Development of the e-governance of the Palestinian state, which started 9 years ago, has been a process demanding time and commitment, but its results are already tangible today: secure data exchange has made the cooperation between state agencies smoother and the data more accurate. It has also bought an additional one million shekels (approx. 238,000 euros) into the state budget. In conclusion, Hannes Astok, who has cooperated with Palestine for years, gives four tips for successful cooperation.

Cooperation with Palestine started in 2009, when experts from the e-Governance Academy—Hannes Astok, Arvo Ott and Liia Hänni—conducted the first training sessions to introduce e-governance to Palestinian officials, and also became familiar with the situation there. As the government of Palestine was interested in developing e-governance, this was followed by the launch of the data exchange between agencies together with the necessary legislative and organisational counselling, and training of educational officials in the use of ICT tools for teaching, which was done with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia. This year, the Palestinian Zinnar data exchange solution, which is based on the Estonian X-Road, was updated in order to expand the possibilities for its use.

Hannes Astok, who was in charge of the development activities in Palestine, is happy about these developments. “While there were doubts in 2015 as to whether the Zinnar data exchange platform, which is similar to X-Road, would remain in use and whether the interest in data exchange would continue, today the situation is very hopeful,” said Hannes, who has been cooperating with Palestine for nine years.

Ibrahim Abubakr, Head of the e-Governance department at the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology, said that thus far, 15 Palestinian government agencies exchange data, and 25 inter-agency e-services have been developed. “Zinnar has made our data move. It has made cooperation between government agencies smoother. For example, now we have a better overview of births: data about them moves between hospitals and the Ministry of Health, and from there, to the population register. This helps plan the provision of health and social services and the need for places in kindergartens and schools. Palestine has also multiplied the tax revenues collected on the registration of imported cars thanks to the data exchange between customs and the Ministry of Finance. This has brought an additional million shekels to the state treasury,” Abubakr said.

Hannes said that the support of the Palestinian leaders and their capability to manage the developments has increased over the years, in spite of the complicated political situation. “It is great that we have reliable and committed partners with whom we have been working at the same coalface for years. If this continues, we will go far,” he remarked.

In recent years, cyber security has been under focus. “Last year, we conducted cyber security training sessions and advised state agencies on drafting plans of action. We can see that the general awareness of cyber security and hygiene has increased. Both physical entrances to buildings as well as access to information systems are checked more effectively. Years ago, nearly everyone who got into the Wifi network had access to all of the servers and databases on the intranet, but today, internal and external networks are separated and strangers have no access to data,” Hannes Astok said.

Hannes said that in the coming years, the government of Palestine was planning to develop a digital identity solution for citizens and develop the e-services.

Based on his many years of cooperation with the Palestinian government, Hannes has four tips that all e-governance developers should follow for fruitful cooperation.

  1. Activities are more successful in countries where the local team is interested in developing e-governance and committed to it. Development and e-governance cannot be forced on anybody.
  2. The activities must be coordinated by a project partner from the organisation.
  3. The trust and support of top management are of key importance.
  4. It is important to take cultural aspects into account: in Arab countries, oral discussion at meetings works better; there is no use waiting for written input in working documents. In the planning of work, religious holidays, especially Ramadan, must be considered. Extensive activities that require close attention should not be planned for that period. The working week also brings its own surprises, because in Arab countries the week ends on Thursday, and Friday and Saturday are days off.