Mapping Study of Civil Society in Palestine – Update 2015
Prepared by Gianfrancesco COSTANTINI, Estephan SALAMEH, Maher ISSA
January 28, 2015
In January 2011, the Office of the EU Representative to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and UNRWA launched a mapping study on civil society organisations (CSOs) in Palestine'. The study was finalised in May 2011. In October 2014 a second study aimed at updating and widening the mapping study of 2011 was launched with the support of the EU's Civil Society Facility South programme. The research work was finalised in December 2014. Its main findings are outlined in this report. The two studies have been carried out within the framework of the EU policies for supporting civil society in partner countries. Such policies, particularly after the "Arab Spring" in 2011, have been increasingly focused on supporting the engagement of civil society organisations in policy dialogue and in governance, not merely as partners in project and programme implementation, but as partners in policy making and management of public resources; thus recognising both the legitimacy and the capacity of CSOs to play an autonomous and active role in partnership with public institutions and other actors.
The study's theoretical framework is based on a set of concepts and analytical tools aiming at: identifying the main actors involved in civil society development, analysing the dynamics and processes in which CSOs are involved and singling out the main capacity building and institutional development needs of CSOs. The study focused not only on Non-Governmental Organisations (NG05), but on a wider and multifaceted universe of organisations that can be analysed through four main organisational levels: the grassroots organisations and Community Based Organisations (CB05) (first level), NGOs and other intermediary organisations (second level), and then the local, thematic and national platforms (third and fourth levels).
From the methodological perspective, the mapping is characterised by some specific main features, including: a participatory approach; the integration of both quantitative and qualitative information; the integration of "factual elements" (processes, situations, resources, actions, etc.) and "cognitive elements" (such as the representations of reality, the objectives and goals of stakeholders, their expectations, etc.), and finally the capitalisation of existing knowledge and information. A variety of information sources have been used, including documentary sources, consultation activities such as individual interviews, focus group meetings and workshops, and questionnaire — based surveys.
Issues and stakes at national level
CSOs in Palestine manage a large part of social services. Despite this fact, CSOs are not always recognised as actors able to contribute to policy making and good governance. Nevertheless, a stronger participation of CSOs in governance and policy dialogue, at the local and national levels, is crucial given the current realities in Palestine, mainly:
• The uncertainty and the dynamics related to the Israeli occupation influence not only the capacity and possibility for CSOs to operate, but deeply affect Palestinian social cohesion, economic development and any hope for peace in the region, including the people's trust in public authorities and their legitimacy;
• The unclear identity of CSOs themselves and their ambiguous relationship with public authorities that hinder the possibility of CSOs to engage in policy and governance mechanisms. The division among Palestinian territories — the West Bank, divided into Areas A, B and C and separated from East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip —affects the formation and activities of CSOs, creates different needs and demands, and contributes to the emergence of different identities and conflicts. This reality hinders CSOs' ability to play a role in the maintenance of Palestinian unity and to create linkages between people and public authorities. Additionally, the reality of territorial division is restricting the ability of CSOs to produce and channel knowledge and information, maintain culture and identity and facilitate the formulation of relevant policies.
• The decentralisation process is rooted in the Palestinian constitution. However, this process has been managed through a top-down approach, which is often ineffective. Therefore, it requires CSOs to play an active role, as organised actors, to bring up the voice and perspectives of citizens to the decision making level. Additionally, CSOs need to work closely with local authorities in advocating for a process that would recognise CSOs not only as "service delivery actors," but more importantly as key players in decision making and local development.
• The innovation processes require CSOs to play a stronger role, both in producing and disseminating knowledge and in building bridges between society and universities — as well as other CSOs — in order to increase the relevance of their action.
• The cooperation processes through which CSOs engage with other actors, such as international NGOs (INGOS) and international organisations (I0s), are often challenged by the emergence of competition dynamics between the local and international actors, as well as by the tendency —often by ING0s— to engage directly in project implementation. In such framework new partnership modalities need to be developed in order to foster the assumption of new roles by international partners, including those related to innovation and to the exercise of more effective political pressure.
The specific issues and stakes at local level
In addition to stakes and challenges involving CSOs at the national level, some processes generate issues and challenges at the local/regional levels. These specifically include:
• The establishment of mechanisms that would allow the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip to have a voice in the reconstruction process following the Israeli military operation of July-August 2014;
• The "sharpening" of Israeli occupation practices in East Jerusalem that hinders the work of Palestinian CSOs and creates a difficult environment for CSOs to operate in the city. As a result, CSOs in East Jerusalem operate in a space characterised by uncertainty, lack of interlocutors and isolation.
• The need to play an active role to ensure better integration of the interests and needs of the communities located in "Area C" in the policies of the Palestinian Authority and the services provided by the Palestinian governmental institutions.
CSO engagement in governance and policy dialogue
There are a number of initiatives in which CSOs are engaged in governance and policy dialogue at central and local levels. In most of these initiatives, CSOs are invited by the public authorities to participate in policy discussions. These initiatives are organised under the following categories in the report:
• Policy development and law formulation;
• Fostering good governance and social accountability;
• Improvement of public service delivery;
• Support to decentralisation and local governance;
• Support to the improvement of international cooperation effectiveness;
• Support to international campaigns and policy dialogue at regional and international levels.
