The Post-Oslo Palestine and Gendering Palestinian Citizenship under Occupation

The Post-Oslo Palestine and Gendering Palestinian Citizenship under Occupation


The Post-Oslo Palestine and Gendering Palestinian Citizenship under Occupation

Islah Jad, Birzeit University, Palestine

Islah Jad
by Islah Jad, Birzeit University, Palestine

This article is for the occasion of the women’s day of 2011 and it is a reflection on the gendering of Palestinian citizenship following the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The article describes both the difficulties and opportunities confronting women’s organisations in the after math of the first Palestinian Authority after the signing of the Oslo Agreements on 1993.

The Palestinian Authority from its inception was able to function at best as a kind of “quasi-state”, divided and constrained by rigid and ever-evolving conditions and sanctions which deprived it of the power to govern in any meaningful way, its very existence in question. The experience left deep scars on the Palestinian community at large and on gender relations in particular.

In the Palestinian case, there is a tendency by critics to ignore external factors which affect the normal functioning of the PA and which affect the contractual relations between state and citizen. These included the restrictions on local resources under siege by Israel; the highly volatile political situation obfuscating developmental planning; the Islamic movement, Hamas’ internal political opposition to the PA, and the nature of PA policies themselves, influenced as they were by earlier forms of Palestinian nationalism and by convoluted and ever-tightening Israeli-imposed constraints.

The legal contours of Palestinian citizenship were by The Oslo Agreement that only granted the PA the right to issue a Basic Law. The first drafts of the Basic Law reflected the fact the Authority could not define Palestinian identity according to the tenets of Palestinian nationalism. Rather than formalizing a separation between Palestinian nationality/identity and Palestinian citizenship, the first drafts of the Law postponed the definition of citizenship to some future period of legislation. Article 12 of a later (March, 2003) version of the Palestinian Basic Law (1) specified the ways in which Palestinian nationality was to be transmitted. The basis of transmitting citizenship -- before 1984, blood ties through the father -- was changed to include blood ties to both parents, under the pressure of the women’s movement. For the first time in an Arab state, women were given the right to grant their citizenship to their children. Earlier drafts of the Basic Law had stated that Palestine recognised and respected a whole set of universal agreements and declarations, including the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which provided a basis for the adoption of universal conventions as sources for legislation. In the first four drafts, which were subject to popular discussion, shari’a was not mentioned as a source of legislation; nor was Islam adopted as the state religion. However, under the pressure of Islamists, both were later added by the parliament of the PA, the Palestinian Legislative Council, (which, parenthetically, was mostly constituted of secular members. It is worth noting here that the Palestinian Legislative Council did not include Islamist members, since the Islamist political groups had boycotted the first legislative elections of 1996, which they saw as an outcome of Oslo, a process they opposed.)

There are some revealing passages that deal with work and motherhood which denote a ‘lip service’ approach to changing gender relations. Article 23, for example, in the Law declares: “Woman has the right to participate actively in social, political, cultural and economic life, and the Law will work to eliminate constraints that forbid women from fully participating in the construction of their families and society”. However, in many laws, such as the Civil Law and Civil Service Law, women were depicted as dependent on men. More importantly, changes in the laws were not translated into policies in instances that necessitated a financial commitment on the part of the PA.

Paralleling the unclear definition of citizenship was the PA’s lack of a coherent set of policies intended to enforce the rule of law as an important guarantor for citizens’ rights, in particular with respect to security responsibilities. Physical attacks on members of the Legislative Council, raids on Palestinian universities, closures of private media stations, and arrests of journalists and student leaders all demonstrated non-adherence to the rule of law and a lack of respect for civil rights. (Palestine Report, April 2000). These repressive measures placed women activists in a dilemma. To increase their power, women had to form alliances with other social groups. But such alliances were problematic. On the one hand, forming alliances would mean that the women’s movement would have to adopt a critical political position vis-à-vis PA practices, a stand which might lead to similar repercussions on women’s activism. On the other hand, failure to adopt a position would discredit their demands and lose them legitimacy in civil society.

The PA’s deficiencies in providing basic rights contrasted with the gender-friendly language frequently employed by Palestinian officials, supposedly demonstrating their commitment to women’s emancipation and gender equality but which in effect reflected UN pressures to conform with requirements to take gender into account.

However, the creation of national mechanisms to advance women’s rights and status such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, gender units in more than 19 ministries and the spread of many women’s organisations in civil society might all be an important medium to pressure the public authority for more rights for women. Having said that does not mean that it is possible to achieve women’s emancipation and the call for comprehensive citizenship based on total equality while the Israeli occupation is still unabated and affecting all spheres of Palestinian lives.



(1)  Since having a Constitution is a sign of sovereignty, the Oslo Agreement allowed Palestinians to have only what is called a Basic Law, which was to organise governance during the interim period (1993-1999) and which the Agreement said “might be extended until the implementation of the new constitution of the Palestinian State” (Article 106 of the Draft Basic Law cited in Friedman 1999: 2).


About Islah Jad

Islah Jad, Assistant professor of gender and development at Bir Zeit university. One of the founders of the Women’s Studies Institute at Bir Zeit University in 1994. One of the founders of WATC (Women’s Affairs Technical Committee) in 1992, a national coalition for women. She published many works on the Palestinian and Arab women political participation and political development. She was the co-author for the Arab Human Development Report of 2005. Islah is a senior researcher on gender issues in the Arab region and Palestine. Some of Islah’s most recent publications include:

  • Women at the Crossroads The Palestinian Women's Movement between Nationalism, Secularism and Islamism, MUWATIN-The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, Ramallah. Palestine June 2008.

  • Islah Jad, (2008) Women and Public Life, in Men and Women Report (2008), PCBS, Ramallah, Palestine.

  • Islah Jad, The Politics of Group Weddings in Palestine: Political and Gender Tension, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, Volume 5, Number 3, Fall 2009: 36-53.

  • Islah Jad, (Forthcoming), The Conundrums of Post-Oslo Palestine: Gendering Palestinian Citizenship, Feminist Theory Journal, the University of York.

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