Will the ‘hot Palestinian summer’ bear fruit?
This posting has 7 items:
1) Amira Hass: Palestinian protests in West Bank highlight link between economy and security ;
2) PNN: President Abbas to Cancel Oslo Accords;
3) Ma’an news: Health unions to escalate protest action;
4) Ynet news: Fayyad posts protest song on his Facebook page;
5) Yacov Ben Efrat: The hot Palestinian summer;
6) Avi Issacharoff: West Bank protests herald new era of discontent among Palestinians ;
7) Uri Avnery: Protest in Ramallah ;
Palestinian youth blocked traffic in Bethlehem in a protest against the rising cost of living and the Palestinian Authority leadership, September 8, 2012. Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org
This picture is from a photo essay on the price protests in +972, September 17, 2012
Opinion survey shows 40 percent of Palestinians believe economic crisis is ‘manufactured'; 66 feel compelled to demonstrate for lack of a guaranteed better future.
By Amira Hass, Ha’aretz
September 18, 2012
Zakaria Zbeidi’s continued arrest by the Palestinian authority has a great deal of impact and is condemned abroad, specifically by pro-Palestinian activists. Zbeidi’s arrest, without a proper investigation, indictment and when allegations against him are constantly altered, is not exceptional. This is the Palestinian version of the Israeli administrative detention (extrajudicial arrest).
This method is used by the Palestinians to hold Islamic Jihad and Hamas activists in custody, at times after their release from Israeli prison or Shin Bet questioning. At times, just like the Israeli Shin Bet security service, because the Palestinian authorities hold sensitive information they do not want compromised, they don’t even hold a false impression of a trail. Sometimes, the source of the incriminating information is Israel. Sometimes, this method is used against political activists – especially in universities – that the Palestinian Authority wishes to deter, an arrest without an investigation, which results in a loss of school and work days.
During last week’s demonstrations in the West Bank, several groups of protesters in Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus were not content with simply protesting the high cost of living; they also spoke out against the Palestinian Authority’s security coordination with Israel, including criticism of the Paris Protocol, the economic part of the Oslo Accords interim peace agreement. That is their way of connecting the two pillars of the PA’s policy.
The professional unions in the West Bank have continued protesting the Palestinian Authority’s policies, despite Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s promise to cut the hike in VAT and cancel the increase in fuel prices.
Calling for higher wages, the teachers’ association protested on Monday by calling off afternoon classes. The union of public sector workers announced a labor conflict and a series of gradual steps designed to culminate in a general strike in mid-October should their demands to change the way salary levels are calculated and to pay salaries on time not be met.
While Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmed Majdelani has said there is no need for protests, a public opinion survey seems to indicate otherwise. According to a study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published on Monday, 66 percent of respondents answered that they are forced to participate in the protest due to their inability to guarantee themselves better lives in the future. The remaining third of respondents said they are not interested in joining the protests.
According to the survey, conducted between September 13 and 15, 55 percent expect the protests to spread to the Gaza Strip, compared to 39 percent who disagree. Of the 2,170 Palestinians surveyed, more than 76 percent of respondents said they expect the protests to continue and gather steam, as opposed to 22 percent who said they think they will end.
While 51 percent of respondents said they believe the current economic crisis is authentic, 44 percent said they think it is manufactured.
In most cities, Hamas operatives have not joined the protests, perhaps out of concern for a new wave of arrests, or perhaps the Hamas leadership has instructed them to avoid standing out right now. Either way, the immediate challenge of the PA is to prevent the economic and social criticism from blending in with a denunciation of its arrests policy and security cooperation with Israel.
Abu Yousef: PA President Abbas to Cancel Oslo Accords
September 18, 2012
On Tuesday 18th September, PLO’s Executive Committee member, Wasel Abu Yousef, revealed that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed during the meeting of the Palestinian leadership, the possibility to cancel Oslo Accords (the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements), and the economic and security related agreements.
Abu Yousef told Asharq Alawsat London-based newspaper that consensus within the Palestinian leadership on this issue have been different. Upon that, the issue has been postponed to the next meeting when President Abbas returns from the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The same newspaper also revealed that this is the first time the Palestinian leadership addresses the issue of Oslo Agreement since it was signed in 1993.
The Palestinian leader, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said that cancelling the Oslo Agreement is on the negotiation table in light of, as he described, “the Israeli denial of the peace process.”
Abed Rabbo told London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper that the issue is not just cancelling the agreement but also a new policy that may bring a better political alternative to solve the Palestinian case.
He said that what is requested now is not the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or its institutions, but reinforcing the role of the PA’s institutions to control the land and not only its residents.
Health unions to escalate protest action
By Ma’an news
September 18, 2012
RAMALLAH — Health unions announced Tuesday that they will escalate protest action as the Palestinian Authority continues to procrastinate in responding to their demands.
The announcement was made after health unions met with PA Health Minister Hani Adbin. A sit-in strike will take place Tuesday from 12 a.m. to 2 p.m. and work will be suspended on Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., health union head Osama Najjar said.
“We will follow all developments in the public sphere and the logistical level as we are keen to serve Palestinian society. If the PA does not respond to our demands, this will lead to an escalation, and may lead to an open strike,” he added.
