IntroductionThroughout the last few years, especially since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994, a strong debate has arisen in the Occupied Palestinian Territories regarding the work and the organisation of the Palestinian Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the promotion of civil society. In view of this, thorough discussions were devoted to the legal framework which regulates the activities of NGOs and their relationship with the government, especially in the light of the PNAs initiative when a draft law named Law of Charitable Associations, Social Societies and Private Institutions was proposed in September 1995. A previous draft law proposed by the PNA had been rejected by the NGOs and an amended version was introduced.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has been involved in these discussions on the NGO level, especially with the Network of Palestinian NGOs. In December 1997, PCHR published its study of the draft law proposed by the PNA. In addition to the Centres critical comments about the law, the study covered the historical development of the legal framework which governed the activities of the NGOs, starting with the 1907 Ottoman Law and ending with Israeli Military Orders which added further restrictions to the work of the NGOs.
The Network of Palestinian NGOs increased its interest and efforts in this affair in the aftermath of the Palestinian general election in 1996 and later on after the inauguration of the Legislative Council. The Palestinian Network of NGOs proposed its own draft law, accompanied by a campaign and lobbying with council members, to persuade them to adopt it in the council. Another draft law was proposed by the Executive Authority to the Legislative Council, which seems to favour the governments proposal, although it incorporates specific points from the NGOs proposal. By July 30th 1998, the draft law was passed on the second reading in the Council. According to Palestinian law, the draft law must be sent to the President for ratification and amendment within one month. A third reading will take place if the Council receives comments from the President within one month. Until today, the council has not yet received any comments from the Presidents office, so it is not clear whether it will be passed or whether it will be subject to further change.
Throughout the stages of passing this law, the Palestinian Network of Palestinian NGOs has been very active in persuading council members to adopt its views. This case has provided a model for the work of civil society organisations and demonstrates how they are playing an effective role in influencing the decision making process, especially in terms of laws and legislation. PCHR praises the efforts of the Legislative Council members and the wide range of NGOs in their endeavors to adopt a new law that contributes to the strengthening of civil society and gives independence to the NGOs. PCHR acknowledges that the draft law passed on the second reading has favourably left out many of the areas that were criticised in the first draft. Indeed, relatively speaking, it is superior to relevant laws in other Arab countries.
Many articles in the new Draft Law are yet to be changed, bearing in mind the uniqueness of Palestinian society and the need to create an environment in which a civil society organisation may play its important role in the state building process and provide vital services for the Palestinian society. The following paper includes critical comments concluded by PCHR after thorough examination and assessment of the Draft Law after the second reading. These comments were sent to Palestinian NGOs on the 21st September 1998 for assessment. In the light of their reading of the Draft Law, PCHR called upon the NGOs to support its comments in their activities with the Legislative Council members and community leaders.