As Hard Times Get Harder,
By: Ashraf al-Ajami Translated from Al-Ayyam (P.A.).
There have been popular protests against rising prices, although initial turnouts have been small and citizens have been reluctant to attend. Perhaps the most prominent protest — and one that was covered by the media — was that of taxi and truck drivers, who blocked the roads in Hebron in protest against high fuel prices.
About This Article
Economic hard times in the West Bank and Gaza have ignited protests demanding the Palestinian Authority take action against unemployment and poverty. But, as Ashraf al-Ajami reports, the Authority has money troubles of its own.Publisher: Al-Ayyam (P.A.)
Is There A Palestinian Spring?
Author: Ashraf al-Ajami
First Published: September 5, 2012
Posted on: September 7 2012
Translated by: Joelle El-Khoury
Yet it is interesting to look at the response of citizens — particularly the youth — to these protests on social networking sites such as Facebook. The protests have generally received wide support, although many have been skeptical about the protests’ ability to exact change. Many believe that the authorities are unable to intervene in a way that would improve the current difficult situation.
The high cost of living is clearly a deep-rooted problem that has reached unbearable levels, particularly when coupled with low wages and high unemployment in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The financial crisis afflicting the government only further complicates the situation. However, this certainly does not relieve the authorities of their responsibility to provide for the needs of their citizens, particularly concerning economic and social issues. If we are to be realistic and equitable, we must discuss this crisis — in all its dimensions — to shed light on what is hidden behind the headlines.
If we look into the reasons behind reduced financial support for the PA — which constitutes just one aspect of the problem — we see that it is linked to the current economic woes of some international donors. There is a grave financial crisis affecting the Eurozone, which has resulted in reduced support for the Palestinians.
Moreover, the revolutions that have been taking place as part of the Arab Spring are attracting the attention and support of foreign donors — including other Arab states — particularly from countries that had previously provided generous support to the PA. In addition, internal divisions and tensions among various Palestinian factions have discouraged Arab donors from providing support to the PA. Some donors are directly distributing aid to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, accusing the PA of being unable to properly develop ties with the Arab world.
Some international forces wish to weaken the PA, forcing it into a hand-to-mouth existence in an effort to prevent it from taking positions that oppose their own stances. This is a policy begun two years ago. The PA’s position regarding negotiations [with Israel] has annoyed the US, particularly concerning the its refusal to resume negotiations if its requirements and conditions are not met. These conditions aim to ensure that the PA does not remain in the same vicious cycle. The US wants to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance, something the US needs, so that this issue does not end up affecting the upcoming US elections. Washington is against any party setting conditions for negotiations, emphasizing that they should carry out negotiations regardles of the outcome or duration.
Citizens are justified in their protests, as life under the unbearably high cost of living is like hell for a significant proportion of the population. However, these protests are very different from the Arab Spring revolutions. This is not because Palestinians have favorable living conditions and do not need change, but rather because the internal situation is not yet ready for such a revolution. Palestinians are not confident that change is possible, and they need to take action, as they did during the first Intifada and at the beginning of the second. During the first Intifada, citizens realized the importance of taking action to achieve independence and freedom from the occupation. They also were active during the second Intifada, pushing forward the political process following the crisis. At that time, the Intifada could have been salvaged had it kept its goals within a popular framework, away from mixed agendas and armed chaos affecting the Palestinian territories.
However, this does not mean that the people’s demands should not be taken into account. This dire situation could turn the tables and lead to a change in the entire political equation. The PA is responsible for finding solutions to this serious problem. Perhaps they need to reduce taxes, even though they are the main source of national revenue and as of late tax revenues have exceeded foreign support. However, this does not justify the fact that our tax rate is equal to the Israeli tax rate. There is a huge difference between the PA and Israel regarding income levels, the monthly minimum wage and the social safety net that the state provides to the unemployed, poor and needy. Protests are even taking place in Israel itself against high living costs, lack of affordable housing, unemployment and other issues. Furthermore, the PA must cooperate with Israel and the international community to allow a large number of Palestinian workers to work in Israel. They must avoid viewing the increased number of entry permits as a conspiracy against the PA, as some people used to say regarding the increase in the number of permits granted during Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Yet, the majority of the responsibility falls on Israel when it comes to the situation in areas controlled by the PA, which in actuality are occupied areas. A large part of our citizens’ distress is caused by the unjust policies and procedures adopted by the occupation.
It is necessary to develop a comprehensive economic plan to address problems associated with the high cost of living and unemployment. We must also involve various international parties when applying this plan, who will provide support to the PA and put pressure on Israel to allow additional Palestinian workers to work in Israel sectors that are economically underdeveloped. This option would be effective, fast and influence the overall Palestinian economy. If Israel receives 200,000 workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and each worker is paid between 5,000 and 10,000 Israeli shekels [$1243-$2486] per month, from one to two billion Israeli shekels [$248.5 million-$497 million] will enter the Palestinian territories each month. This large influx of money could revive the Palestinian economy. Other steps can be taken to promote investment and production and find job opportunities for the youth. These issues require will and hard work, rather than mourning, crying and looking for a scapegoat for any criticisms and accusations.
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