Canberra professionals meet the head of the Palestinian Delegation

November 26, 2009 Agencies
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Members of the Capital Jewish Forum were addressed this week by the Palestinian Territories Head of Delegation in Canberra.

More than thirty members of this relatively new group attended the luncheon, which was held at the Australian National University (ANU).

Izzat Abdulhadi discussed a range of issues relating to the Palestinian civil society.

Manny Waks, Izzat Abdulhadi, Danny Burrows

Manny Waks, Izzat Abdulhadi, Danny Burrows

Some of the main points raised by the delegation head during the Q&A session:

·        The six final status issues are: Water, Jerusalem, Refugees, Borders, Security and Settlements. The key message from today’s event is that we all need to lobby for these issues to be resolved.

·        In relation to Hamas:

o       He hopes and believes in the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas – Hamas is a pragmatic entity.

o       The balance of power is not with Hamas and therefore, from Hamas’ perspective, it is not in their interest to reach an agreement with Israel. But Hamas is realising that using violence is not worth it – it comes at the expense of the Palestinian people.

o       Hamas’ objective is to get international recognition.

o       According to public opinion, Abbas is more popular in Gaza than in the West Bank.

·        In relation to Jerusalem:

o       The Palestinians are open to any one of three options in relation to the status of Jerusalem:

§         Jerusalem as a shared capital for two states, open to both Palestinians and Israelis and jointly administered by Israel and Palestine.

§         Jerusalem as an international city administered by an international body and open to all in accordance with the 1947 Partition Plan recommended by the General Assembly.

§         Jerusalem as two capitals, East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

o       Israel is only open to a unified Jerusalem.

o       There is no flexibility whatsoever in the Israeli position. We, including Diaspora Jews, should all play a role in convincing the Israeli Government to change its position in this regard.

·        In relation to the Palestinian civil society:

o       The main reason as to why the civil society was not mobilised until the 1980s, as opposed to the late 1960s, is because the early focus was solely on liberation.

o       Palestinian civil society is the most thriving in the Arab world – there are strong institutions within the Palestinian civil society. In fact the Palestinian civil society has been called upon to assist other Arab civil societies.

o       It is working hard against incitement at schools.

o       Civil society in Gaza is strong, is doing a great job and plays a crucial role – both the secular and religious non government organisations.

·        In response to the question with regards to recognising Israel as a Jewish State, Mr Abdulhadi responded that overall there are two narratives, a Palestinian and an Israeli. Both sides need to be pragmatic and the most important thing is that there needs to be mutual recognition of secure borders.

·        While both the Israeli civil society and their Palestinian counterparts are politicised, and therefore very much align themselves with their respective governments, there are nonetheless some links, including joint ventures. Of course during periods of heightened tension there is limited cooperation.

·        A lot of lessons have been learnt in relation to resisting the occupation – it must always be within the parameters of international law and must not involve the use of violence.

·        The moderates need to be strengthened – this in turn will strengthen the two state process.

·        In relation to his optimism, Mr Abdulhadi emphasised the things that have actually been achieved thus far such as:

o       Agreement that a two state solution is the only way forward – this includes the recognition that there is such an entity as Palestine.

o       Agreement on the principle of territorial compromise.

o       Clarity and recognition of the positions of each ‘side’.

o       The Arab League offer of full recognition and relationship in exchange for 1967 borders.

·        Mr Abdulhadi suggested not just looking at the negatives, for example the Hamas dominance in Gaza, but engaging creatively to find solutions now that there have been achievements such as those already mentioned.

Abdulhadi’s full speech:

The role of Palestinian Civil society organizations in state building process

Distinguished Guests,

Thank you for this opportunity to be with you today and to discuss Palestine and Israel, an issue of real shared interest!

I would like to begin by telling you a little about myself.

I have not been a career diplomat, but I do come from a very political background.

I was born in Nablus, biblical Shechem, a centre of what some might call rebellion but which I would call a centre of robust, participatory political life, throughout history and into the present day.

My mother was a powerful influence on me in this. In 1969 when I was 10 years of age and the occupation was two years old, Mother who was a history teacher, Principal and member of the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, was deported without trial, to Jordan, accused of improper political activity.

My father cared for us as a family but we were unable to do without our Mother, particularly after my Father had a serious bout of illness. After 1 year we moved to Jordan, returning in 1973 after the Mayor of Nablus Hikmat Al Masri was able to allocate more than 50,000 to guarantee that my mother should not be involved in any political activities.

As a teenager, after I had passed through what I term my ‘religious phase’, I became involved in community organisations and community politics. This is an involvement that has continued throughout my life. It is a commitment that has shaped my work, the way in which I do the things I do and in short, my whole experience and outlook on life.

After a few false starts as a student, I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate degree in Political and Administrative Science in Lebanon, while I also worked as an editor of a daily Palestinian newspaper.

