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The Contribution of Palestinian Civil Society Organisations toward Achieving National Reconciliation, 2007-2010

The path taken by Palestinian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) , particularly following the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994, represents a unique case in the Arab world and in the greater region. Several factors contribute to this specificity, including the persistence of the Israeli occupation and the escalation of its measures, undermining the very pillars of Palestinian political and social life ; the adoption of a containment strategy by the various Palestinian political factions in their dealings with CSOs, thus weakening their independence and their influence in the public sphere ; and the general degradation of civic culture in Palestine, which has been undermined by the strength of primordial loyalties and increasing violence and militarization of society.

Above all, the main obstacle facing CSOs is Palestinian division and its many repercussions, which constitute a threat to national political and geographical identity and to the very structure of Palestinian society. These circumstances have led to achievements being wasted ; ones that had been won by the Palestinian people throughout its long history of struggle for the preservation of its national and political identity. Hampered by its own disunity, the Palestinian cause has thus been brought back into the regional and international arena, making it dependent on foreign interests and leading to the weakening and fragmentation of the Palestinian stand against occupation. This challenge, in addition to the extreme threat faced by Palestinians, is the main impetus behind the present study on the role of CSOs in achieving Palestinian national reconciliation during the 2007-2010 period.

Since the escalation of internal strife in 2006, efforts to end this discord and its impact on the Palestinian people have become a central priority for Palestinian civil society institutions. The 2007-2010 period therefore witnessed a flurry of initiatives by numerous Palestinian CSOs with the aim of ending this division. Examining the role of these organisations in achieving reconciliation is critical since they represent a vital part of Palestinian civic life and have been historically active in national struggle. Such organisations represent a channel for mobilization and play an important role in building Palestinian society and reinforcing its ability to persevere and develop. Moreover, the values of tolerance, embracing the other, reconciliation, democratic assimilation, forgiveness and national interest are all at the heart of the struggle of CSOs - values that these organisations are working hard to instill in their society.

While these issues also carry a political content, this does not mean they are outside the purview of CSOs, as has been shown throughout history. This was aptly expressed by the Palestinian intellectual Azmi Bishara, who wrote : « [civil society] has a history that is linked to politics, economics, and ideology, and that has evolved in tandem with the concepts of society and the state. [...] This [civil] society is an intellectual and historical dialectic toward citizenship and democracy ».[1]

In the Palestinian case, an analysis of the role of civic organisations in achieving national reconciliation must take into account the fact that these institutions are not neutral, and that they are not insulated against the climate of Palestinian discord. On the contrary, they are sometimes an integral part of the current state of division. As will be shown in the course of this analysis, there are nonetheless a number of CSOs which are aware of the consequences of such divisions and which have shown a willingness to foster change, through the organization of dialogues and meetings involving the different Palestinian political factions, and through their initiatives aimed toward ending the state of division. This brings up questions regarding the limits of these institutions, their influence, and the extent of their ability to pressure the divided factions and to encourage unity.

This study is an attempt to comprehensively examine the contribution of Palestinian Civil Society organizations toward ending Palestinian division and achieving national reconciliation. To this end, a number of methodologies and research tools have been adopted, which include interviews with civic activists and with representatives of civic institutions in Palestine. This analysis is but a modest contribution to the subject of Palestinian CSOs, on which there is a dearth of information.

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Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.