The Evolution of a Social Welfare System in a Transitional Country: The Experience of the Palestinian Territories
Scholars have argued that the roots of social welfare systems in most developing countries can be traced to colonialism and that these systems continue to be deeply influenced by the colonial experience (Farazmand, 2002; Midgely, 1998). The Palestinian Territories have a long history of colonialism and were granted limited self-rule only in 1994. Yet, few scholars have examined the influence of the colonial legacy on welfare systems in the Palestinian Territories. The purpose of this study is to examine the evolution of the social welfare system in the Palestinian Territories. The present study: a) provides an historical overview of the social welfare system in the Palestinian Territories from 1948 to 1994, b) explores the origin and the deficiencies of the specific Palestinian legal framework of social welfare, and c) investigates the development of this system under the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from 1994 to the present.
This qualitative case-study used a social constructivist paradigm of inquiry. The data were collected in the summer of 2010 using semi-structured interviews lasting between 45 to 150 minutes and archival material. The study employed purposeful sampling of Palestinian officials utilizing the snowball technique. Sixteen participants were interviewed from the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) and the Ministry of Planning and Administrative Development (MOPAD) including top staff members and policy experts. To develop an accurate interpretation of the interviews, data analysis relied upon two approaches: the within-individual and across-participants approaches.
Findings revealed that this system was under the shifting authorities from 1948 to 1994; only since 1994 has this system been administered by the PNA. Accordingly, this system lacks an appropriate legal framework for social welfare policies. The inability of the Palestinian Legislative Council to enact laws was due to several factors: political instability with external forces, internal political conflict within the PNA, and the council’s lack of independence from the dominant executive branch. Moreover, the primary focus of the PNA was on state-building rather than on reformulating the inherited social welfare system. As a result, the PNA initially provided services to poor marginalized residents according to the system that it inherited during the Israeli occupation. The institutions controlled by the PNA also experienced several deficiencies that undermined their functions: unclear mandates, visions, and responsibilities for government institutions, the duplication of tasks, and the inadequate communication between institutions. In 2009, the PNA adopted a new approach (i.e., partnership approach) for formulating social welfare policies, one that shows promise for improved services.
Conclusion and Implications
The findings of this study highlight the importance of understanding the origins and formulation of social welfare systems in transitional countries. In the Palestinian Territories, there is a need to establish a clear statement about the PNA’s role in providing social services, and to update laws to reflect current Palestinian needs. Additional research is needed to explore the implications of the new 2009 partnership approach.