Fed up, West Bank Palestinians tell leaders to fix the economy
The Palestinian Authority is on what observers say may be its shakiest ground yet as it faces a monthly $100 million shortfall and a population floundering amid economic hardship.
Ramallah, West Bank
As many as 24,000 Palestinian public transportation drivers launched a strike across the West Bank today, capping a week of public unrest that some say poses a significant threat to the Palestinian Authority – and potentially to Israel.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The West Bank: life under the PA
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Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest a spike in prices that has intensified a long-simmering economic crisis. The cost of a carton of eggs has jumped from 12 to 20 shekels ($3 to $5); a box of tomatoes now costs 120 shekels ($30), a six-fold increase; and gas has just topped $8 a gallon.
The Palestinian Authority, which is no stranger to economic crises, is now in particularly dire straits. It is $100 million short each month, and has had to delay paying August salaries, due in part to a sharp drop in aid from Arab donor countries. Locals blame PA mismanagement and corruption, pointing to the stone villas and sleek Mercedes vehicles that have sprouted in Ramallah since the PA took over.
“What happened in Tunisia and Egypt will happen here. We will chase them out,” says vegetable grocer Mohammed al-Qatari, tending to a trickle of customers in Ramallah’s Al-Amari refugee camp. “I don’t want them. I’d rather have the Israeli occupation.”
Just up the hill, past two open manholes and the wafting smell of sewage, a roundabout bears the charred pockmarks from protesters burning tires. In the middle stands a crooked olive tree, denuded of almost all its branches, with just a few leaves.
It is, in some ways, a poignant symbol of the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, nearly two decades after the Oslo Accords were signed. Under those accords, the PA was meant to serve as an interim government during the transition from Israeli occupation to Palestinian statehood. Today, hopes for peace are not totally dead, but there are few olive branches to be found and the PA is struggling to address the demands of its people.
“I think that [the unrest] is very, very serious, because it all can lead to the collapse of the Authority,” says Ron Pundak, an Israeli historian and key player in the Oslo negotiations. “One of the options, which I think is quite realistic, is that it could become a situation of chaos, in which Palestinian security forces could disappear. That might lead to the need of Israel to reoccupy the West Bank.”
Much of the public anger has targeted PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, now in his sixth year on the job. A former International Monetary Fund official, he is seen by the West as serious about rooting out corruption, but he has faced increasing opposition from within the dominant Fatah party, of which he is not a member. Some say Fatah is fomenting the unrest, possibly by paying Palestinians to take to the streets.
But Fatah member Azzam Abu Bakr says it’s coming from the people.
“This is a Palestinian popular commotion, which is justified. There are genuine and serious reasons for initiating such a popular commotion,” says Mr. Abu Bakr, director general of the Ministry of Education. “The first reason is the failure of the Fayyad government in managing the economic situation.”
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