CONTRIBUTION  to the debate on the situation in the Middle East
the Israeli-Palestinian peace process
24 September 1996
by Mr STAES, Belgium, Group of the European People's Party
Since the 1980s the Assembly has been following the peace process in the Middle East with great interest. In 1993, following numerous meetings, reports and visits to the region, the Assembly's work produced provisional results in the form of Recommendation 1221 (1993) and Resolution 1013 (1993) on the peace process in the Middle East. In these texts the Assembly reiterated among other things "its readiness to contribute to building a climate of confidence between the parties engaged in this process, especially in fields where its expertise and experience are recognised..."
The Oslo negotiations and the Washington agreements brought decisive progress in the peace process and this prompted the Assembly to continue its work in the area. Following a meeting held in Rhodes in July 1995, the Bureau of the Assembly acted upon a proposal to set up special task forces within the various committees concerned by this question. These task forces would be responsible for drawing up proposals to be included in the new report being prepared on the situation in the Middle East.
In accordance with the decision of the Bureau of the Assembly, the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities set up an Ad hoc Sub-Committee on the Peace Process in the Middle East which met in Girona (Spain) on 5-6 February 1996.
Attending this meeting were members of the Assembly, an Israeli delegation, a Palestinian delegation, a representative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) and experts invited by the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity (the Council of Europe North/South Centre).
The meeting and the exchange of views between these various delegations focused for the most part on the situation of local democracy in the region, Palestinian projects in respect of local authorities, and the role of the Council of Europe, as well as co-operation schemes to meet Palestinian needs and the technical and material assistance required.
2. Palestinian local authorities
The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, signed in Washington on 28 September 1995, contains a Protocol concerning Civil Affairs. It is Article 24 of this protocol which sets the rules for the transfer of powers to the Palestinian authorities in respect of local government.
The Palestinian delegation informed the working group of Palestinian intentions to set up its own new local authorities. It expressed the view that local self-government will help to keep the peace, particularly thanks to practical achievements in the field. The local authorities would have some autonomy, but co-ordination would be provided at regional level. This autonomy would imply responsibility for areas where local authorities provide services (electricity, roads, water supply, culture, sport, refuse disposal and the environment). Public health and education would remain the responsibility of the central authorities. Nonetheless, local authorities are authorised to manage hospitals and provide care for the elderly and the disabled.
Palestinian local government will be divided between two levels:
these are the equivalent of counties or provinces. There will probably be 10 to 15 of them. The governors will be appointed by the Palestinian Authority. Their members will be partly appointed (by the Palestinian Authority) and partly indirectly elected (by the municipalities);
- municipalities and local councils:
- municipalities (in towns with a population of over 100,000);
- local councils (provision is being made for 3 types: for towns with a population of up to 10,000; for towns with a population between 10,000 and 50,000; and for towns with a population between 50,000 and 100,000);
It is planned for there to be about 500 local authorities in all. The members of local councils are directly elected on a strict personal basis (they do not appear on lists of political parties). Municipalities are represented on them according to their population.
The municipalities (with populations over 100,000) have more resources and services at their disposal than other authorities. Development projects are examined at regional level (governorates) so as to achieve a more balanced distribution of resources.
Financial resources provided for include:
- local taxes (property tax, business taxes, driving licences, etc.);
- foreign donations and aid;
- grants from the national authority (for local authorities which do not have enough resources of their own).
The Ministry of Local Authorities and the Palestine Legislative Council are responsible for all local development plans and co-ordinating assistance for local authorities. It has been recognised that it will be necessary to set up a Palestinian association of local authorities to co-ordinate the activities of the various authorities, provide them with information, and promote co-operation between them and at international level. This will require co-operation on the part of European organisations and associations of local authorities. The Union of Local Authorities in Israel would also be prepared to take part in this kind of co-operation.
Among other things, setting up new institutions, particularly at local government level, entails training thousands of people. Training local government officers and staff is one of the main challenges which the Palestinian authorities will face and an area in which the Council of Europe could make a contribution.
One noteworthy development in this area has been the creation, at the instigation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, of a European Network of Training Organisations for Local Government Staff. This network works in co-operation with the Council of Europe and organises training activities for local government staff. Perhaps this network could contribute towards the enormous task of training Palestinian local government staff.
