Palestinian FlagNGO Law Monitor: Palestine

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 14 February 2014

Introduction

In any comparative study of governments and laws, Palestine represents an exceptional case for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, Palestine’s unique history has in many ways proved conducive to the development of a vibrant and active civil society, by both regional and global standards.

The earliest Palestinian NGOs formed during the British mandate and focused generally on grassroots promotion of the nationalist struggle. After 1948, a large variety of organizations were formed on behalf of women, students, doctors, and others. Though formed earlier than the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), many of these organizations worked with it or on its behalf in the project of building the state of Palestine. Because the PLO did not constitute a fully sovereign state, Palestinian NGOs were able to operate with a relatively free hand in seeking funding from regional and international donors, such as the wealthier Arab states and the World Bank. By 1994, when the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was created and assumed governing authority, these NGOs had a long history of providing many essential social services. They were accustomed to working in an environment that lacked the kinds of legal and administrative restraints typically imposed on NGOs in the Middle East – especially in the neighboring states of Egypt and Jordan.

But soon after coming into power, the PNA attempted to assert heavy-handed control over NGOs. Relations between the PNA and Palestinian NGOs declined precipitously.  When the PNA produced a draft NGO law modeled on the highly restrictive Egyptian law, the reaction of Palestinian NGOs was swift and well-organized. Palestinian NGOs mounted a successful campaign domestically and abroad, drawing on the international connections made over time to get donor states and international agencies – which provided the bulk of the PNA's funding – to pressure the PNA to adopt a less-restrictive law. After a protracted struggle between the PNA and the highly organized and well-connected Palestinian civil society sector, the NGOs won what has been termed “a near total victory.” The NGO law, finally passed in 2000, was for many years the most liberal and least restrictive NGO law in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the continuing effects of Israeli occupation, combined with the degradation of Palestinian institutions of state since the formation of the PNA, have resulted in the uneven and arbitrary application of the Palestinian NGO law (and indeed a decline in the rule of law generally). The split between Fatah and Hamas that took place in the wake of the 2006 parliamentary elections resulted in a de facto separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Arbitrary punitive acts, including the forced dissolution of NGOs or replacement of their boards, have reportedly been undertaken against Hamas-affiliated NGOs in the West Bank and against Fatah-affiliated NGOs in the Gaza Strip.

Although Hamas and Fatah negotiated a reconciliation agreement in June 2011, it remains unclear what benefits, if any, this agreement has for the civil society sector.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations
Note: Though the law refers to both "charitable organizations" and "community foundations," these are defined identically as associations. There is no equivalent to a civil law foundation in Palestinian law.
Registration Body The NGOs Department of the Ministry of the Interior
Approximate Number West Bank: 2,100 Gaza Strip: 899 (2009 est.)
Barriers to Entry Mandatory registration
Barriers to Activities The Ministry of the Interior "may scrutinize the activity of any association or organization to ascertain that its funds have been spent for the purposes for which they were allocated" (Article 6)
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy n/a
Barriers to International Contact n/a
Barriers to Resources n/a

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Key Indicators

Population 4.29 million - approximately 2.65 million in the West Bank and 1.64 million in the Gaza Strip (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics 2012)
Capital The Palestinian Declaration of Independence and Palestinian National Authority Basic Law proclaim Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Ramallah is the current administrative capital pending final status negotiations with Israel.
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: West Bank: 73.38 years / Gaza Strip: 72.69 years
Female: West Bank: 77.67 years / Gaza Strip: 76.21 years (2013 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 97.9%
Female: 92.6% (2011 est.)
Religious Groups West Bank: Muslim 75% (predominantly Sunni), Jewish 17%, Christianother 8%
Gaza Strip: Muslim (predominantly Sunni) 99.3%, Christian 0.7%
Ethnic Groups Palestinian Arab
GDP Per Capita $1,679 (2012 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 110 (2013) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 41.3 (2011) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 20.7 (2011) 100 – 0
Transparency International not ranked (2012) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: West Bank: 6 Gaza Strip: 6
Civil Liberties: West Bank: 5 Gaza Strip: 6 (2011)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Failed States Index Rank: 61 (2011) 177 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Note: Palestine is recognized as a full member of the League of Arab States and on 26 November 2012 received "non-member observer State status in the United Nations" through a vote of the United Nations General Assembly. Legal opinion varies as to whether this status allows Palestine to sign, ratify, or acede to international treaties, but Palestine has been "urged" to ratify key human rights treaties by international and Arab human rights organizations.

