Executive Summary

Civil society organizations occupy a unique position within Palestinian society.  Developing in the early years of the twentieth century, the trajectory of Palestinian civil society organizations has mirrored the evolution of Palestine.  After the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, a vibrant civil society emerged in Palestine consisting of religious groups, clubs, labor unions, and women’s societies.  But with the creation of the State of Israel and the displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians, social networks became strained and began to break down.  While civil society organizations continued to function post 1948, a large number of Palestinians began focusing their energy on political and resistance movements.   When these movements turned violent in the late 1960’s a space opened allowing civil society organizations to once again take root.  The years following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, led to the expansion of Palestinian organizations and the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organizations (PLO).  As Palestinians began to mobilize, civil society organizations became affiliated with political parties and essentially served as “satellites” to these groups. This persisted through the First Intifada up to the signing of the Oslo Accords.  After the agreement was signed in 1993, the PLO began absorbing many civil society organizations to serves as ministries in the newly developed Palestinian National Authority (PNA). This move left room for new service-providing organizations to form that weren’t affiliated with any political party. In the 20 years since Oslo, Palestinian civil society organizations have flourished.
At present there are approximately 2,245 civil society organizations operating in the West Bank; a ratio of one CSO for every three square kilometers. The profusion of CSOs, combined with a high level of international funding, has created a complex environment in which social relations are conducted, at times preventing the optimal utilization of social capital. As a result, the social capital that was so instrumental in establishing Palestinian networks and meeting community needs in the early twentieth century is increaingly vulnerable, and over the past sixty plus years social relationships have come under increasing pressure. The domestic context and political situation has been further compounded by an influx of and growing dependency on foreign aid – factors that play a determining role in program goals and management style. The interplay between international donors, CSOs and local communities creates a situation that must be carefully navigated by Palestinian CSOs in order to ensure worthy collaboration and to avoid project duplication.
The political situation in Palestine since the end of the First World War has greatly affected civil society and social relationships thus leading to a decline in social capital.  The ARIJ research team posits that in order for CSOs to enhance their social capital they must focus on strengthening their relationships with five key stakeholders; their communities, other CSOs, the government, the private sector, and the media. 
In order to gain insight into the current relationships between CSOs and these stakeholders, a 100 question survey was administered to 20 organizations working throughout the West Bank.  The survey asked the organizations questions regarding codes of conduct, cooperation between CSOs, the efficiency of Palestinian NGO networks, partnering with the private sector, whether or not organization have influenced government policies, and how the organizations utilizes the media.  As a result of the quantitative and qualitative data, it became apparent that the primary steps that CSOs can take in order to enhance their social capital are focused around legitimacy and accountability.
Based on the results of the surveys and the historical background of Palestinian civil society, a comprehensive set of guidelines have been developed in order to assist CSOs in strengthening their relationships with the five identified stakeholders.  The recommendations are broken down highlighting best and useful practices for each stakeholder. A checklist has also been provided which can aid CSOs in assessing their organizational structure as well as how they engage with the identified stakeholders.
The outcome of this study shows that due to strained social relations, harnessing the power of social capital has been challenging. Establishing clearly defined mechanisms, concentrated around accountability, will provide CSOs with the opportunity to strengthen their credibility throughout their constituency base which will enhance their legitimacy. When CSOs are seen as legitimate, civil society will be more willing to engage and participate. Strong relationships with other CSOs, the private sector, and the media will support CSOs’ legitimacy thus leading to stronger relationship with the government and the community. It is impossible for CSOs to create lasting social change if they are not valued and respected by their stakeholders.  By taking active steps to improve their relations with the five identified stakeholders, CSOs will strengthen social capital which will once again lay the foundation for a strong and vibrant civil society.   
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