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