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) n/a --
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) n/a --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) n/a --
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) n/a --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) n/a --
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) n/a --
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women n/a --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) n/a --
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) n/a --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) n/a --
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
Arab Charter on Human Rights Yes 2007

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Palestine's temporary Constitution, the Basic Law, was passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1997 and ratified by President Yasser Arafat in 2002. It was amended in 2003 and in 2005. Freedom of association is guaranteed by Article 26(2), which states that all Palestinians have the right, both individually and in groups, "to form and establish unions, associations, societies, clubs and popular institutions in accordance with the law."

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national legislation includes the following:

  • The Law on Charitable Associations and Community Foundations (Law 1 of 2000) [English] [عربي
  • Implementing Regulations for Law 1 of 2000 (Council of Ministers Decision 9 of 2003) [عربي]
  • Basic Law of the Palestinian National Authority [عربي]
  • Law No. 12 of 1998 on Public Assemblies

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

It has been reported that the Ministry of the Interior is preparing to issue proposed amendments to the Law 1 of 2000. However, as of this writing, no proposed amendments have been made public.

The Ministry of Interior in Palestine is now implementing the restrictive Decision No (6) of 2011 of President Mahmoud Abbas which amends the Law on Charitable Associations and Community Organizations No. (1) of 2000 (the “Law”). The Decision states on amending Article (39) of the Law as follows:

“1- In the event an Association or Organization is dissolved, a paid liquidator is appointed who prepares an inventory of its funds and assets. After the liquidation process is complete, the Ministry shall transfer all association or organization monetary and in-kind funds and assets to the Palestinian National Authority or to a Palestinian Association similar in its objectives. Salaries, rewards and rights of employees of associations or organizations shall not be subject to transfer.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

Although Palestinian law refers to both "charitable organizations" and "community foundations," only the legal form of an "association" is defined. According to Law 1 of 2000, an "association" is any institution with "independent legal personality, established upon an agreement concluded among no less than seven persons to achieve legitimate objectives of public concern, without aiming at attaining financial profits to be shared among the members or achieving any personal benefits."

Public Benefit Status

There is no public benefit status defined in Law 1 of 2000. However, all registered associations are exempt from taxes and customs duties. 

Barriers to Entry

Registration is mandatory for associations operating in Palestine. However, the procedure for licensing requires only that the applicant submit three copies of the association’s bylaws along with an application form provided by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior must issue a decision accepting or denying the application within two months. If no decision is made within that period, the association is considered registered by law. However, it has been reported that on some occasions of default registration, the Ministry of Interior may refuse to consider the association as registered and may hinder its activities or even prevent them. Also, if a registration certificate has not been issued, the association will not be allowed to open a bank account in order to receive funds.

Rejection of a registration application must be made in writing and must specify the reasons (though the law does not contain a list of permissible ground for rejecting a registration application). As the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network reported in 2009, “a multitude of decrees, decisions and instructions have been issued by the PNA… that are entirely contradictory… to the regulations of the Law of Charitable Associations and Community Organizations in particular. For instance, Presidential Decree 16 of 2007 granting the Minister of Interior the power to review all licensing certificates; Council of Ministers Resolution 8 of 2007 regarding associations engaged in activities that are against the law; and the Ministry of Interior Decision 20 of 2007, according to which associations are obliged to refer to security agencies for the completion of registration procedures, may all be considered to contravene the NGO law itself. Registered associations in Gaza are subject to security checks and must present a certificate of good conduct and a clean criminal record for all their members; this has become a prerequisite for registration at the MoI of [the West Bank Government as well].” (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Freedom of Association in the Euro-Mediterranean Region 2009, p. 68. )

It has been reported that on some occasions the Ministry of Interior has rejected a registration application because "there are other registered associations that provide the same services."

