The entire ‎elections which adopted constituency as electoral system in 1996 had been ‎undertaken within the circumstances of Islamic and Left groups’ boycotting. The ‎second cycle of elections was undertaken separately; the presidential elections were ‎in January 2005 and won by current president Mahmoud Abbass while legislative ‎elections were carried out in January 2006 and won by Hamass block after the ‎electoral system had been modified to be mixed equally between proportionate ‎representation of electoral blocks and constituencies where members of legislative ‎council increase to 132. Following to these elections, the conflict between Fatah and ‎Hamass had been accelerated to the limit of bloody clashes in June 2007 ended by ‎taking over the Gaza Strip by Hamass. Consequently, the Palestinian society suffers ‎the political and social split under comprehensive siege on GS accompanied with ‎deterioration of the peace process between Palestinian and Israelis. ‎

‎2. Establishment and development of civil society institutions:‎

Civil society institutions were established in Palestine to fulfill the developmental, ‎social and political needs within the absence of national governments since 1948. Till ‎June 1967, GS was ruled by Egyptian government while WB was ruled by Jordanian ‎government where both hardly offered Palestinians their daily basic requirements of ‎life. ‎
‎ To fill the gap; individuals took the initiatives to establish social organizations ‎providing health, social and sport services within sponsorship of key social figures ‎representing the Bourgeoisie or left intellectual and nationalistic trends. ‎
Following to Israeli occupation in 1967, several organizations were established in ‎WB and GS pursuant to Ottoman charity societies’ law. Most of these organizations ‎were with the type of social, health, cultural or syndicalistic receiving financial ‎support from the Arabic and International communities to provide Palestinians with ‎services which the Israeli civil administration used to provide them in minimum.

In eighties of the twentieth century, the performance of these organizations started to ‎take political nature with the support of Palestinian liberation organization (PLO) ‎based abroad at hat time. The number of these organizations had increased until it ‎was almost doubled in nineties after the PNA establishment. It differed in mandates to ‎include legal, political, civil and intellectual. The licensing law of these organizations ‎remained the same as before with few exceptions where companies’ law issued by the ‎British mandate in 1929 accredits establishment of non profitable companies. ‎

Charitable organizations related to Ministry of Interior either in establishment ‎conditions(licensing) or follow up while profitable companies related to Ministry of ‎Justice in licensing and to PNA Financial and Administrative Department regarding ‎follow up. The law Number 1, year 2000 of charitable and civic organizations was ‎issued and published in the PNA formal newspaper in 29/2/2000. According to this ‎law, Ministry of Justice was the reference and relevant ministries were authorized to ‎follow up with the organizations according to their mandates.‎
The regulations of law Number 1, year 2000 were issued according to ministers’ ‎council decree no. 9, year 2003 in 29/11/2003. It is important to mention that the ‎ministers’ council had referred the law to Ministry of Interior instead of Ministry of ‎Justice without approval from the legislative council which could be considered as ‎reducing the authorities of MoJ for the favor of MoI authorities. ‎

‎3. Methodology of the report:‎

The writer adopted the analytical descriptive methodology in discussing the relation ‎between Palestinian governments and civil society institutions since PNA ‎establishment. For this purpose, the information gathered from the interviews of ‎more than 20 key persons in CSOs over GS and WB were used in addition to the ‎writer’s own knowledge after working in the field of civil society over 10 years. The ‎names of those involved in the report (who agree on publishing their names) are ‎available upon request.‎

‎4. Classification of civil society organizations:‎
‎1- Civil organizations for health.‎
‎2- Vocational civil organizations (for syndicates).‎
‎3- Social civil organizations (relief, education, orphan, widows, detainees). ‎
‎4- Cultural civil organizations.‎
‎5- Civil organizations for research-political.‎
‎6- Civil organizations (legal-civil).‎
‎7- Multi purpose civil organizations (working in any field according to donation ‎opportunities).‎

This report will generally discuss the relation between these organizations and the ‎authorities in Palestine with particular emphasis on legal and civil rights- ‎organizations.‎
Note: Most of Palestinian civil society organizations are politically affiliated except a ‎few which are independent despite of the fact that the internal bylaws of all these ‎organizations illustrate its neutrality and independency. ‎
The political affiliation of CSOs stands behind most of the harmonization or conflict with ‎the government (according to match or antagonism to government political orientation). ‎

