Embracing economic protests, Abbas declares beginning of ‘Palestinian Spring’

PA president’s sympathy may not calm the streets, experts warn

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinians demonstrate against the government of Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, September 5 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ Flash90)
Palestinians demonstrate against the government of Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, September 5 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ Flash90)

Rather than resist mounting pressure on his administration by masses demonstrating across the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to embrace the growing protest.

“The Palestinian Spring has begun,” Abbas told an Arab League assembly in Cairo Wednesday. “We stand with what the people say and want.”

Demonstrations against mounting commodity prices continued across the West Bank on Thursday, under the banner “Leave already, Salam Fayyad!” The Palestinian Authority prime minister denied reports on Thursday that he had tendered his resignation to the president.

‘There is a problem in the performance of the Palestinian Authority. Public funds are being wasted, the PA needs to be reorganized’

Abbas told the Arab League that his government has tried to lower taxes in order to ease the financial burden on the Palestinian people, but that this would affect salaries, which have not been paid for the month of August.

“Any people subjected to these harsh conditions must voice their position because hunger is brutal,” he said.

But Abbas’s sympathy may not be enough to calm the street, local observes say.

“There is a problem in the performance of the Palestinian Authority,” Sameeh Hammoudah, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, told The Times of Israel. “Public funds are being wasted; the PA needs to be reorganized.”

Hammoudah said that despite objective economic difficulties, both domestic and international, the Palestinian Authority should strengthen agricultural growth and support local industry.

“The economic situation here has become unbearable,” he said.

Angry protesters blocked traffic at Manara Square in downtown Ramallah Wednesday afternoon. According to PA dailies, public anger was directed at Fayyad, who has also been serving as finance minister since 2007.

Hammoudah said that taxi drivers were striking Wednesday and Thursday, sporadically blocking the main roads leading to Ramallah and its suburbs.

“We have come here as politically unaffiliated youth to voice our rejection of the economic policies of Salam Fayyad’s government,” one young demonstrator told PA daily Al-Ayyam. “We demand that the president and the Executive Committee [of the PLO] replace it with a government that responds to the people’s demands.”

But Hussam Khader, a Fatah leader from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus recently released from 15 months of administrative detention in an Israeli prison, said the source of Palestinian economic woes is Israel’s stranglehold over the PA’s economy.

Hussam Khader at Balata Refugee Camp, 2009 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Hussam Khader at Balata Refugee Camp, 2009 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“As long as there’s occupation, there’s no economy, no security, no development,” Khader told The Times of Israel. “The occupation has imposed the Paris Protocol on us, tying our economy to that of Israel.”

The Paris Protocol of 1994, part of the Oslo Peace Accords, sets a customs union between Israel and the PA, and allows Israel to collect taxes on behalf of it. The protocol was meant to allow Palestinian products free access to Israeli markets, but high levels of violence and roadblocks during the second intifada years hampered the flow of Palestinian commodities into Israel.

Khader said that the protocol did not take into account the deep discrepancies in infrastructure and economic performance between Israel and the West Bank.

“The prices in Tel Aviv are the same as those in the Balata refugee camp,” he said. “The PA should be allowed to directly import products through the border crossings.”


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