Protests Paralyze the West Bank
Protests across the West Bank continued as taxi drivers, teachers, refugees and youth groups took to the streets on Monday to call attention to the rising cost of living. A general public transportation strike slowed movement between cities and towns to a trickle, while protesters in Hebron smashed windows and burned tires before police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The Hebron incident capped a week of generally peaceful demonstrations in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Tulkarem and several refugee camps. A partial teachers’ strike in the West Bank is scheduled for later this week.
Although some protesters focused their anger on P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, many other demonstrators spoke out against the P.A. as a whole and called for “an overall review of the government and the P.A.’s political, economic and social policies.” Particular criticism was reserved for recent rises in fuel prices, the cost of basic foodstuffs, and taxes, as well as the 1994 Paris Protocols and Israeli restrictions on development in Area C. President Mahmoud Abbas promised that the P.A. will not obstruct protests as long as they “do not harm public interests,” but he suggested that ultimate blame for the economic crisis rests with “Israel and some Arab countries.” Fayyad appealed to the P.A.’s main donor countries including the U.S., Canada and E.U. member states to “provide the Palestinians with financial aid to help them overcome the crisis.” The P.A. also asked Israel to modify the tax and customs union that links the two governments and limits the P.A.’s freedom to lower prices and sign its own free trade agreements.
Meanwhile, a new U.N. report detailed the extent of the social and economic challenges in the Palestinian Territories, where “food insecurity affect[s] two of every three Palestinians,” 65% of irrigable land remains barren, and overall unemployment stands at 26 percent. The P.A. has racked up more than $100 million in unpaid electricity bills and has hit several borrowing limits, while more than $200 million in pledged aid from the U.S. and $1 billion from Gulf states remains unpaid. Faced with state coffers that are nearing depletion, the P.A. announced that civil service employees will receive only half of their salaries on Wednesday.