Despite this wide range of initiatives and experiences, CSOs' engagement in policy making and good governance is still weak and often has limited impact. This is caused by the lack of a recognised social space for CSOs in governance and policy dialogue; the competition and lack of trust among CSOs, limited legitimacy and communication with constituencies, and by focusing almost exclusively on service delivery.
Looking at past experiences, the following lessons learned can be identified:
a) International NGOs can play key functions to initiate and strengthen governance and policy dialogue initiatives, such as: facilitating innovation and transfer of approach, information and knowledge from other countries; facilitating access to funding for organisations to overcome legal or locale related obstacles that would otherwise hinder access to funding; creating a safer environment for local CSOs, etc.;
b) The variety of experiences and conditions in Palestine indicate that the possibility to have a plurality of independent and different funding mechanisms, involving both international and national donors, is both a need and an opportunity.
c) he most successful initiatives were not only based on the transfer of knowledge and information through training and workshops, but have included support to institutional consolidation through a set of follow up activities, including technical assistance and in some cases the provision of resources (including "core" or institutional funding).
An analytical view of Palestinian CSOs
There are 2,793 CSOs distributed across Palestine2. About 57% of these organisations operate only in a confined area, such as: a single village, a city in which they are based, or in some cases, a district or a governorate. The other 43% of CSOs are working within a whole region or across the whole of Palestine. The distribution of activities suggests that, even if all organisations define themselves as "NGOs" and compete equally for funding, almost 60% of these organisations are defined more as "community based organisations" (CB05) or as self-help groups set up by a group of individuals who aspire to solve local problems and improve the situation of their local communities. Only a small number of organisations concentrate their work on one sector of activity, others work in a minimum of 2 or 3 sectors and at least half of the organisations address 4, 5 or even more sectors. The lack of specialization by CSOs is an issue of concern. Unless an organisation is very large and has been established for some time, it is unrealistic to have the needed technical capacity to engage in many sectors, which would require the accumulation and production of specialized knowledge.
A specific analysis of the main needs emerging from the different groups/levels of organisations is extensively elaborated in the report; however, the main findings are listed here:
Emerging needs of CBOs, grassroots organisations, local NGOs and other 1st level organisations include the need to:
• Develop a reflection of the CSO)s role at grassroots / local level;
• Recognize 1st level CSOs as actors that can take an active part in governance, policy dialogue and development actions, without the need to transform into an "NGO";
• Strengthen existing organisations to help play an active role in policy dialogue, instead of creating new grassroots bodies;
• Reduce actions that would increase competition at the local level and would increase vertical and unequal partnerships;
• Support actions that organisations tend to carry out autonomously, rather than as result of external proposals or demands.
Emerging needs for 2nd level CSOs (NGOs and other intermediate organisations) are:
• Define CSOs) identity and role;
• Knowledge sharing and dissemination aimed at developing capacities in order for CSOs to be able to actively engage in development issues;
• The establishment of an environment that would allow CSOs to actively participate in policy dialogue, local governance and innovation processes.
For thematic or geographic platforms (3rd level CSOs), the following needs emerged:
4th level organisations, including the national platforms, have been characterised in the last 3 years by an increased vitality. In this framework, emerging needs include:
Conclusions and recommendations
The lack of a strategic and common vision of the roles that CSOs can assume is a key weakness of the Palestinian CSOs. Other weaknesses are related to the tendencies of CSOs to remain "locked" in service delivery function, to lose their linkages with constituencies and communities, to remain dependant on donors and other political actors, or to continue to operate in isolation or renounce participating in innovation, etc.
CSOs) weaknesses are the result of internal dynamics (such as those related to internal governance mechanisms) and external ones (such as those deriving from lack of social recognition and the partially unsupportive legal framework). Based on these dynamics it is possible to identify some needs that should be considered in order to foster a stronger engagement of CSOs in policy, local governance and development.
• Despite some tendencies to collaborate and network, there is a prevalent situation of self-isolation by CSOs, which tends to concentrate on their own functioning. Competition often exists among CSOs and in relation with other actors (including other CSOs, local authorities, private sector, etc.). Therefore there is a need to support initiatives that would establish bridges amongst CSOs and between CSOs and other actors, with a special focus on the private sector and local authorities.
Further specific recommendations are proposed in the report, based on the review of the 2011 CSO support strategy and the 2014 "EU Country Roadmap for engagement with Civil Society, 2014 – 2017". These recommendations specifically consider the modalities for improving the institutional and operational environment of CSOs, the ways for improving CSOs' capacities, and the possibilities for improving CSOs engagement in governance and policy dialogue.
Finally, recommendations are also provided regarding the participation of CSOs in the activities carried out within the EU focal sectors in the context of the Single Support Framework – "Support to governance at local and national levels», «Support to the private sector and economic development» and «Support to water and land development» as well as the needs emerging in the different geographic areas of Palestine.
1This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the Member States on this issue
2Interview with Ministry of Interior (December 7, 2014). Data retrieved in the Ministry database