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Palestinians take to streets in call for Fayyad to step down

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.

Protest against the rising cost of living in Bethlehem, West Bank (photo: RRB/Activestills.org)

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.

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    1. XYZ

      If Israel didn’t exist, the Arabs would need to invent it. Assad blamed Israel for his problems in Syria, even though Israel is the only country on his borders that is NOT sticking their fingers into the mess there. Still, it is convenient for him to blame us.
      Same with Fayyad and the Palestinians. Blame “the occupation” for their economic problems. Aziz is quite right, the PA exists primarily as a provider of services for the Palestinian, but real economic activity in the Palestinian territories is quite weak. The problem is that the same is true of ALL Arab countries that don’t have oil. I saw a statistic from the year 2002 that said the entire industrial output of the entire Arab world is equal to that of Finland, which as a populaton of 5.2 million, smaller than Israel. I doubt much has changed in the last 10 years. Thus, we see there is an endemic underdevelopment of the Arab world, of which the Palestinians are a part and the Palestinians suffer from the same problems….undereducation, corruption, failure to organize business climate and infrastucture (legal, taxation, etc).
      A good example is in Jordan where a free-trade zone of textile plants was built and they had to import workers from China to work there…Jordanians refused to work there (this, again was several years ago, maybe the situation has changed, but I doubt it). For example, the PA has promised to imporve tax collection for 20 years, but since no one likes paying taxes, and in the end the PA know the foreign donors will cough up the cash after they whine enough, they never get their act together in this real.
      Thus, “the occupation” is merely one excuse to explain away a deep-rooted malaise in Arab business and industrial policy that plagues the entire Arab world.

      Reply to Comment
      • Toby

        According to the CIA factbook, industrial production sector of GDP (PPP):
        Finland: $56 billion
        Egypt (ONE Arab country): $199 billion

        Cannot be arsed to pick apart your whole post, but I assume that the rest of it also consists of BS you just made up.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          You insult Finland with your lies. It is a very nice country.

          Finland – GDP (exchange rate): $270B
          Finland population – 5.4M
          Egypt – GDP (exchange rate): $230B
          Egypt population – 83M

          PPP comparisons are only relevant when judging internal buying power, not in comparing international economic power.

          All the economic problems mentioned by XYZ are those that Arabs complain about themselves. Every single one of them was announced as an underlying reason for dissatisfaction with the Mubarak government by his opponents.

          Reply to Comment
          • Toby

            And you insult my – and everybody else’s – intelligence with your lack of knowledge about how PPP works.

            Note that even by official exchange rate, just Egypt’s *industrial* output is *still* higher than Finland’s, and XYZ’s claim is *still* nonsense. But I know: You guys don’t operate like that. When you are shown that one of your outlandish claims is *plain wrong*, you quickly sweep it under the rug and move the goalposts to whatever new location you deem convenient.

            Reply to Comment
          • Finland is a beautiful and heroic country. In 1939, it had to fight an army four times the size of that which landed at Normandy. It fought it alone, and unfortunately loss 10% of its territory in doing so.

            Reply to Comment
      • Jack

        Obviously, US and Israel wouldnt be interested to help the opposition in Syria if Assad were sunni. They would treat Syria like they treat Bahrain uprising.

        Reply to Comment
    2. I just don’t understand the Palestinians refusal to get their act together. Why in the world don’t the people get together and create elections to form a legitimate government. No technocrat, regardless of skill, will have the internal fortitude to take morally proper actions, in the West Bank and Gaza, or against Israel, unless she knows she has a mandate from the people through free and fair elections. Until the Palestinians do this, all their cries of injustice and victimhood will fall on deaf ears in my head, and I suspect (even if unconsciously) in the minds of many people; all of whom are clear that Israel often performs in an unacceptable and immoral manner.

      C’mon Palestinians, grow up and become responsible. And don’t tell me Israel wouldn’t allow such an action. Where there is a will there is a way.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The answer to your lament is that Palestinian political identity only manifests itself in anti-Israeli activity. You can’t have positive common action when all you have to unite your people is fear, hate, envy and the desire for vengeance.

