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Indigenous coalition and coordination experiments: progressing, stalling or regressing?

2008-05-05

It has become apparent that there is a need to examine the coordinating apparatuses of Palestinian NGOs. There has been observed a significant decline in the impact and scope of some coordinating bodies and considering their importance to civil society, an assessment is crucial to understand the factors that influence this trend. A conference was held on the subject where representatives of the most prominent existing coalitions debated their approaches. These were evaluated with help from an expert in civil affairs. In its initiative, ATF tries to use these interventions as a introductory attempt to assess the experience of Palestinian civil coalitions and mark the career and service objectives they established, in the hope that it would be the start of deeper work according to an accurate methodology to evaluate the experiment.

It was seen as the start of a process that if successful, would see further integration amongst the coordinating bodies to the benefit of all concerned. This being the first stage in the coordination process, all options would be considered.  To understand the coordination apparatuses, there is a need to evaluate their role and legitimacy and it was agreed that the following considerations would guide the analytical approach:

-The need to capture an image of the coordinating frameworks, their most important activities and their members.

- The pros and cons of each approach

- The Challenges arising from each approach

- The lessons to learn from the current situation

- Predictions for the future of the framework for cooperation and coordination.

Within this analytical framework, there can be an in dialogue of stakeholders to make comparisons and examine how these bodies are achieving their objectives, how they cope with their challenges and how to develop a model framework for future coordination bodies.


Case Methodology: the search and unit of analysis

Despite the importance of this coordinating body review, we should be careful that it doesn?t become a review of the entirety of Palestinian civil work. Nor should it be a review of emergency style coalitions that arise in times of pressing need. We have seen many of these coalitions arise spontaneously, but because of their exceptional status, they will remain outside of the scope of this review

We can also bypass the experience of coalitions governed within the limits of the law. In these cases, there is no room for discretion as the law clearly lays down the parameters of accountability, relationships, activities, objectives and powers. It is worth noting that the Palestinian Authority is trying to make the law governing the work of Unions and Associations frame the boundaries of this study.

Although the Palestinian and wider Arab experience suggests that public participation in civil affairs is still far from the realm of inalienable rights, there are an abundance of civil networks nonetheless. We have divided them into two categories: Those that link the work of institutions in allied targets, programmes and goals, or be similar programmes such as human rights organizations or institutions interested workers or elections, and; those that share in certain areas, in their work and differ in their goals or target groups within programmes. In both cases, the institutions gather in a particular framework or coalition. Far from this, the reality also introduced coalition institutions that have no common goals, programs and activities and target groups. Because of this disparity in the quality of coalitions and frameworks, the identification and analysis unit is a helpful asset. This will facilitate a reorganization of the groups where they can find common ground for common work, discover strengths and weaknesses and in doing so, identify the same approaches to cooperative models.

Models and practical experiences

Below, we will review some different kinds of coalition to highlight relevant points for debate

Union of charities
The Union of Charitable Societies was founded in Jerusalem on 27th November 1958 encompassing eleven charities in Jerusalem Governorate, which covered Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho at that time. In contrast to this, there are now 190 Russian charitable organizations spread throughout the nation. The Union defined its objectives in its statutes - nine aims to oversee the common interests of the charitable societies through coordination and policy-making capabilities and the mobilization of support and organization to support and empower the less fortunate.

The goals agreed upon fifty tears ago are much the same today. Despite the difficult political climate, successive governing bodies consistently achieved most of the goals and objectives contained in the statute, sometimes requiring radical changes to adapt to new requirements.

An interesting development occurred in 2000, when European law was amended to allow more than two societies to establish independent unions. The same law also mandated the association permits required to the minister for of Interior and Social Affairs limiting the Union‘s role has become even join him The membership was optional, so the authority was limited to cover the member societies only.



Coalition for integrity and accountability - AMAN
The coalition experiment raised concerns about independence and security among the constituent members, so it was necessary to agree upon these issues under two headings:

An agreement on the meaning of the concept of coalition with a clear definition of the concept of collective action is needed to avoid corruption and develop transparent mechanisms (as being issues of common institutions within the institution and their concerns and timetables)

An agreement on standards of implementation and execution. The mechanisms of implementation are unclear too, and the continuing debate and discussion among members tackle issues about the cause and nature of the partnership and its meaning. Most important of which is in regard to the financial and management models required.

