The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO) is a group of 133 NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza whose mission is to establish an independent and democratic Palestinian state based on the rule of law, social justice, and the respect for human rights. PNGO was founded in 1993 following the Oslo Accords to coordinate and empower Palestine’s civil society to effect and enhance the principles of democracy as they apply to individuals as well as the community. This is carried out in the difficult milieu of an occupation and siege as well as the internal conflict and divisions between the secular Fateh government of Ramallah in the West Bank and the religious Hamas government of Gaza. Because of the politics of the region, PNGO’s mediation must often include advocacy. PNGO understands its limitations and follows the Arab adage, Falej la t’alej, if you can not fix it, leave it alone.
While PNGO has many activities, including training, capacity building and influencing public policy, the focus of this article is on two particular conflicts involving Fateh and Hamas which will show the goals of such mediations to be on the parallel tracks of 1) the Palestinian state and 2) the Palestinians as a united group of individuals. PNGO has a specific Conflict Transformation Strategy Group started in 2007 following three years of training by Responding to Conflict, a British NGO. The instructors were experienced consultants who had worked in South Africa, Serbia, Kenya, and Palestine. The trainees used their new skills to improve the functions of their own NGOs as well as the community.
The first PNGO Fateh-Hamas mediation: Patient transfer to Israel.
In March 2009, the Ministry of Health in Ramallah decreased the budget to have patients referred from Gaza to hospitals in Israel for specialized care. Coincidentally, the Ministry of Health in Gaza accused those members of its staff paid by Ramallah (i.e. members of Fateh) of corruption. The perception was that Hamas wished those positions to be filled by members of its own party. PNGO was aware of this situation and chose to intervene because patients were deteriorating and often dying while awaiting transfer.
An urgent meeting was called of those health NGOs within PNGO and CTSG, and the decision was made to collect data, which was done by the next day. Members of CTSG then met the same day with international NGOs including the World Health Organization and Palestinian human rights organizations, some of whom were not members of PNGO. The next day a joint committee, with the addition of national figures, drafted a written initiative to end this conflict for the interests of the patients. The final product was presented to the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the two ministries of health.
CTSG, the day after that, brought parliamentary and political figures, from each party who have influence with the decision makers, to the table. There was no blame assigned. All the components of the initiative were accepted including a new mechanism for referral, which made the process from referring doctor directly to the referral committee. Previously a politically appointed hospital administrator was involved. New physicians were suggested to serve on the referral committee and the list was sent to both ministries of health. The ministries each rejected different names and there was much political argument carried out in the media by both sides, but eventually there was an agreement. The re-opening of the referral department was celebrated and publicly noted by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA.) The entire process took one week. Nine persons died awaiting referral in that period.
The second PNGO Fateh-Hamas mediation: Electricity.
Gaza has two sources of electricity: 1) a direct supply by cable from Israel and 2) fuel from Israel to its own power plant. The Gaza power plant was shelled by Israel after the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. Two of the four turbines were damaged and were not repaired because of lack of materials due to Israel’s embargo. After Operation Cast Lead (December 2008 – January 2009), Israel decreased the amount of electricity provided by cable to Gaza. Due to the poverty and hardship in Gaza, most families do not pay for electricity from either source. That unpaid portion was funded by the European Union through a third-party company in Gaza and then to Ramallah, which paid Israel. Those who could pay, paid the same company in Gaza, which also forwarded that money to Ramallah who then sent it to Israel.
At the end of 2009, Ramallah insisted that the Gaza third-party company increase its collection rate from those who did not pay or it would decrease the amount of fuel sent by Israel by paying Israel less for that fuel. Indeed, this is what happened: Ramallah sent less money to Israel for the fuel and Israel sent less fuel, effectively decreasing the amount of electricity available to Gaza. This led to a humanitarian crisis: there were problems with sewage, water pumps, hospitals, and other critical areas.
In August 2010, PNGO met with the Gaza Energy Authority and Ramallah separately to get more information. It then created a committee consisting of national figures, civil society activists, and its own CTSG, which drafted an initiative. This initiative was presented to the Hamas governmental electrical crisis management group, which further developed it. It was then sent to Ramallah who revised it. Both parties accepted this revised edition. PNGO then verified the appropriate increase in fuel from Israel and the increase in monies from Gaza to Ramallah. They then announced the resolution of this crisis to the media.
The mediation and advocacy efforts of PNGO, under severe conditions, have markedly improved the daily lives of Gazans. This work is motivated by a sense of responsibility to alleviate the suffering of its people and its conviction to neutralize the politics as they adversely affect public service. Their success has been recognized and appreciated by the Palestinian people, the Gaza and Ramallah governments, and the UN.
Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan SimonMany mediators say they adjust their approach according to the situation. This makes sense on one level. If a mediator remains...By Dan Simon