Recently, the Ministry of Interior changed the registration requirements and added new ones as follows:

  1. Three copies of the registration form (the form template is prepared by the Ministry of Interior which violates the Law).
  2. Three copies of the by-laws of the association (applicants can prepare the by-laws according to the Law through a lawyer).
  3. Copies of the ID cards of the founders (or of any other document that proves their nationality).
  4. Revenue stamps (worth 20 Jordanian Dinars).
  5. Written authorization that allows three founders to follow-up on registration procedures and sign on behalf and in the name of the organization.
  6. Letter certifying that the signatures of the founders are true (the letter should be prepared by the three authorized founders).
  7. Form of information about the founders.
  8. All founders (or the three authorized founders) must sign each page of the by-laws.
  9. All of the documents enclosed with the application shall be printed.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Palestinian law places virtually no limitations on the rights of an association, though in some cases does enable government interference. Associations are free to engage in public policy debates, raise funds from foreign and domestic sources, and merge and dissolve. Associations can affiliate with foreign or domestic organizations without seeking prior permission, and foreign associations are free to establish branches in Palestine so long as approval is given by both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.

The Ministry of Interior has the right to "scrutinize the activities of an association to ascertain that its funds have been spent for the purposes for which they were allocated," which may allow inappropriate government intervention in NGO activities by the government. Also, although the law provides that associations are entitled to set up branches within Palestine, it has been reported that authorities in Gaza may refuse to allow the opening of organizations registered in the West Bank (and vice-versa).

In addition, the government may exercise undue control over an association’s funds in the case that it is dissolved. An amendment to the law per the decision of President Mahmoud Abbas (issued in April 2011) grants the Ministry of Interior unlimited discretion and authority to transfer the funds and assets of a dissolved organization to the public treasury of the PNA. (Prior to this amendment, the organization could determine how its funds and assets should be disposed in the event of its dissolution, in the text of its by-laws; if it did not do so, then all its money was to be transferred to a Palestinian organization similar in its objectives.) This amendment appears to invite the government to confiscate the funds of dissolved organizations.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no barriers to speech or advocacy in Law 1 of 2000. 

Barriers to International Contact

There are no major legal barriers to international contact in Law 1 of 2000. However, foreign associations must secure the approval of the Ministry of the Interior, which is required to "take into consideration the opinion of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation," before opening any branches in Palestine (Article 34). 

Barriers to Resources

Associations are free to raise funds from foreign and domestic sources without seeking prior approval or notifying the Ministry of the Interior.

Barriers to Assembly

Vague Provisions. Law No. 12 of 1998 on Public Assemblies contains a number of vague provisions concerning permissible assemblies. For instance, Article 4 states that a demonstration "must be far from areas of tension, and the purpose of the meeting must not contradict with the law or public order." The meanings of "areas of tension" and "public order" are subject to various interpretations, and may be used as a pretext to deny and restrict citizens' right to peaceful assembly. Palestinians are also unable to know in advance whether they are violating the law by gathering in a certain place and discussing certain topics, due to the vagueness of these terms. 

Advance Notification. The Law on Public Assemblies requires prior notification for planned gatherings of more than 50 people in a public space. Article 4 of the Law provides that this notification requirement is triggered when “50 people are invited in an open public venue, including public squares, courts, parks etc.” Article 3 stipulates that prior written notice must be submitted to the governor or to the police director at least 48 hours before the date of any meeting or public assembly. The notice should be signed by the organizers, who must be more than three people.

Article 1 of the Executive Regulation details the procedures for notification as follows:

  1. the notice shall be handwritten and addressed to the governor or police director;
  2. the notice shall be submitted at least 48 hours before the date of the meeting or the demonstration;
  3. the notice shall define the venue, time, and goal of the meeting or demonstration; and
  4. the notice shall define the route and duration of the demonstration.