‎5.‎ Legal constraints and obstacles imposed on CSOs by the authorities:‎

‎5.1‎ constraints and obstacles on licensing and establishment: ‎

‎5.1.1‎ The law No. 1 for the year 2000 applied in Palestine is more advanced than ‎the corresponding laws applied in adjacent states. It is homogeneous with the ‎basic law (constitution) in allowing individuals and groups to form and ‎establish organizations that express their interests. Despite of that; giving ‎Ministry of Interior the authority to put the law into action increases the ‎opportunities for security officers to control the licensing procedures which ‎are highly expected to be obstacles in organizations’ establishment. ‎
‎5.1.2‎ Getting the license needs approval from Ministry of Social Affairs, General ‎intelligence and Preventative Security. If any of them refuses to license the ‎organization, then it can not go further although the law allows applicants for ‎establishing an organization to start performing two months after the date of ‎submitting the application. ‎
‎5.1.3‎ The jurisdiction system is relatively fragile to withstand the security influence ‎and measures especially that the rejection of license requests usually is not ‎documented to be evidence in relevant raised claims. ‎
‎5.1.4‎ The interfere of MoI in identifying the names, objectives and mandates of ‎CSOs is one of the major obstacles to get the license in addition to pretexts of ‎conflict of goals and its repetition. Sometimes, the license takes more than one ‎year to be gotten. Moreover, the MoI stop giving licenses under the pretexts of ‎revision, evaluation or the huge number of CSOs’ requests to get licensed.‎
‎5.1.5‎ Following the bloody conflict and political split, a presidential sanction was ‎issued in July 2007 compelling all CSOs to re-register in MoI in Ramalla.‎

‎5.2‎ Constraints on implementing the activities: ‎
‎5.2.1‎ Annoying security visits: Frequently, the political security departments of ‎government and presidency (General and military intelligence, Preventative ‎Security) used to arrange annoying visits to CSOs’ premises asking them to ‎provide copies of their proposals, reveal their donation resources, and submit ‎lists of employees.‎
‎5.2.2‎ Breach endeavors: The formal security agencies used to enlist agents inside ‎the CSOs for clandestinely reporting on their activities. In addition, a MoI ‎representative used to attend any electoral meeting. Trying to control CSOs, ‎MoI security departments assigned members for general assemblies to ‎guarantee its majorities. Furthermore, they check the bank accounts of some ‎organizations. ‎
‎5.2.3‎ ‎ Dispersing and deviation of CSOs: Through establishing organizations for ‎wives and relatives of high ranked officers in the PA exploiting their relations ‎and influence in unfair competition with other CSOs. The influence of the key ‎persons in PA is used to provide the established organizations with ‎governmental logistic and financial resources such as land properties, ‎premises’ rent costs, cars and employees whose salaries are paid from ‎government’s budget or international and regional grants. This conduct of the ‎key persons in the PA affects negatively the community image of civil society ‎organizations. ‎
‎5.2.4‎ Defamation and impeaching: the authorities had targeted through its media ‎tools many of the civil society figures in defamation campaigns accusing ‎CSOs especially the legal and HRs ones with corruption and robbery in order ‎to reduce their credibility and weaken their relationship with public. They ‎called those figures with (Barons and Lords of NGOs, 5 stars’ hotels’ ‎frequents. It is noteworthy that one of those persons was assassinated in ‎internal conflict of the authority. ‎
‎5.2.5‎ Confiscation of the CSOs’ bank accounts: Under various pretexts, authorities ‎had confiscated some of CSO’s bank accounts especially with religious type ‎under the cover of combating terrorism benefiting from the international ‎orientation against the issue. Some of these organizations had to make ‎compromises sharing their banks’ deposits with the organizations of key ‎authority figures’ wives, relatives and friends in order to release their bank ‎accounts.‎
‎5.2.6‎ Establishing Ministry of civil organizations: Ministry of civil organizations ‎was established in year 2000 to control the CSO’s’ fund resources but this ‎ministry did not succeed and later it was turned to a governmental institution ‎doing nothing.‎
‎5.2.7‎ Forcibly entrance, Closure and expropriation: After Hamas took over the GS ‎in June, 2007, executive authorities in GS had closed and expropriated several ‎CSOs under the pretext of Fateh affiliation and VS in WB, the security forces ‎had done the same against CSOs under the pretext of Hamas affiliation. ‎Fiaad’s government had closed 103 organizations. Such infringements were ‎attributed to reasons such as breaking laws, illusive existence and ‎administrative & financial infracts but most of the times political reasons ‎raised behind coulisse. ‎
‎5.2.8‎ Violations and detention: In the nineties of 20th century, Some of CSO’s ‎chiefs were beaten, driven into jail, accused with fake charges such as drug ‎dealing. Besides, they were prevented from traveling by reporting( false ‎suspicions) for the adjacent countries’ security departments.‎
‎5.3 Constraints in reaching resources: No such constraints were recorded except a ‎few against civil organizations with religious type under the pretexts of providing ‎financial support to terrorism. ‎
‎ 5.4 Constraints of expressing: No serious constraints in this regard, this is ascribed to ‎NA weakness being busy in other issues especially after Intifadat Al Aqssa 2000. ‎Additionally, CSO’s are practicing a kind of self-censorship to avoid any infringements ‎of the authorities especially under the circumstances of armed groups’ existence which ‎are not ruled by law. ‎