3. Local elections
A bill on local elections was adopted by the Palestinian Legislative Council at its first reading on 11 September 1996. This bill deals with various aspects of organising local elections (the electoral committee, constituencies, the right to vote, electoral registers, candidacies, electoral campaigns, voting papers, voting procedures, counting votes, etc.). It is thought that some 20,000 candidates will stand in the local elections.
As regards personnel, some 15,000 civil servants will be preparing and organising the local elections due to be held in November 1996. The experience of the general elections of January 1996 and the 8,000 or so civil servants who organised these elections are useful assets but the entire solution. Consequently, several thousands of civil servants should be trained.
Apart from the problem of personnel, it will be necessary to provide the equipment required for about 650 polling stations. Finally, the Palestinian delegation welcomed the presence of international observers (particularly from the Council of Europe).
4. Material needs
During the meeting the Palestinian delegation identified numerous material needs which will have to be met, particularly in the following areas:
- Technical assistance (refuse collection, water treatment, etc.);
- Financial aid (public transport, medical facilities, etc.);
- Assistance in the area of services (particularly as regards education and health, but also water and electricity);
- Assistance to guarantee the smooth functioning of the new democratic institutions (justice system and civil service).
The Israeli delegation announced that the Israeli local authorities would be prepared to establish bilateral or multilateral co-operation (along with other European local authorities) with the new Palestinian local authorities elected in the forthcoming local elections.
The Council of Europe representatives, whilst regretting the lack of financial resources available to their organisation, also placed themselves at the disposal of the Palestinian authorities in the event that they wished to call on the Council of Europe for assistance from its various bodies and instruments (the Assembly, the CLRAE, the North-South Centre, etc.) or take advantage of its experience and expertise in various areas (political co-operation, legislative and legal advice, local authorities, etc.).
They insisted on the importance which the Council of Europe had attached to local democracy since its own foundation and pointed in particular to the creation, in 1957, at the instigation of the Assembly, of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, a body which may prove extremely useful for co-operation projects in this area.
Two important Council of Europe conventions may also represent especially useful legal instruments for the economic and democratic development of Palestinian local authorities. The European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities (1980) is aimed at promoting transfrontier co-operation and contributing to the economic and social progress of border regions. It provides for forms of transfrontier co-operation adapted to the needs of local authorities while providing States with the necessary means of supervision. This Convention can be signed by non member States of the Council of Europe.
Secondly, the European Charter of Local Self-Government (1985) was the outcome of many years of work in defence of local democracy. This Convention, which sets fundamental rules guaranteeing the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities, has proved particularly useful in the process of setting up democratic local authorities in central and eastern European countries. The Charter could probably serve as one of the key reference works when devising the rules governing the new local authorities in Palestine and setting them up.
It is also no doubt useful to bear in mind that the Council of Europe has in recent years organised a series of co-operation and assistance programmes for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, designed to make available to the latter the Council of Europe's expertise on the functioning of democratic institutions. This expertise together with the experience acquired in organising co-operation could no doubt also be of great service to the Palestinian authorities.
Among these co-operation programmes, mention should be made of the Demosthenes programme, more particularly concerned with legislative assistance, or again the training schemes for officials in charge of implementing institutional reform, both at parliamentary level (Assembly Programme of Interparliamentary Co-operation) and local and regional government (LODE programme).
The LODE programme is mainly geared to the following fields:
- legislative assistance concerning the structure and powers of territorial authorities;
- legislative and technical assistance concerning the creation of a system of local finance;
- the organisation of municipal and regional community services;
- the training of local and regional elected representatives and officials;
- transfrontier co-operation.
Although intended for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, these programmes could be of relevance to the Palestinian authorities and the benefits could be made available to them by means of procedures that remain to be defined.
4. Other Co-operation Bodies
Numerous other partners (governments, international organisations, NGOs, voluntary associations, local authorities etc.) are already co-operating in this field and contributing to the economic, social and institutional development of the Palestinian territories.
One example is the United Nations Development Programme which includes a Programme of assistance to the Palestinian people, providing funds for development projects in the West Bank and Gaza strip, particularly with regard to infrastructures (agriculture, water supply and treatment, health, education, buildings etc), together with material assistance and training.
The European Union has also adopted a policy of promoting the peace process. Moreover it is the main supplier of funds for reconstruction in the Palestinian territories. In 1994, total aid by the European Union, including individual contributions from member states, amounted to 340 million ECUs. This aid was mainly devoted to the development of infrastructures. The assistance provided in 1995 included the setting up of new institutions.