I was a Marxist . . . an endangered species these days . . . and I belonged to a development agency. This experience has provided me with many entertaining stories, which I have the opportunity to tell at the many dinners and cocktail events I now attend.

However, as George Bernard Shaw said . . . . A young man who is not a communist has no heart, but an old man who is still a communist, has no head.

I am no longer a Marxist.

But I have always been, and remain engaged with communities. I carry this commitment into the work I do here in Australia.

In particular, I am committed to community empowerment and transformation.

Prior to coming to Australia as Head of the General Delegation of Palestine, I was the director of Bisan Research and Development, a Palestinian NGO and AusAid partner. I was also heavily involved in the formation of various NGO and community networks both in Palestine and across the Arab world, and I remain a Board member of a number of these organisations.

What I would like to speak with you about today is a matter that I hope you find as interesting and as compelling as what I do: The formation of the Palestinian state. And specifically, the unique contribution of the NGO sector to the post-Oslo political reality within Palestine; the pre-state state.

To set the context;

Classical political theory argues that civil society will not be built under foreign occupation. Civil society will only operate where there is a stable state and stable social functioning exists.

Yet Palestinians have established a democratic, highly participatory and vibrant civil society while under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Significantly, the Palestinian experience contradicts established political theory, which then raises questions such as:

• • •

How did this happen? What kind of state is being created? What lessons can be learned from the state building process?

Alternatively, a pure theorist might simply take the approach of deciding that it is the established theory that is wrong, discard the theory and create a new theory.

But I am not a pure theorist. I am a Nabulsi!

I would like to better understand what has happened within Palestinian society and politics; How it has happened and, What are the real implications for the future Palestinian state; a state my family and friends and I, will live in and which will be a neighbour state to Israel.

In 1982, following the departure of the PLO from Lebanon, armed struggle as the main strategy for liberation, was given up. The immediate realisation by Palestinians in Palestine was that we would be subjected to prolonged occupation.

Accordingly, more positive and productive strategies were needed, to increase the ability of our people to live stable lives in stable productive communities, instead of being crushed socially, personally, culturally, economically and politically.

The practice and thought that emerged was called development for steadfastness and resistance through productive non-violent living with the provision of quality services to our people.

This strategy of development for steadfastness and resistance, aimed to transform Palestinians from negative recipients of relief, to positive recipients building, and strengthening their own local communities through creative community-based development programs.

Based on this radically transformative political thought and action, new organisations and movements were established with the role of:

and

Mobilising people in readiness to engage their political and national rights

provision of services that would enable Palestinians to stay on and in their own land. The first of these new organisations were grassroots movements and included medical,

agricultural, environmental, workers and women’s committee’s.

The leaders and members of these committees’ were completely different to the traditional, conservative leadership elites of established, influential and often feudal families whose organisations delivered humanitarian relief alone.

The leaders and members of grassroots movements, were the poor, students, women, and employed persons. The number of women in the Women’s Committee’s alone, exceeded 15, 000.

My lovely and supposedly trouble-making Mother was the leader of one of these committees, the union of women committees for social work, so I am fully aware of the influence of Women’s’ Committee’s.

Most importantly, grassroots movements were not merely radical or reactionary. They engaged local, concrete and highly participatory political, economic and liberal social programs.

The Union of Medical Committee’s is one such example.

It was formed to provide community health services with a particular focus on outreach and community rehabilitation, Clinical services were provided, but the main focus was on community and personal empowerment with regard to health needs.

The provision of the service and the committed participation of the person and the community were not separated.

The first intifada (1987 – 1993) saw another dramatic change in Palestinian political reality, where with the support of the international community and the Israeli public, a Palestinian state became a realistic possibility and option.

With this change, a new body of NGO’s emerged, supported by professional institutions, donors, human rights organisations etc.

These new organisations were preparing for building a state based on the declaration of independence and Palestinian recognition of the two-state solution and were larger and more institutionally political than the grassroots movements.

With these realities, I would like to ask my first question: • How did civil society emerge under occupation?

In contradiction to established political theory, paradoxically it firstly emerged because of occupation and the desire to sustain the Palestinian life under occupation.

Secondly, the second stage of development – the first intifada – which profoundly engaged the commitment to non-violence and steadfastness was one in which civil society and its organisations began to consciously prepare for life without occupation.

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What had been laid down in response to the occupation, was sound community, localised and concrete participatory political life which also included affiliation with political parties. The uniqueness of the first Intifada was the ability and capacity to build a state from below through neighbourhood’s committees who were able to organize the various aspects of the Palestine people.

This political life then became the core of what was to be the next stage; conscious preparation for the state.

With the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1993, the emerging Palestinian Authority had a huge impact on the work of NGO’s. They felt threatened by the new entity – which was to take on a number of the roles e.g. the main visible political entity and deliverer of services, which were previously fulfilled by civil society composed of grassroots movements – which came to be known as Community Based Organisations and NGOs’

In response, a new role emerged for civil society – to guarantee the PA would respect Democracy, social justice and human rights, and contribute effectively to the people’s needs and priorities.

