Palestine’s Arab Spring
A September 15th article (Revolution in the Air at Last) in the highly conservative Economist is predicting possible revolution in Palestine. It’s extremely good news for antiwar activists, economists, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and all other halfway sane people seeking to thwart a threatened Israeli attack on Iran. A full blown Arab Spring uprising in Palestine (Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has referred to growing unrest as the Palestinian Arab Spring) would hopefully keep Israeli war monger Binyamin Netanyahu too busy in his own back yard to start World War III.
Extreme Financial Hardship in the West Bank
In recent demonstrations across the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is supposedly in charge, protests over high food prices have escalated to calls for both Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad to step down. Tied into Israel’s economy under terms of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, residents of the West Bank pay Israeli prices for goods while earning a fifth of Israeli salaries. Meanwhile the PA, deeply in debt, limps along from month to month, as previously generous foreign aid slows to a dribble. Gulf donors, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have become reluctant as Palestinians to support an entity that seems incapable of ending Israel’s occupation. Thus most of their aid funds go to Gaza, where Israel ended the military occupation in 2005, and which has been fully run by Hamas Islamists since the 2007 elections.
Europeans, struggling with their own economic crisis, have also drastically cut assistance to the PA. Meanwhile the Obama administration, which has promised $200 million, is making it conditional on a Palestinian promise not to seek the UN recognition of statehood (at least not before the November elections). Thus, at present, the PA relies on Israel for two-thirds of its operating expenses (through a transfer of tax revenues collected in the West Bank).
The Power Struggle in the PA’s Unelected Leadership
The protests also relate, in part, to a long-standing power struggle between Abbas, the Fatah leader who succeeded Yasar Arafat, and Fayyad, an economist trained in America and favored by Washington. What the Economist doesn’t mention is that both Abbas and Fayyad are “appointed” puppets the US and Israel installed in the West Bank after Hamas won the 2007 PA elections (see The Effect of Public Opinion in Palestine). Technically Hamas was the legitimately elected authority in the West Bank, as well as Gaza. Refusing to recognize the elections, the US and Israel replaced the Hamas leadership with Abbas, Fayyad and Fatah party officials. Hamas only retained power in Gaza by undertaking military action to expel the CIA-backed Fatah operatives who had seized crucial security outposts.
At the beginning of September, trade unions and taxi-drivers, who get their licenses from the Fatah-dominated intelligence services, declared a general strike and closed roads, paralyzing the city centers. Fatah-linked Palestinian security officers in plain clothes manned the barricades and lit tires.
By September 10th, the PA was facing the most popular and widespread protests in the 18 years since it was formed in 1993 Oslo accords. In the southern city of Hebron, gangs of youths threw rocks at a police station. In Nablus, they charged a security base. Although the Palestinian police dispersed them with tear gas, the uproar only died down when Fayyad made concessions promised to rescind price rises and pay a first installment of delayed salaries.
The popular uprising is far from over, with Israel’s recent threat to cut off power to the West Bank unless the PA comes up with $200m for unpaid electricity bills.
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