One interesting feature is the development of various Euro-Mediterranean co-operation programmes with Palestinian participation (eg MED-URBS for municipal authorities and PEACE-URBS for countries involved in the peace process). European Union member states also supply aid by means of bilateral projects.
In addition, the Council of the European Union has just adopted Regulation No. 1488/96 of 23 July 1996 on financial and technical measures to accompany (MEDA) the reform of economic and social structures in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. The funds earmarked for 1995/1996 amount to 3,425 million ECUs and the beneficiaries include local authorities. Appendix 1 to the regulation specifically mentions Gaza and the West Bank among the territories and countries concerned by the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
Various global or European financial institutions, such as the World Bank or the European Investment Bank, are also financing projects in the region.
With more particular regard to local authorities, numerous international organisations (Council of European Municipalities and Regions, United Towns Organisation etc) and national associations of local authorities as well as many towns and cities, individually or jointly, are co-operating in development and training projects in Palestine.
Clearly then, there are very numerous schemes being devised and considerable funds made available for the social, economic and institutional development of the Palestinian territories. One has the impression, nevertheless, that all these co-operation programmes are poorly co-ordinated with the result that resources may be used inefficiently or indeed wasted.
While taking account of the limited possibilities of the Council of Europe and remaining within its sphere of competence, particularly regarding local democracy, it is the Rapporteur's view that the Council of Europe could take the lead and offer to co-ordinate the various projects for developing the new democratic local authorities. It already has the necessary expertise and technical means at its disposal and, with regard to funding such a co-operation programme, agreements could be concluded with other international organisations or financial institutions.
The meeting of the Sub-Committee on Local Democracy in the Middle East, together with the measures taken by the Palestinian authorities, in particular by the Legislative Council, with a view to setting up a new local government system, provide evidence of important progress in the consolidation of the peace process. Thanks to the immediate response which it can provide to numerous problems directly affecting the
population, local democracy can make a very important contribution to defusing tension in the region.
In the wake of the 1993 Washington declaration of principles and the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, the Palestinian authorities have to cope with a particularly difficult task: namely, setting up self-governing institutions and exercising independent powers. These tasks will have to be gradually carried out stage by stage and, what is more, in widely scattered areas. This has to be achieved in precarious conditions marked by the inadequacy, or indeed total lack, of the necessary human, financial and technical resources. These difficulties are particularly noticeable at local government level where a large number of skilled staff and substantial funds are required.
Although the Council of Europe does not have all the skills and financial resources to help solve these serious difficulties, it does enjoy considerable technical advantages in the institutional field, particularly in the area of local democracy. What is more, the Council of Europe can count on its own institutional partners (parliaments, governments, local authorities) and has the capacity to mobilise extensive networks (non-governmental organisations, associations of local authorities, universities, training centres and the like).
The Assembly is convinced that the Council of Europe could make a decisive contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to the establishment of lasting peace in this region of the Middle East. If the parties concerned and the member states so wish, the Council of Europe could muster its skills and technical resources to devise a co-operation and assistance programme designed to set up a viable democratic local government administration in the Palestinian territories. For this purpose, it can count on its recent experience in co-operation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This experience could be made available to the Palestinian authorities. In the specific field of local government, the Council of Europe could also co-ordinate the various existing co-operation programmes, with the consent of the Palestinian authorities and having recourse to the financial resources of other partners, such as the European Union.
Conclusions of the rapporteurs of the meeting of the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee on Local Democracy in the Middle East (Girona, Spain, 5-6 February 1996)
Conclusions of the Rapporteur of the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities (Mr STAES)
1. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with concrete proposals for co-operation as a contribution by the Council of Europe to the consolidation of peace in the Middle East in the field of local democracy.
2. Local democracy plays a peace-keeping role of major importance in the Middle East; it is at this level, close to the ordinary citizen, that democracy is at its most fragile. Peace is built up by carrying out practical actions in the area, particularly at local level.
3. The most urgent needs in the Palestinian territories concern:
- the preparation of local elections, which will be organised in a few months time. This makes it urgent to train officials, provide assistance in the form of the necessary equipment and arrange for the presence of international observers;
- the setting up of local institutions, which presupposes the training of officials and elected representatives in administrations already in operation and in the new administrations to be established;
- the provision of equipment that is essential for organising the day-to-day exercise of power at the local level, since democracy is inconceivable without local development.
