Community Decentralization and Reconciliation in Palestine

Community Decentralization and Reconciliation in Palestine

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Dr. Youssef Ben-meir believes that the implementation of decentralized administration and community-built decentralization in Palestine can foster autonomy and alleviate economic and political vulnerability. His take is that Community-focused decentralization must be catalyzed by workshops for personal and collective empowerment to ensure that community members have a clear idea of their development projects. This goes, according to him, by the strengthening of local organizations and addressing topics such as local sustainable development, decentralization construction, and national autonomy is necessary for this strategy to be implemented.

The decentralization of administration, which involves implementing local development projects across a country, has consistently yielded positive results that have been lauded by social scientists and activists from diverse backgrounds. Communities seeking sustainable growth often appreciate the emphasis on participation at the “infra-national” level, intersectoral partnerships, and local control that comes with decentralization.

Local communities identifying and benefiting from social, economic, and environmental projects typically meet the key determinant of sustainability – people’s participation – as recognized by global evaluations over time. In fact, various perspectives suggest that centralization is a leading cause of social problems, and therefore recommend that free association and the pursuit of development reflecting the desires of local populations could alleviate the causes of alienation and other forms of deep human dissatisfaction and dysfunction in society.

In Palestine, these aspirations and benefits can become a reality in people’s lives through community-driven decentralization, which would also foster autonomy, becoming a crucial factor in national life. By forging mutually beneficial links between Palestinians, both within and beyond their relationship of dependence on Israel, this form of autonomous development, managed by the community and responding to the needs of the population, could mitigate the economic and political vulnerability of Palestinians to shocks and instability.

Achieving self-sufficiency involves seeking and investing national and international revenues in local development projects determined by the community and managed by the final beneficiaries. Recent experiences in international development have highlighted the sustainable vitality that results from participatory approaches at the local level, where communities analyze their needs, prioritize actions, and implement a strategy for sustainable development.

However, studies and evaluations over the past decades have also revealed that even if people are free to participate in decision-making on local development, they may not feel free, their voices and needs may not be legitimate, or they may not know precisely what they most want for their lives. Community members, especially historically marginalized groups such as rural populations, women, and youth, may lack self-confidence or may not have had the opportunity to form their vision and thus realize the opportunity of open participation in development planning.

Therefore, community-focused decentralization, capable of strengthening autonomy through the application of participatory democratic procedures for community development, must first be catalyzed by workshops for personal and collective empowerment. This will ensure that community members have a clear idea of the development projects that matter most to them and have the decision-making and action-taking confidence and capabilities required to realize them.

The persistent divisions between Fatah and Hamas and the effects of Israeli occupation heavily hinder the humanitarian efforts of Palestinian civil society toward its population in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli policies in East Jerusalem have also severely compromised the work of Palestinian civil organizations in their missions of human development. Development decentralization could be the critical engine of Palestinian rejuvenation of its democratic processes and citizen participation in decisions regarding their communal and national future.

For this strategy to be implemented, critical reflection on empowerment involving marginalized groups must be conducted, followed by the strengthening of local organizations, and then addressing topics such as local sustainable development, decentralization construction, and national autonomy. The mission and emphasis on community participation in Palestine’s future should be clear, and the role of community-focused decentralization as a means of achieving this should be recognized and acted upon.