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Last updated 6 June 2013
In any comparative study of governments and laws, Palestine represents an exceptional case for a number of reasons. But 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) began operation, these NGOs had a long history of providing many essential social services and working in the absence of the kinds of restraints typically imposed on NGOs in the Middle East.
But the PNA immediately attempted to assert the heavy-handed control over NGOs that was common in most Arab states, especially the neighboring states of Egypt and Jordan. 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, perhaps most effectively, used the international connections made in their long history to get donor states and international agencies – which provided the bulk of the PNA's funding – to pressure the PNA. 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, has resulted in uneven and arbitrary application of the Palestinian NGO law (and indeed 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 been reportedly undertaken in the West Bank against Hamas-affiliated NGOs and in the Gaza Strip against Fatah-affiliated NGOs.
Although Hamas and Fatah have negotiated a reconciliation agreement as of June 2011, it remains unclear what effect this agreement may have on the NGO sector.
|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|
|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: 73.17 years / Gaza Strip: 72.48 years
Female: West Bank: 77.42 years / Gaza Strip: 75.95 years (2012 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 96.7%
Female: 88% (2004 est.)
|Religious Groups||West Bank: Muslim: 75% (predominately Sunni); Christian and others: 25%
Gaza Strip: Muslim: 99.3%; Christian: 0.7%
|Ethnic Groups||Palestinian Arab|
|GDP Per Capita||$2,900 (2008 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||114 (2011)||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 (2010)||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|
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
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]
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.
Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at email@example.com.
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, "associations" are 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 exempted 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.
Rejections 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].”*
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."
* Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Freedom of Association in the Euro-Mediterranean Region 2009, p. 68.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Palestinian law places virtually no limitations on the rights of an association. Associations are free to engage in public policy debates, raise funds from foreign and domestic sources, and merge and dissolve without government interference. 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 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 to ICNL that authorities in Gaza may refuse to allow the opening of organizations registered in the West Bank (and vice-versa).
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
There are no barriers to speech or advocacy contained in Law 1 of 2000.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no barriers to international contact defined 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 otherwise notifying the Ministry of the Interior.
|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 2012|
|IMF Country Reports||Not available|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Palestine|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
The foregoing information was collected by the Palestinian Consultative Staff for NGOs Development in Jenin, Palestine.