As teachers return to class, Abbas and Israel win a (brief) reprieve
search
Analysis

As teachers return to class, Abbas and Israel win a (brief) reprieve

A simple demand for higher wages hides a power play that is weakening the Palestinian leadership and threatens to spiral into increased violence against Israelis

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Palestinian protester taunts Israeli security forces during clashes in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near Nablus, in the West Bank, on March 11, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
A Palestinian protester taunts Israeli security forces during clashes in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near Nablus, in the West Bank, on March 11, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

A strike by teachers in the Palestinian territories has been suspended and for the coming week, at least, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief: the Palestinian Authority, the teachers, hundreds of thousands of students many of whom are preparing for their matriculation exams, and also — surprisingly or not — the Israeli security establishment.

Although ostensibly an internal Palestinian matter and a challenge to the popularity of the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, the strike was also a fairly significant threat to Israel.

Given the unstable security climate and the so-called lone-wolf intifada raging for the last five and a half months, the presence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian youths on the streets, with nothing to learn and little else to do, could have exacerbated already sky-high tensions and spurred even more terror and violence.

Thus, Abbas had a keen interest in seeing the problem go away, and after spending a month on the sidelines, decided to step in over the weekend and try to solve the issue himself.

Teachers protesting in Ramallah on February 23, 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)
Teachers protesting in Ramallah on February 23, 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)

While he only offered the teachers an immediate 10-percent raise — well below the larger pay hike they demanded to put them on par with other Palestinian civil servants — they still agreed to pause the strike for a week, and may decide to stay off the streets longer.

More than the automatic raise, though, the teachers’ central demand was for promotion opportunities.

Even the most senior tutors cannot get paid much more than the average wage of about NIS 2,400 ($620) a month. The average wage for a school principal, for example, with a Master’s degree and decades of experience, is around NIS 2,800 ($720).

“It can’t be that after 18 years in the profession,” one teacher complained to this reporter, “my wages are NIS 2,600.”

The strike began several weeks ago, ostensibly as a simple demand by employees for a wage increase. However, since then more than a few political players jumped on the bandwagon of related interests.

First in line is Hamas. It is no secret that many of the teachers identify with the terror organization, at least on the ideological level. Indeed, the PA suspected that Hamas was behind the strike, among other things, in an attempt to heat up the West Bank.

In the view of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s government and the security services, the teachers engineered the labor action to create a situation in which nearly a million youths would be on the streets, available for clashes and violence against Israel that in the end would lead to a weakening of the PA.

However, objective Palestinian commentators say the PA’s claims lack merit and were only designed to try to weaken the teachers’ bargaining power. It also allowed the security forces to carry out a wave of arrests among the teachers leading the strike.

As the teachers gained support, Hamdallah refused to budge and Abbas sat quietly to the side. Yet senior officials in Abbas’s own Fatah party did get involved, understanding that the strike presented them with an opportunity to improve their personal standing on the Palestinian street while knocking Abbas down a peg.

President of the Palestinian Football Federation, Major General Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah on February 12, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Jibril Rajoub speaks during a press conference in Ramallah on February 12, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

One of the Fatah leaders who was most vocal on the matter was Jibril Rajoub, a popular Palestinian official who sharply and openly criticized the way the Hamdallah government handled the strike.

Rajoub was not alone, and Abbas suspected that arch rival Mohammad Dahlan, banished to the United Arab Emirates, was behind attempts to keep the strike going. During one demonstration in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government, the protesters chanted “Abu Fadi” — Dahlan’s nickname.

The whole affair may have ended, at least for now, but the way the strike played out should not fill anyone in power in Ramallah with hope.

Between the mutual recriminations and fears that the strike could spiral out of control, the episode served to illustrate how the PA and Abbas are growing weaker in the West Bank with each passing day.

Join us!
A message from the Editor of Times of Israel
David Horovitz

The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

Become a member of The Times of Israel Community
read more:
comments