If the organizers do not receive a response within 48 hours, the organizing party has the right to convene the public meeting on the date specified in the notice, per Article 4 of the Law on Public Assemblies.

Article 2 of the Executive Regulation provides that, following receipt of the notice, the police director has authority to issue the license for the assembly. If he or she does so, Article 11 stipulates that the license shall include:

  1. the name of the notice filer;
  2. the subject matter of the meeting or the goal of the demonstration;
  3. the venue of the meeting and its duration;
  4. the point of assembly for the demonstration and its duration;
  5. the security terms and conditions that are decided by the police director to provide protection for the meeting or demonstration to guarantee the protection of the public and the public safety;
  6. Any other terms and conditions.

There is no right to challenge a decision by the police director to deny the organizers a license.

Spontaneous Assemblies and Counter-Demonstrations. The Law on Public Assemblies does not explicitly provide for spontaneous assemblies, nor does it address counter-demonstrations. Because of the prior notification requirement, however, it may be assumed that both types of assemblies are prohibited. In practice, they are also suppressed. For example, in June 2012, the Palestinian police broke up a spontaneous demonstration aimed at protesting the visit of the Israeli Minister Ehud Barak to the region.

Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions. The Law on Public Assemblies does not place explicit restrictions on assemblies based on their timing, location, or subject matter.

Police Enforcement. There have been several incidents where police have responded to peaceful demonstrators with excessive force. In March 2011, for example, a peaceful demonstration was organized near City Inn Circle in Ramallah on the occasion of Earth Day. The security bodies placed several check points before the participants to prevent them from joining the assembly, and the police detained a number of the participants.

Criminal Penalties. The Law on Public Assemblies provides for penalties if individuals violate the Law. Article 6 states that "notwithstanding any other penalty set forth by the Penal Code, anyone violating the provisions of this Law shall be punished with imprisonment for no more than 2 months, or a fine that does not exceed fifty thousand Jordanian Dinars or their equivalent in the applicable currency." By incorporating provisions of the Penal Code, the Law exposes assembly participants to harsher penalties.

In practice, the Palestinian Authority often relies on Articles 81-84 of the Palestinian Penal Code of 1936; Articles 165-178 of the Jordanian Criminal Code of 1960; and the Presidential Decree on Promoting National Unity and Preventing Incitement to prevent or restrict the freedom of peaceful assembly. These provisions, however, were intended to address assemblies that had criminal intent.


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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Not available
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Occupied Palestinian Territories
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel and the occupied territories
Failed States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Failed States Index 2013
IMF Country Reports Not available
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Palestine

 

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Events

A discussion between CSO representatives and the Ministry of Interior on Freedom of Association took place on Thursday, September 26, 2013.

News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Workshop on the Reality of NGOs in Palestine (November 2013)
A workshop entitled “The Reality of Palestinian NGOs” took place on November 26th, 2013. The workshop came out with many recommendations including the need to enhance the cooperation between NGOs and the government.

Workshop on NGO Transparency and Good Governance (November 2013)
The Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) and Anti-Corruption Commission organized a workshop in Bethlehem on November 13th, 2013, on mechanisms to enhance the transparency and integrity of NGOs. The workshop focused on NGOs’ board members and executive management.

Project Launched to Protect and Promote Freedom of Association in Palestine (November 2013)
A group of organizations signed an agreement to launch a project aimed to strengthen protection for the freedom of association in the Palestinian Territories. The agreement was signed by the Palestinian Consultative Staff for NGOs Development (PCS); the Palestine National Institute for NGOs (PNIN); the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO); and the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders (EMHRF).

Palestine Joins the Convention on Cluster Munitions (September 2013)
Palestine joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions as an observer state in September 2013, during the fourth meeting of state parties in Lusaka, Zambia.