It is vital to reach a consensus on models because this determines whether the coalition is intended as an independent stand-alone body, or a cooperative network of institutions. The debate concentrated on whether the coalition would be more beneficial as a tool for attracting material and moral support for the formation of a front that would be stronger in meeting external challenges, or whether it would be an independent institution to recruit funds and implement its own projects.

The consortium members are fully aware of the necessity of preventing conflict of interest in establishing a supervisory coalition. Especially important is that the founding aims of the constituent parts are protected and that it doesn?t become a tool for the work of Political partisans. Debates on how to secure these aims will continue throughout the process of formation with the aim of developing an optimum model.


Network of indigenous organizations
Looking quick on the performance of the NGOs in this network, one notes that there are many factors to distinguish them from previous experiments. The charities and AMAN have some concerns about heterogeneous institutions operating in the same sectors. Because the network and the members do not always share a common direction, there is a compelling argument against the necessity of a harmony between the members of frameworks. This reinforces the importance of keeping the coalition?s aims in line with reality.

The network and the historical development of the Palestinian national movement have seen a transformation in the role of ideologically based movements in favour of more capable technocratic ones. This is in line with global trends.  It became necessary to combine civil society organizations into networks in the wake of the Oslo accords. After the advent of the Palestinian Authority it became vital to secure the strength of Palestinian civil society. Although these networks were new, their components were not.

The process began with some tension about the difference in roles between the Palestinian Authority and civil society. Network-based organizations played a key role in trying to determine the roles of both parties, and codified this into the charities law. Many of the institutions reassessed their strategies and in that regard, forged new links with the community and international networks.

As for the structure of the networks, the question of institutionalization probably remains the most important point. The network has definitely taken on a technocratic nature where management is concerned, but important decision making is still taken by mutual agreement by the Coordinating committee, which is run in the traditional spirit of the institution and subject to Governing council resolutions and directives. Over all, grassroots organizations succeeded in establishing an electoral tradition while acknowledging the need for a stable political consensus.

We have clearly identified the role of the network in influencing policy and decision makers. Truely, the network retreated its role and the extent achieved. In the view of the network, it failed to find appropriate mechanisms and channels for bringing about this effect. The achievements in this regard are relative in specific issues, and its success in influencing policy is not tangible and permanent.

The network believes that in formulating a comprehensive Palestinian vision of development from the perspective of civil society, the formal authority and funding parties can influence the plans of the Authority and become an effective tool for a more democratic direction of the Authority?s vision

The network has addressed previous failings and obstacles and for now, influence in policy making has become a priority. Network based organizations can become dynamic objects affected by all societal variables and able to translate those needs into the requisite influence on government policy. This is an historic juncture for Palestinian civil society

National Coalition for the Defence of the rights of Jerusalemites in Jerusalem

Organisations under this remit have proliferated exponentially as the Human rights situation has worsened. The Israeli campaign to Judaise the city has seen an increase in the seizure of Palestinian land and housing. The coalition was formed as a dialogue between seven institutions in 2004. They agreed upon targets to defend the issues at stake in the city and helped support Palestinian organizations remaining in the city, despite the migration of many of them to the West Bank. After developing rules of procedure, the number of institutions increased to eighteen. All are involved in programs for the defense of human rights to some extent.

The rationale is that the coalition can act as a means to secure and distribute financing and in doing so, eliminate the survival orientated outlook of each institution allowing them to focus on more important issues than funding.


Union of Arab societies (Trend)
Coalitions and unions are not just an issue of institutional technicalities; they are rooted in the history of a defined political community and it is necessary to see them in historical context. Much of the previous functions were entrusted to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and in the absence of its role.

In this context, it is important to discuss each network or coalition on the basis of a comprehensive vision for the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people. The networks stem from experience of networking since 1948 as an attempt by civil society to circumvent the challenges imposed by the Israeli authorities.
 
In response to the needs of the Palestinian institutions, and with consensus on the existence of a political voice and a need to provide services to the population, the relative independence of the institution was recognized. It joined together 72 groups, representing all parts of the political spectrum, secular and religious, without exclusion of opinion and without the domination of one faction over another. Each group within the coalition sees its own power strengthened from a new realization of the role they have to play in the wider struggle.

The organization works with the aim of confronting racial discrimination, through direct confrontation and the forging of international alliances.  It works to discourage internal disagreements so that each organization can devote work towards independence, capacity building and political identity within Palestinian institutions.

We have achieved a union with an impressive array of achievements, most important of which is the ability to understand the agenda of the Palestinian masses and give them more influence over their leadership. This is celebrated along with the success of institutionalizing and networking alliances within and outside the country, especially with the Palestinian Diaspora and Jerusalem.



Frameworks and coalitions: the approximation theory
A practical experience of networks and coalitions provides a unique opportunity for reflection, and an attempt to re-read, and diagnose pros and cons common to all models. This is even more important as the scene is witnessing new additions every day, new names and new social philosophies. This was agreed originally under "philosophy of social work for Palestinian civil institutions."

The idea of the coalition in the assembling in civil work is an important idea in principle, but, it is worth clarifying some relevant points

:
1. Initiatives should be practical and realistic. There should be transparency of objectives for stakeholders to understand.

2. It is important to be cognizant of the fact that some coalition members will join with hidden agendas, and these can undermine the collective objectives.

3. Examine the extent to which the goals and activities in the process correspond to events on the ground, and if the activities and events with the applicable goals and objectives are consistent with those declared and achieved.


4. Review assessments and study the experience of networks and coalitions, activities and events, and determine whether operations were carried out with external pressure. This is an important measure of accountability

5. Know the level of coordination between members of the coalition and their levels of networking. Within each member institution, the criteria for membership should be clear enough to make entry level membership easily available to the public. Clan-like behavior has a negative effect on the coalition and should be prohibited as a condition of association.

This is important as international donors become more important. This leaves organizations more vulnerable to outside agendas. While acknowledging that some groups rely on external funding, the goals and targets attached to them must be screened and recognizable so that they cannot be used as a means to subvert the coalition.

Recommendations
After a lengthy period of discussion, the following recommendations were agreed upon:


1. It is necessary to do a follow up search of the subject. This meeting was an effort at a preliminary grounding of the subject, and has raised a new set of questions to follow-up on. Participants assigned this task to the Arab Thought Forum as a meeting organizer and sponsor of the proposal.


2. Taking into account the new ideas which have been considered, it is necessary to have a researcher and specialist familiar with the work of civil affairs and civil groupings who can conduct some reseach objectively without prejudice or favouritism towards existing coalitions.

3. It is important to agree upon a classification of the different types of coalition: there are some working at a strategic level and the others at a tactical level, and while there are groupings with compatible programs and targets, there are others operating in similar fields and frameworks to ensure political honesty, secular or religious ideas, and so on.

4. It is necessary to come to an agreement on the issue of funding. An agreed framework about funding sources and attached conditionality is vital.

5. Research the experiences of coalitions of civil society institutions, and evaluate and assess the entire Palestinian civil society and its institutions, and the possibility of separation between the two lines of assessment using civil service as the criterion.

6. Research the dynamics of coalition politics to see whether they have a negative or positive impact on the work of the coalitions, and whether they give more attention to civilian and developmental or political issues.

7. Address the sudden eruption of coalitions and consortia, that gatherings are generated at extraordinary speed, as if it is the new fashion in the country. There is more of a coalition in the same geographic spot with the existence of networks and clusters based on the same goals without the need for a new coalition. Because the subject is disturbing and confusing for the community, the funders and official institutions, there is a need to do something in this regard

8. Cooperative frameworks and institutions are needed to investigate problems with the Office of Financial Supervision and Management and a self-assessment should be sponsored by the United Nations.

9. Search the "personalization" in the civil action and the role of financiers in producing it and highlight serious implications on voluntary work.

10. Raise the issue of phantom resignations of the National Action institutions during the legislative elections and then return to their losers in those institutions.


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