Ziad Abdel-Samad: Arab civil society should help to build the Palestinian state

Ziad Abdel-Samad (ANND).

The “Arab Uprisings” and the civil society in the Arab region have a relevant role on campaigning and advocating to end the Israeli occupation and on support for building an independent Palestinian state, said Ziad Abdel-Samad, director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND, a member organization of Social Watch), participating in a discussion on ‘Sustaining the Palestinian Economy Under Occupation: the Role of Arab Cooperation,’ organized last week by Unctad’s Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit in Doha.

In the debate, a side event of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII) held in Qatar’s capital city, participants said greater links between the Palestinian economy and Arab countries should be adopted to counter the measures imposed by the occupation to force Palestinian dependency on the Israeli economy, participants in a round table debate in Doha said on Thursday.

Civil society in the Arab region, as well as the Arab youth and the corporate business sector, has now a relevant function to play in relation to sustaining the Palestinian economy under occupation, said Abdel-Samad.

Interviewed by Mondial magazine earlier, Abdel-Samad remembered that “several official and civil initiatives and calls for reform were made, including the Sana’ Declaration in 2004, the Alexandria Bibliotheca Declaration in 2004, and the Declaration of the League of Arab States Summit in Tunisia in 2004. This emerging dynamism was interrupted in 2005 by the international community’s reaction to the Palestinian parliamentary elections, which led Hamas to win the majority.”

“These elections were perceived as an alarming sign that Islamic parties were ready to take over power in other Arab countries open for democratic changes. This gave the ruling regimes strong arguments to convince their foreign partners, mainly the United States and the European Union (EU), to compromise the demands for democratic reforms,” explained Abdel-Samad in the interview.

ANND is a regional network of Arab NGOs active in the fields of social development, human rights, gender and environment. Abdel Samad is also a member of the civil society organization advisory committee to the UN Development Program Administrator. He is also a member of the International Council of the World Social Forum and the advisory council of the International Centre of Non-Profit Law.

“For a long time, civil society organizations in the Arab region have faced many restrictions and violations of their freedom of association and expression, and their independence. The civil society sector was systematically being destroyed by the regimes in power, seeking to restrict the emergence of any strong and effective opposition movements,” added Abdel-Samad in his dialogue with Mondial.

“The developments in the region have reinforced the role of civil society and social movements as key stakeholders in enriching and preserving the continuous struggle for democracy and freedom. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia signal a new era for the role of civil society organizations and their standing in relation to political power and to public policy making, in general. Yet, the old status quo still prevails in other Arab countries where civil society organizations are still facing restrictions and repression,” according to the expert.

“During the current transition period, civil society faces the challenge of protecting the changes and reforms acquired so far and preventing a retreat from the process of democratic change. Civil society groups face the challenge of shifting from a defensive position to a more proactive role in public life.

They have a major role in ensuring that reforms integrate concepts of justice, human rights, nondiscrimination, and equality.


The debate at Doha

Speakers noted that economic growth in the occupied territory has been hindered by the imposed segmentation and separation of the various Palestinian communities from each other. As a result, the economy has been operating much below its potential with a chronic bilateral trade deficit with Israel. Concerns also were expressed about a loss of “productive base.”

Speakers said revitalizing the productive capacity is vital for sustained economic growth in the occupied Palestine territories.

Taher Kannan, former deputy prime minister of Jordan, focused on the integration of those occupied territories into the global economy and the role of Arab-Palestinian co-operation.

“Indeed, there is a role for a concerted Arab action on the issues of Palestinian survival. All that is needed is to set the right national priorities,” he said.

Samia al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University, in the West Bank, dwelt in detail on the destruction of the Palestinian economy’s productive capacity and further dependence on external resources for growth and development. She focused on the economic difficulties facing the Palestinian population living in Area C, in addition to the impact of illegal settlements and settlers’ violence on the Palestinian economy.

“It is important to support and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people to attain their legitimate economic and political rights as stipulated under international law,” she said.

The moderator, Nada al-Nashif, regional director for Arab States of the International Labour Office, emphasised the implications for human development and job creation “not just in terms of the quantity, but also the quality of jobs associated with the occupation and further erosion of human dignity”.

Randa Jamal, an economic affairs officer of Unctad, provided a historical overview of the disconnection of the city from the Palestinian economy and population of the occupied territory, who, prior to the Oslo accords of 1993, considered the city to be their economic centre.

Hazem Shunnar, the assistant deputy minister of the ministry of national economy of the Palestinian Authority said: “The Palestinian National Authority must do everything in its power to ensure the competitiveness and productivity of the national economy and increase the share of Palestinian products in the local markets and should explore new markets.”

To conclude, Mahmoud Elkhafif, co-ordinator of Unctad’s Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, stressed that this UN agency will continue to provide capacity-building projects, research, and policy recommendations on what is needed for building a sound economic base for the Palestinian state.

Economic growth in the occupied Palestinian territory has been hindered by the imposed segmentation and separation of various Palestinian communities from each other. Donor money, which accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the GDP, is still not enough to pay for the trade deficit with Israel, highlighted today Mahmoud Elkhafif, Coordinator, Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, UNCTAD.

Elkhafif focused on the need to expand the policy space of Palestinian economic policy making in order to promote growth and build productive capacities.

The Palestinian economy, operating at much below its potential, is in danger of losing its “productive base” – that is, its ability to expand domestic production. With this in view, promoting Palestinian goods in Arab countries is of crucial importance, the expert remarked.


Gulf Times: http://bit.ly/IzTsyM

UNCTAD XIII: http://bit.ly/HSHhe5

Ziad Abdel Samad’s blog: http://bit.ly/K3yWEB