Palestinian Civil Society: What Went Wrong?
(April 2013)
Over the past two decades, social, political, cultural and institutional changes have swept across the occupied Palestinian territories. Many of the changes can be traced back to the Oslo process, such as the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the redefinition of official Palestinian-Israeli relations, the involvement of international donors, and the radical shift in the political economy of the occupied territories. Al-Shabaka policy member Tariq Dana argues that Palestinian civil society is fundamental to understanding the multilayered changes that have negatively affected Palestinian society. He identifies the four dimensions of “what went wrong” since Oslo – the shift in organizations’ agendas, the role of the grassroots, the status of politics, and the production of knowledge – and concludes with recommendations to revive civil society as a fertile terrain for profound social transformation.

Banking woes for charity suspected of financing Hamas (January 2013)
The Al-Aqsa Foundation, a charity registered focusing on providing aid to Palestinians has recently had its banking facilities with two South African banks suspended. The Foundation is suspected by the US government to be raising funds for Hamas, the Palestinian resistance movement and governing authority of the Gaza strip. 

Newest ‘observer state’ should act on rights treaties (November 2012)
Palestinian leaders should pursue ratification of core international human rights treaties and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Governments that have pressured Palestine to forgo membership in the ICC, including the United Kingdom, or have said that they will impose sanctions on Palestine if it seeks ICC membership, namely Israel, should end such pressure and support universal ratification of the ICC treaty.

Palestine upgrade 'brings obligations under international law' (December 2012)
Palestine's historic recognition as a non-member observer state of the United Nations brings with it obligations under international law, Amnesty International says. The vote at the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday was decided by 138 votes in favor, 41 abstentions, and nine against. Palestine is in a position to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other human rights and international humanitarian law treaties, bolstering accountability for human rights violations and crimes under international law. "This would open the door for victims of human rights abuses to seek justice and empower them to claim their rights," said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.

‘Investigate UK funding of Palestinian NGOs’ (September 2012)
The head of the Jerusalem-based research institute, NGO Monitor, has called for an inquiry into the British government's funding of Palestinian organizations which he says promote political attacks on Israel.

Statement of the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations (PCHRO) on EU Association Council Meeting (July 2012)
The Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations (PCHRO) issued a statement after the Association Council Meeting between EU and Israel.

Attacks against journalists in Ramallah violate Palestinian law (July 2012)
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) has condemned a series of attacks against journalists on July 1. It says the attacks are in direct contravention of the Palestinian Basic Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

NGOs in Gaza accuse Hamas of crackdown (June 2012)
The Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip is increasingly interfering in the work of civil society, activists charge, cracking down on non-governmental organizations. Officials from groups ranging from aid organizations to cultural centers say they are seeing their operating space narrowed. They accuse Hamas of trying to bring Gaza's civil society under its control.

Australia dismisses Palestinian NGO ‘terror’ claims (May 2012)
The Australian government on Thursday said it had cleared the local chapter of World Vision of an Israeli rights group’s claims that a Palestinian NGO it was funding had extremist links. Foreign Minister Bob Carr said a probe by the government’s aid agency AusAID had found no evidence that World Vision Australia’s funding of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) was a breach of the U.N. charter.

Palestinian hunger strikers’ lives in danger (May 2012)
Two Palestinian hunger strikers' lives are in danger, as the Israeli Supreme Court has delayed ruling on the appeal against their detention without charge or trial. Other administrative detainees on hunger strike are still denied access to independent doctors.

HRW: Policy on Palestinian residency ‘arbitrary' (February 2012)
Israeli government policies regarding Palestinian residency have stripped thousands of Palestinians of the ability to live in the West Bank or Gaza with their families, and severely restricted their movement between the two territories, the NGO Human Rights Watch said in a report issued Sunday. In the 90-page report, entitled “Forget about Him, He’s Not Here,” the NGO states that Israel “has used Palestinians’ residency status as a tool to control their ability to reside in, move within, and travel abroad from the West Bank, as well as to travel from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank.”

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The foregoing information was collected by the Palestinian Consultative Staff for NGOs Development in Jenin, Palestine.