During this period, Palestinian civil society identified its objectives for work as: • to contribute to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state, • to contribute to the building of a viable and democratic civil society, • to implement community based developmental projects, continue to provide services

and • to defend the interests of marginalised groups

The common view is that the PA filled a vacuum. Nothing existed previously except the blanket reality of the occupation and the PA became the home-grown political entity.

In reality, the PA which was much welcomed – let me be very clear about that – was set up in an environment of democratic inquiry and also an environment of competition.

NGO’s had to find new niche’s and in response, 5 strategies were identified to achieve the objectives I previously outlined.

These strategies were:

To advocate and lobby the Palestinian Authority to issue appropriate legislation and public policies that were responsive to the people needs and priorities.

To conduct public awareness programs to promote democracy and peace;

To develop and implement capacity building programs that would upgrade the professional, technical and managerial capacity of the Palestinian community based organisations through a creative partnership programs;

Service provision strategy; and lastly

Consultation, networking, and cooperation strategy.

of these organisations are the Agriculture Relief Committee which worked in conjunction with Israeli NGOs’ to upgrade the skills, resources and practices within Palestinian Agriculture sector while also strengthening the governance processes within Palestinian Agricultural organisations to enable them to participate in formal, institutional political process.

Two examples

Out of curiosity, the first Palestinian Trade Delegation composed of a number of Palestinian agricultural associations and committees’ visited Australia in September this year.

Another example is the organisation of which I was director for over 20 years, Bisan Centre for Research and Development.

Bisan’s mission was to build communities and their political participation, to conduct research that would direct the delivery of services and particularly, to partner with Community Based organisations to develop their governance, their skills, their capacity to support both their own communities and to be part of a new formal political reality.

To look back critically, and to try to answer the question: • What kind of state is being created through these realities?

The answer is: a highly participatory democratic state, but also a pre-state with certain internal issues and particularly issues of political and social coherence.

In order to establish itself in this highly competitive environment, foreign donors were funding the establishment and operation of the PA with its over-riding responsibilities, while at the same time funding the operations of NGOs’ who were engaged in the strategies outlined – some of which were competitive and critical of the PA.

Which I would say: all makes for healthy emerging democracy!

Which is in stark contrast to a popular view that there was and still is, little or no democracy within Palestine due firstly to the occupation and secondly due to particular internal political realities.

If this sounds like the occupation is almost incidental and I don’t mind if it continues, let me be very clear on that point. I, like all Palestinians are working for the day when the Israeli occupation of Palestine ends.

To answer the last question: • What lessons can be learned from this particular state building process?, I outline the

following:

State building is a slow and complex process and the theory that civil society does not exist or emerge under occupation, may be wrong.

The rivalry that existed between the NGO’s and the PA was not productive. Competition between NGO’s for influence within the pre-state state, was not productive.

Processes were created to try to overcome this – for example the formation of PNGO, the Palestinian NGO network which worked to build cooperation between NGO’s and overcome non-productive competition.

To make a stable state, all civil society organisations should come together or fragmentation and factionalism can be the result.

One of the unintended outcomes of the Oslo process was paradoxically, the creation of political division within Palestine as a result of the competition and factionalism I have outlined.

The Palestinian experience shows that democracy which comes from civil society, must be created – consciously and systematically.

And the Palestinian experience shows that where self-empowerment is beneficial, there is also a political balance between self and community empowerment and a cohesive state.

To look at the Israeli experience of pre-state state building, Israel also created institutions, organisations etc., and prior to the declaration of a state. These institutions however, were subsumed under the authority of the state and became a part of the new state. Civil society became a part of the mechanisms of the new state – and this created particular social and political realities within the Israeli state.

To conclude this exploration, I would like to share with you that I am currently researching this area with the School of Arab and Islamic Studies here at ANU, through a Master of Philosophy.

Further and more in-depth questions of why, how and the responses to those questions are still unfolding.

For me, the interest is personal. I lived through this and I live to see the declaration of an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state.

However a broader question is also present: How is successful, diverse, robust participatory democracy built and what are the implications for the kind of democracy that emerges from the building process.

The peace process, which includes civil society within Palestine, an internal Palestinian process of state building and democracy creation, is irreversible.

The peace process as an external process between Palestine and Israel is also irreversible.

It has begun and it will continue, with all of its ups and downs, it stalling and its progress – however small at times.

Most pressing is the need to resolve the Final Status Issues, in particular the settlement issue which is the main obstacle of an authentic and sustainable two state solution. if a viable Palestinian state is to be built and a viable and sustainable relationship between neighbours – Israel and Palestine – is to be built.

The Final Status issues remain as external issues for state-building, and the strengthening of democratic and political processes within Palestine remains an internal state-building issue within Palestine.

Izzat Abdulhadi Canberra 25/11/2009

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