        Reply to Comment
        • K9, anti Israeli activity exists in mirror image to Israeli State occupation for security. You cannot have independent economic growth under the Israeli transport regulations. Last I read, recently West Bank growth has decreased in manufacturing and agriculture while total growth is still positive; that growth, then, is associated with the PA, its patronage, and donations/loans. You have a bantu State; of course Palestinians outside the patrongage network are going to react negatively. Protests will continue in a more ogranized fashion (some of which I fear) under this security regime. To claim the occupation has not shaped this is absurd; this is distinct from Israel security needs as such, but it is derivitive of those needs.

          Reply to Comment
      • Jack

        One problem is of course because PA are forbidden to work with Hamas according to Israel/US. PA loose aid, money, wages, support etc. Why? Because Israel want them to be internally fighting with each other and not united against israeli policies and occupation.

        Reply to Comment
      • William Bilek

        Interesting that your “advice”, repeatedly, is to confront Israel “in an effective manner”. Here is a novel idea. Advise the Arabs to sit down and negotiate an agreement which would accept, and leave Israel as a secure nation state of the Jewish People, and work out a financial partnership with that state, which has the strongest economy in the region. That would be in the interest of both sides.

        If the Arabs stopped trying to find ways to destroy the Jewish state, and used their ingenuity to work with it, it would be a win-win situation.

        Now why is that not part of your “advice”?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Jack, you totally missed my point. I am talking about the Palestinian people, not the obviously totally corrupt “leadership” that currently exists. Nothing ever gets done if you let your current masters tell you what is possible to occur. Until the Palestinians have a freely elected government, they will never deal with Israel in an effective manner. And it would be absurd to let Fatah and Hamas be involved in that election, because they are filled with corrupt people who would never let a competent leadership emerge.

      Reply to Comment
    4. The problem is if the Palestinian economy collapses, it would pull Israel down along with it. Israel and the Palestinians are attached to each other by an economic umbilical cord. The Palestinians do U.S. $3 billion dollars worth of business with Israel. Israel is the Palestinians largest trading partner. The Palestinians cannot apply for multi-lateral international assistance, because it is not a nation-state. But if it were, then they could be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. This leads more to the formation of a two-state solution, where the Palestinians would be placed in a better position to be a trading partner with Israel. Israel has an economy the size of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon combined. The Palestinians would have a lot of catching up to do. But they would be in a better position to do so with multi-lateral international assistance, and if their economy did collapse, Israel would not be able to decouple to economically protect itself.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Niz

      I think Arabs have to look carefully at the reasons of their failure to develop.In fact, that’s what the Arab revolutions are doing as we speak. However, the argument of XYZ if applied to say the black Africans, then he would be labeled as a racist. Also, in the same way, when a European in the 18th century attacked the jews as money lenders “who could not work honestly like others”, while forgetting about the structural conditions, being the European guild system and the endemic anti-semitism, one is lead to believe that it is the nature of the Jews to be ‘money lenders’. Of course this is all crap! Hence, the insinuating tone of XYZ leads you to the logical conclusion, it is the fault of the Arabs because they are Arabs,it is in their nature to be backward and it is in their nature to hate us (and us is the enlightened European Jew). Very good,well done.
      Discourses like that, other than being racist, are just stupid. The fact that the Arab states failed to develop has to be examined on the backdrop of militarized rent economies (like much of Africa). Now does Israel contribute to the state of underdevelopment? Yes! When you are occupied, losing your land constantly, are not able to buy or sell your produce, it does not help to build a modern economy. I am not going to defend the Arabs, we take full responsibility for our condition regardless of the historical injustices. In all cases, the occupation, colonialism and the local sources of oppression have to all be conquered. Taking responsibility means employing our will to be free and hence to fight the occupation and conquer it. So XYZ, however you turn it, your state and the racist apparatus will be destroyed, demolished and dismantled…and as we say in Arabic “we and you and time is fucking long!!”

      Reply to Comment