Two crucial problems are taking place simultaneously in the occupied West Bank this week. Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation is quickly worsening, and the economic situation is reaching a point of real danger. All together this dangerous combination can easily result in major breakout of violence.
Teachers went on nationwide general strike [Dec. 19-20] protesting the failure of the Palestinian Authority to pay their salaries, causing major disruptions throughout the Palestinian areas. The general strike produced a short-term reprieve when it was announced that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the Palestinian Monetary Authority convinced local banks to advance the PA $100 million to provide partial payment to the teachers expected by the middle of next week. The Palestinian Authority has been promised a safety net from the Arab League which apparently kicks in only in the new year.
But while the economic situation is reaching dangerous levels, the security relations threaten to cause major disruptions. The Israeli leading daily Yediot Ahranot related that the Israeli chief of staff Benny Gatz gave a sobering briefing to soldiers who will be placed in the West Bank, advising them to use wisdom and patience in dealing with Palestinians. The advice given to Israeli soldiers, according to Yediot, came after an incident weeks earlier in which Palestinian police for the first time stood up to an Israeli army unity attempting to enter Tulkarem to arrest Palestinians. The report noted that Palestinians informed their Israeli counterparts that Palestine after Nov. 29 is different than Palestine before that important date, when the state of Palestine was voted in by the UN as an observer state. While the Oslo Accords provides security sovereignty for the Palestinian Authority in major cities, Israeli army troops have regularly violated this issue and have raided populated Palestinian cities to carry out arrests.
The combination of bad economic future and receding security conditions could provide the environment that could witness widespread violence throughout Palestine. The economic/security combination is being experienced at the same time that Israel is continuing an escalating settlement policy that has brought the anger of even their most recent friends the Check [sic] government. A Likud spokesman has admitted that the settlement frenzy is related to the upcoming Israeli elections. As part of the Israeli decision to ‘punish’ Palestinians for ‘daring’ to ‘defy' and go to the UN, Israel has withheld Palestinian tax funds collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and has approved numerous decisions to increase settlement activities especially in the East Jerusalem area.
One of the more interesting developments in regards to the deteriorating economic situation this time is that there has been no public protests against the Palestinian Authority or the Prime Minister. Late last summer when there was a hike of prices, Palestinian held nation wide protests that included some angry statement against the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.
This time Palestinians seem to be convinced that the economic woes are a direct result of Israel’s reprimand to the Palestinian Authority and the delay in any replacement funding from Arab countries, despite promises made at every Arab meeting.
For their part, the Palestinian leadership has not failed in responding to the Israeli actions. Salam Fayyad’s call for a boycott of Israeli products — and not just settlement produced merchandise — added to the angry tit for tat that has become the hallmark of Palestinian-Israeli relations.
Besides the security and economic situation, Palestinians are following closely how a number of Palestinian prisoners are holding up. Administrative detainees including a number who were released after the Shalit exchange and were rearrested have been conducting one of the longest hunger strikes. Ayman Sharawna and Samer Issawi have been on hunger strike (on and off) for 171 and 140 days, respectively.
Yousef Yassin, Jafar Azzidine and Tarek Qa’adan are 21 days into theirs. Anything happening to these prisoners could easily spark a major violent outburst that could bring about an angry Israeli response thus escalating the cycle of violence. While Israelis are acting in a way to exasperated Palestinians, it appears that the military are cognizant of the situation and hence the clear warning from the chief of staff of the Israeli army to his soldiers to act prudently in the occupied territories.
Fears of a third Palestinian intifada is not far from people’s minds. While most experts insist that the political, economic and security situation makes Palestine ripe for such widespread action, it is almost impossible to predict how and when a population acts in a unified fashion.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. Active in media-freedom efforts in the Middle East, Kuttab is a columnist for The Jordan Times, The Jerusalem Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon, and has co-produced a number of award-winning documentaries and children’s television programs. He has received numerous international awards, including the CPJ Freedom of Expression Award, the Leipzig Courage in Freedom Award and the Next Foundation (UK) Peace through Media Award.