In the past few days, protesters have filled the Palestinian streets. This time, their protest is not against Israel, but rather against the Palestinian Authority and specifically Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Palestinians are coming out to protest the rising prices in the West Bank, which have increased at a time when the Palestinian Authority has been unable to pay its employees their full salaries on time.
Prime Minister Fayyad found himself at the center of the anger and frustration of the Palestinians. In the first few years following his appointment, Fayyad received rave reviews by locals and internationals alike for his work in reviving the Palestinian economy and tackling corruption. However, he is now facing a financial crisis, considered the worst since the Palestinian Authority’s inception, due to a dip in donor funding and rising costs of living.
Despite an expected 5 percent growth in the Palestinian economy this year, this growth is a deceptive figure. The Palestinian economy is captive to the Israeli occupation and is regulated and handcuffed by the Paris Protocol, an agreement that preceded the Oslo Accords. In a recent post, Haggai Matar explained new modifications to the Paris Protocol, which reaffirm Israel’s control over the Palestinian economy. Haggai explains how in a time when Palestinians are shifting towards popular resistance, an economic agreement with Israel contributes to the irrelevance of their government. While Palestinian activists have been calling on the Palestinian Authority to annul the Paris Protocol, Fayyad has defended the agreement, claiming the present problems are not related.
Based on the Paris Protocol, every new economic opportunity in the Palestinian territories is subject to Israeli approval. For example, it took the Wataniya telecommunications company years to get Israel’s approval to launch. Wataniya, like the Palestinian economy on the whole, was held hostage by the Israeli government as a bargaining chip.
The Palestinian economy is dependent on foreign support to the PA and NGOs, which are the biggest employers in the Palestinian territories. Even now, as Palestinians protest against Fayyad, some are calling him to solve the unemployment problem among youth by increasing government jobs. Many Palestinians have begun to see government and NGOs jobs as their only employment possibilities.
Yesterday, Fayyad responded to his critics in a series of posts on his Facebook page, which argued his case and why he shouldn’t resign from his position. He responded to those accusing him of being out of touch and unsympathetic to the Palestinian street struggles. He started his posts by saying that he understands the Palestinian suffering and their living conditions because of the hike in prices, and that he hopes that they will be able to overcome this crisis together.
He also criticized the violence in the protests against him and said:
I respect freedom of expression in all its forms even when it includes personal insults against me and doubts my intentions. I accept it. But putting burned tires on the roads and throwing stones at the fire trucks and not allowing ambulances to pass is not within freedom of expression.
In his defense, Fayyad blamed the occupation for the crisis, pointing out checkpoints, roadblocks and a lack of resources. He also blamed the donor nations who have not paid what they pledged to the Palestinians, singling out the Arab countries for not keeping their promises. Fayyad seemed frustrated when he wrote, “ I don’t have a magic wand to fix these issues easily, we are in a financial crisis and that is the truth.”
Fayyad is not known to be popular among many Fatah leaders. As the protests started, Fatah leaders began to speak about the need to replace him, and some claim that Abbas is already holding consultations on a possible replacement. One of the harshest critics of Fayyad was Tawfiq El-Tirawi, the former head of intelligence and member of the Fatah Central Committee. Tirawi blamed Fayyad for increasing the Palestinian debt to over $4 billion, and accused him of leading the Palestinians towards destruction. On the other hand, Fayyad found some support from Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Shaath, the head of the Fatah Commission of International Relations. He defended Fayyad, arguing that the premier is not the problem or the reason for the prices hike.
Fayyad himself responded to those calling for his resignation by saying that he is not holding tight to his position. He claimed that he is willing to step aside if he is not able to deal with the situation, and if his departure will offer a solution.
This is toughest challange Prime Minister Fayyad has yet to face in his job. While it is true that there are many external factors to the Palestinian financial crisis, he is in a role of responsibility. Just like he took credit for bringing more money from donors to the territories, he has to face his failure in making the Palestinian economy dependent on unreliable donor funds.
However, what is more important than whether or not Prime Minister Fayyad holds onto his job is the role of the Palestinian Authority. Since it’s inception, the Palestinian Authority failed to deliver on its promises. No statehood, no freedom, and no dignity for the Palestinian people. Its sole justification for existence has become providing services, creating government jobs, facilitating modest business growth, fundraising, providing some internal law and security services, and – some say - enabling the Israeli occupation. If the Palestinian Authority is unable to provide basic services, then its role and purpose are unclear. The Palestinian Authority’s reason for existence is going become an increasingly tough sell to the Palestinian people, who might turn against it when they are done with Fayyad.