New Funding Requirements and the Future of Civic Spaces in Palestine

In the past few months, the civil society sector in Palestine witnessed strict funding requirements, which comes at a time when political and social crises have multiplied. Therefore, great disappointment from the European ally surfaced, and hope diminished in regards to the future of these organisations and their impact on society.

Written by: Oday AbuKarsh

Throughout Palestinian civil society organisations’ (CSOs) decades of work, they have been improving civic spaces and creating safe, interactive platforms for the Palestinian public. Most of their work focuses on maximizing public freedoms, lobbying to strengthen the rule of law and increase the participation of the Palestinian public in decision-making processes, and in monitoring the provision of public services. They also work in monitoring and following up on human rights violations and identity-based violence.

These organisations – despite the different reservations on their activities – act as a vehicle for interaction between various social components. They contribute to protecting their target groups’ interests, enhancing their access to public services, combating unequal power relations between social classes, raising awareness on human rights, empowering marginalised groups and leveraging social and economic opportunities.

These CSOs faced a number of obstacles and hindering forces following their establishment. A large portion of the public has this notion that many of the CSOs are adopting a Western “agenda” that does not reflect the Palestinian society’s values, causing stigmatization towards these organisations. Also, many believe that the CSOs collect a large amount of funds and donations with a low level of impact on the ground, harming their legitimacy and increasing the public’s distrust in these actors. With the growing polarisation within the Palestinian society following the political division and the aforementioned obstacles, civil society organisations are facing a loss of civic spaces and safe platforms, decreasing their influence and ability to mobilise their communities to engage in their interventions.

Although civil society organisations are facing a range of hindrances, Palestinian CSOs are given support from state bodies, including the development of legislation and procedures that are responsive to their needs and providing them with access to resources. Contrary to what some may believe, in my opinion, this contributed greatly to the sustainability and development of CSOs. In addition, the financial support from European and international partners supported the civil society sector by amplifying their voices and increasing their visibility at an international level. This backed the efforts of international bodies by protecting the values of democracy, individual and public freedoms, inclusion and intellectual pluralism.

When observing the experiences and practices from around the world, especially in Europe, many civil society organisations and foundations are affiliated with political parties. What differentiates CSOs in Palestine is that they have maintained their neutrality and independence from partisan systems and factions, in accordance with Palestinian law. At the same time, they have maintained their own political and humanitarian agenda, consisting of the dream of self-determination, building an independent Palestinian state and promoting Palestinian public freedoms, which is in compliance with international law.

In the past few months, the civil society sector in Palestine witnessed strict funding requirements, which comes at a time when political and social crises have multiplied. Therefore, great disappointment from the European ally surfaced, and hope diminished in regards to the future of these organisations and their impact on society.

These requirements created three gaps in the civic work sector, as the following:

(1): Polarisation between the CSOs themselves, which based on their position of the requirements, leading shatter of the unity of civil society and further fragmenting the different social components, which weakens the impact of their interventions. (2): The legitimacy of civil society organisations declines in the eyes of their beneficiaries, contributing to the weakness of civic partnership within CSOs and a shrinkage in safe acting platforms. (3): Legal disputes based on the inconsistency of these requirements with Palestinian law.

Here we must deeply think of these requirements’ implications and their expected effects on the Palestinian civil scene in the coming stages, which, I believe, will result in a decrease in the ability of CSOs to work with a number of components in the Palestinian society. Therefore, their ability to raise awareness on civil rights, to lobby and advocate in the public sphere and to intervene in the creation of civic spaces and actions, as a result of the polarisation over its legitimacy, diminishes.

Palestinian CSOs have enjoyed great freedom and have been at the forefront of scenes of structural and social change throughout their years of work. However, any politicization of the work of these organisations directly sets them in a position of contradiction with different powers, weakening their neutrality, and places them in the hands of a party that calls for their alliance either with or against it, thus diminishing their ability to influence and enjoy their freedoms.

In my opinion, the new funding requirements reinforce the isolation of CSOs, further shrink civic spaces and increase fragmentation in the civil society sector, in general. These conditions, in my opinion, will lead the CSOs to lose their purpose of existence, as they have remained neutral and are now in the midst of controversy, which will affect all their efforts over the last few decades. What keeps Palestinians concerned is whether the European ally’s stipulations will widely open the door for the right-wing competition to toughen these requirements, in an attempt to win the loyalties of their constituents, thus threatening the complete collapse of civil society in the near future.

In conclusion, it is necessary to ask questions, the most important of which is: 1. Did the international partners abandon the idea of a neutral, non-partisan civil society? 2. Has the European ally changed its agenda regarding pluralism and the protection of human rights? 3. Will we witness the absence of some donors who pledged to protect the Palestinian dream of building an independent state, on the basis of international legitimacy? 4. What is the Palestinian diplomatic role, both formal and informal, to protect the efforts of this sector? The answers to these and other questions do not fall on the shoulders of this article, but rather on those who might be busy thinking of the Palestinian dream, building a state and self-determination.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.

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