4. A number of general principles were recognised:
- the Palestinian territories should establish their own system of democracy and development;
- the local and regional authorities are the first levels concerned: their familiarity with the local context guarantees the effectiveness of projects;
- special attention should be paid to small municipalities since their possibilities are more limited than in the case of large cities;
- local democracy needs a network of infrastructures in order to function properly;
- care must be taken to avoid raising false hopes: it is better to concentrate on realistic projects whose implementation can be guaranteed.
5. The Council of Europe does not have substantial financial resources at its disposal. Its role in the present situation is to serve as a go-between for seeking out partners interested in co‑operation.
- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will put forward concrete projects to assist the Palestinian authorities, which it will recommend to the Committee of Ministers.
- An important role could be played by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and by the North-South Centre in handling the co-ordination projects with organisations of local authorities or NGOs in the field of administrative and technical training, both on the spot (within the Palestinian territories) and in Europe (in municipalities or training centres).
- The Council of Europe could also ask other European institutions, such as the European Union, to include certain projects relating to local democracy in broader programmes already under way or in preparation.
6. The Girona meeting revealed the constructive spirit of the Palestinian and Israeli participants. The Israeli delegation proposed some concrete initiatives at local level designed to assist their Palestinian counterparts in the administration of local affairs.
7. The conclusions of the working party on local democracy will supplement those of other task forces and thus enable the General Rapporteur to draft general conclusions for submission to the Assembly.
Conclusions of the General Rapporteur (Mr de PUIG)
The ad hoc Sub-Committee on Local Democracy in the Middle East, which met in Girona (Spain) on 5 and 6 February 1996:
- noted that the establishment of democratic local authorities in the territories controlled by the Palestinian National Authority is an essential element for the consolidation of the peace process in the Middle East;
- was informed of projects by the Palestinian authorities regarding local and regional government and in particular the organisation of local elections;
- in this connection, welcomed the plan to set up different levels of local and regional government and to organise the free and direct election of local representatives;
- noted the needs expressed by the Palestinian representatives, particularly in regard to elections (organisation and presence of observers) and training both for elected representatives and for local officials;
- supported the proposal made by the Israeli delegation to make the experience of its local authorities available to the future Palestinian local elected representatives;
- confirmed its resolve that the Council of Europe should contribute to the establishment of democratic structures at local level, in particular by offering:
. the assistance of the Parliamentary Assembly to the Palestinian Legislative Council in matters of legislation;
. the assistance of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) with a view to:
i. establishing (after the local elections) a Palestinian association of local authorities,
ii. training local government staff, in co-operation with the European Network of Training Centres for Local and Regional Authorities Staff,
iii. promoting co-operation on the part of international organisations and national associations of local authorities with the Palestinian authorities regarding the establishment of the new local authorities,
iv. incorporating the principles contained in the European Charter of Local Self-Government into Palestinian legislation,
v. exploring, in conjunction with the Israeli and Palestinian associations of local authorities, the possibilities of tripartite co-operation between European, Israeli and Palestinian municipalities,
. the support of the Council of Europe's North-South Centre in Euro-Palestinian co-operation, in particular through the mobilisation and co-ordination of specific projects of non‑governmental organisations;
- invited the Israeli and Palestinian local authorities to make use of European experience in devising schemes for co-operation between neighbouring municipalities;
- also requested the Council of Europe:
. to provide for the Palestinian authorities, and in particular for future local officials and elected representatives, a programme of assistance in the field of local democracy based on the one established for the countries of central and eastern Europe,
. to look into the possibility of setting up a Euro-Palestinian centre for the development of Palestinian local self-government (democratic organisation, structures, training, etc) with the institutional involvement of the Council of Europe and the financial support of the European Union,
. to conclude agreements with other institutions, including the European Union, OECD and the World Bank, for the joint financing of projects to foster the development of Palestinian local authorities;
- encouraged the European Organisations of local and regional authorities and the NGOs to provide Palestinian local authorities with the material assistance necessary for the organisation of municipal services.
Reporting Committee: Committee on Political Affairs.
This contribution was approved by the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities on 24 September 1996.
Secretaries to the committee: Mrs Cagnolati-Staveris and Mr Sixto
 of the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities