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Palestinian Civil Society: The Dynamics of Palestinian CSOs in a Conflict Setting

Thu, July 14, 10:30am to 12:00pm, TBA


Palestinian civil society organisations (PCSOs) working dynamics have gained the attention of many scholars and policy makers. This is mainly attributed to the extremity and the uniqueness of the setting caused by an ongoing conflict where, for instance, Palestinian non-governmental organisations (PNGOs) can exercise power in the economy within areas of limited statehood. PCSOs have existed even before there was a governmental entity in this case the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was established later in 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords. Consequently, PCSOs played and continue to play governance roles by providing services to marginalized populations in Gaza and West Bank because of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The conflict setting in this study is defined by the Israeli occupation of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a permanent blockade on Gaza Strip since 2007 followed by four different wars.

Literature on Palestinian civil society has covered several key independent dynamics of the Palestinian civil society including internal governance, external governance, governance and policy dialogue, knowledge Management, Social innovation, and service provision. There is also a plethora of papers focused on donor-driven aid and it is adverse effects on civil society that include NGOization process, which leads to professionalization and dependence on the donor, and its power of exclusion including cutting ties with the social base. What is rather underexplored, however, is how the six above-mentioned dynamics interact with each other in a conflict setting. Ergo, the aim of this study is to examine how different dynamics of PCSOs interact and influence each other in such extreme contexts. Hence, this research is guided by the following question? How do different civil society organisations dynamics influence each other in a conflict setting context? Such a question will also help us examine PCSOs from a macro perspective showing different strengths and barriers within each dynamic and their interplay.

To investigate this question, the researchers combined documentary analysis, 20 semi-structured interviews, and 18 structured questionnaires with PCSO’s top management level from different levels (i.e., grassroots, NGOs, umbrella organizations) and sectors. This allowed having a deeper grasp of different dynamics with the context of each sector and level of each CSO that must be seen through a historical and political lens where there is a lack of sovereignty and statehood. By relying on our empirical data and thematic analysis of six different dynamics we theorized a framework that showcases the influence of different dynamics on each other. This framework is ought to give an insight into the most prominent barriers and strengths of PCSOs given the conflict setting. The three conceptualized barriers were dubbed as governance trap cycle, effectiveness trap, and institutional trap. We also identified nine different mechanisms between each of the dynamics and barriers.This study also identifies new issues facing Palestinian CSOs, namely shrinking space and lack of transfer of knowledge between adults and youth.