‎6. Governmental justifications of imposing constraints on the civil society:‎

Most of these excuses are ambiguous due to personal mode of the PNA responsible ‎figures, some times referred to indefinite large concepts such as supporting terrorism. ‎After the political split and bloody actions, the executive forces of Hamass justify its ‎infringements against Fateh organizations in being communicating with Ramalla for ‎inciting purposes. On the other side, Fiaad’s government justifies closing 103 ‎organizations in WB in administrative and financial infracts after making a ‎comprehensive deep review by professional committee. All these justifications from both ‎sides fall under the National Security as if the non governmental institutions are the only ‎threat. ‎
‎7. Real reasons stand behind imposing constraints on the civil society:‎

Constraints against the civil society can be ascribed to immaturity and the political ‎partisan govern the authorities’ conduct which considers any different positions, ‎believes and practices as threats and risks should be confronted. This is related to ‎deficiency of political standards and loose experience in democratic principles and ‎applications which consider election process as end of the road. As most of CSOs are ‎politically affiliated; they are always exposed to the govern authorities’ lake of ‎contentment accompanied with prevailed political instability as a state of complete ‎dominion for Palestinians is not exist till the moment.‎

‎8. Status of civil society in Palestine accordance to international standards:‎

There is a large- scale harmony between the Palestinian law for civil organizations ‎and the modified basic law (constitution) especially the second chapter on ‎fundamental freedoms and rights in articles 26,27. On the other side, this law fit with ‎the standards of international Human Rights. Despite of that, the executive measures ‎of CO law do not enhance the legitimacy of it according to jurisdiction fragility in ‎Palestine which is unable to settle the conflicts between the local community and the ‎authorities in case of the executive authorities’ violations. This strongly attributed to ‎the jurisdiction’s lack of independency and the executive authorities’ dominance even ‎exceeds the jurisdiction in Palestine.‎

‎9. Strategies of civil society to overcome the applied constraints:‎
‎ Those strategies can be summarized- according to recommendations from activists in the ‎field of democracy, human rights and civil society institutions- in order to improve a ‎compatible constructive relationship between government and civil society instead of its ‎current status which is full of suspicions: ‎
‎1-‎ The necessity to form a national independent solidarity body of civil society ‎institutions in Palestine against the governmental arbitrary measures and ‎infringements as well as its manipulation in applying laws. Additionally, this ‎body has to work on developing the performance of CSOs for more credibility ‎and transparency which will eliminate the pretexts of government to violate ‎CSOs’ rights in performing and existence in the first place. Despite of pre-‎forming of Palestinian civil society organizations network (PNGO) which tackled ‎several issues in the same regard; the PNGO performance is still weak and biased ‎to a large extent to the political affiliations that govern most of its members in ‎addition to strict factional attitudes govern the electoral process of its members.‎
‎2-‎ ‎ The necessity to identify ethical frameworks (CSOs’ terms of references for self-‎control code of conduct). The current foggy conditions and standards govern the ‎behavior of CSOs in addition to their performance regarding community issues ‎and causes which lakes the serious credibility and transparency give the ‎authorities all they need to take measures hindering CSOs’ activities and ‎threatening their existence. ‎
‎3-‎ The need to define the domains and classify sectors of work of the CSOs within a ‎comprehensive developmental plan where the role of each organization in ‎applying the plan is identified in a compatible manner with the governmental ‎institutions. This initiative must be taken by CSOs encouraging the government to ‎adopt it (such a plan does not developed till the moment).‎
‎4-‎ The need to identify appropriate frame for donation to be prepared and submitted ‎to international and regional donors by the CSOs in order to mitigate the severity ‎of negative competition between CSOs to get funds in addition to granting all the ‎donors’ conditions in a non deliberated manner. ‎
‎5-‎ The necessity of getting rid of some hypocrite and corrupted leaders in the civil ‎society who negatively affect its image through wasting financial public ‎resources. It is noteworthy to mention that some of those leaders were very bad ‎models of fanaticism, deception and political repression when getting the ‎opportunity to join the government. Those models increase public suspicions ‎regarding the civil society credibility. The majority believes that CS’s figures ‎pretend in promoting democracy and human rights as a transitional tactic to ‎accomplish political ambitions. Furthermore, this kind of behavior gives the ‎authorities the needed pretexts to antagonize civil society institutes. Institutional ‎and personal obligations should govern the behavior of civil society members, ‎leaders and employees through developing a fundamental code of conduct for ‎civil society principles that match the international standards.‎