How have Palestinian local governments managed to do this? "When I spoke with local officials in Gaza City last month, they pointed to three areas that caught my attention," said Wellenstein.
First, local officials are focused on improving municipal governance. They are working on how well the municipalities identify, plan, and execute investment and manage their finances overall. The municipality now has systems in place, such as participatory planning and e-governance. About 94% of municipalities in the West Bank and Gaza have put at least two public disclosure mechanisms into practice, such as launching a municipal website or Facebook page. This is up from 8% in 2013.
Second, they spoke of the challenge and importance of staying connected to the broader world. They proudly described their sister city programs as sources of technical knowledge, funding, solidarity and aspiration.
Finally, they are thinking and planning for the long term, with business corridors to support economic activity and by updating their Master Plan, and a plan for the redevelopment of Gaza’s city center amid very high, human density, with 27,800 persons living per km2 in built-up areas.
The World Bank Group is helping to improve conditions at the local level. Through the Municipal Development Program, funds are pooled from the Bank, other international donors, and the Palestinian Authority. These are distributed under a predictable, transparent, and performance-based system to municipalities for capital investment and capacity building. Local governments thus know when and how they can access funds this year and for years to come. And they have incentives to improve their performance.
The Local Governance and Service Improvement Program also supports a financing mechanism for Villages and Joint Service Councils, the coalitions of local governments that come together to provide shared local services and infrastructure. Once they move on from the functions of basic governance, they could qualify in the future for more support under the Municipal Development Program.
The new Integrated Cities and Urban Development Project supports cities to plan sustainable physical, social, and economic growth. Using sophisticated scenario analysis, the project will help local governments and balance the demands of infrastructure, livability, and land needed for development in a constrained and fragile setting.
Beyond the public sector, the Bank and other development partners have provided long-term support to non-government organizations for critical social services in marginalized areas, such as kindergartens and community centers. These Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) fill the gaps where local governments cannot or do not have the capacity to operate. The next phase of this should see a merging of efforts as NGOs organize communities and local governments grow in capacity to provide a range of basic and social services.
“What lies ahead is unclear,” stressed Wellenstein, “but the strengthening of services and local governance helps offer Palestinians more livable villages and cities, more economic opportunities, and the building of fair and transparent institutions critical to their future.”