Health unions are demanding the recruitment of extra staff, transportation costs for eligible applicants, fair standards for transferring staff between different departments and promotions.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced several measures last week to alleviate the economic crisis.
The economic measures will also include cuts on expenses for PA ministries, with the exception of the health, education and social affairs departments.
In early September, Abdin said that the health ministry faces a shortage of many different medicines due to the financial crisis.
Palestinian prime minister, who has been under attack for worst-ever economic crisis to hit PA, uses his Facebook page to post anti-government song titled ‘Get a grip Fayyad’
Roi Kais, Ynet news
September 17, 2012
In wake of the Palestinian social protest, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad decided to take matters into his own hands: Fayyad on Sunday posted a popular anti-government protest song, which calls on the prime minister to resign, on his own Facebook page.
The song titled “Get a grip Fayyad,” was written by Palestinian singer Kassem Najar, and since its release, has received great popularity on social media websites in the West Bank.
Fayyad, who has been harshly criticized by Palestinian protesters over the rising cost of living, has already been called to resign several times.
The new hit song calls on Fayyad to listen to his people. “If the solution is your departure, then go. Leave and don’t stay. Have mercy on your people, Fayyad,” the song says.
Najar then sings: “A carton of eggs for 20, petrol prices just go up… Have mercy on your people, Fayyad.”
Comments on the prime minister’s Facebook post were soon to follow. While many decided to “like” Fayyad’s post, some used the platform to further criticize Fayyad’s economic policies.
Many Facebook users asked whether Fayyad really did “get a grip,” as the song says, while others thanked the prime minister for his generous heart.
One Facebook user wrote that Fayyad’s post is just another ploy intended to mislead people.
Ali Karaka, one of the active members of a Facebook group called “Wake up Fayyad” told Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that “Fayyad cunningly took care of the crisis. I think he needs to go or point an accusatory finger at those responsible for this situation.”
The hot Palestinian summer
By Yacov Ben Efrat, Challenge magazine
September 15, 2012
We can relax: the disturbances in the Occupied Territories appear to have subsided, and the would-be third Intifada may have skipped over 2012 as it did over 2011. Back then it was supposed to break out after Abu Mazen vainly sought a Palestinian state at the UN Security Council. Israeli intelligence missed the mark in 2011 and misled others. This year, when all its analysts were worrying about how to get through the Jewish holidays in peace and quiet, they completely missed what was about to happen in the Palestinian territories. The protest broke out in reaction against a hike in petrol prices, derived from a similar price hike by the Israeli government, which seeks to reduce its budgetary deficit. After the Israeli social protestors tired and lost interest in demonstrations, the baton has passed to the Palestinians, who suffer many times more from the cost of living. What can you do: after 45 years of an Occupation that flooded their markets with Israeli goods, they too eat Tnuva cottage cheese, whose price triggered protest in Israel last year.
The Palestinian response to the petrol hike came very fast and was far less polite than the Israeli version. The Palestinians weren’t ashamed to shout that their prime minister, Salam Fayyad, should “get the hell out!” As for Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu, he didn’t need to form a new Trajtenberg Committee to pacify the Palestinians. He simply injected $250 million from the taxes he collects for the Palestinian Authority (PA), thus enabling it to pay part of its August salaries. Fayyad too was compelled to roll back the increase on petrol prices, as well as reduce the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 17% (the Israeli rate) to 15%.
The Palestinian protest, like the Arab Spring, is not aimed directly against Israel, and this fact bothers Netanyahu. The hatred is not against Jews, rather against the PA that is supposed to be serving them. The demonstrating Palestinian youth understand that the protests against the Israeli checkpoints work in favor of the PA leaders, who like to blame the Occupation for their society’s ills, shrugging off responsibility. However, ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Israeli Occupation has acquired a new form. Israel outsourced control over the Palestinian population, creating the PA as a service contractor. The latter is supposed to keep the peace and provide the residents with services, financed by donors like the EU, the US and the rich Arab states.
Like every subcontractor, the PA cuts itself a fat coupon on the workers’ account, and the donor money greases the wheels of its high officials, business cronies, clerks and police (whose function is not at all clear). Beneath this thin layer is the vast majority, who suffer from unemployment of at least 20% (30%, according to the General Secretary of the Palestinian Trade Unions) and a daily wage of $12 or so. It is clear that the arrangement cannot go on forever. The same reality was a factor leading to the second Intifada in the year 2000 and the rise of Hamas. The same reality is preparing the conditions for the third Intifada, which will be directed this time against the subcontractor and will dispel the fond illusion which goes by the name “Palestinian state.”
Economically speaking, we live in a binational state. The government of Israel is the sovereign in all economic areas: the Bank of Israel determines, by means of the shekel, the PA’s currency policy, while Israel’s Treasury Secretary controls PA fiscal policy by means of the “customs envelope” common to both parties. The problem is that the economic control in no way obliges Israel, because Israeli law is irrelevant in the PA territories. The labor laws, the national insurance, and all the public services which exist in Israel do not apply to the residents of the PA.
The outcome is social tragedy. The prices are Israeli prices, but the services and the wages are more like those in Syria and Egypt. Poverty rises—and with it anger at the PA leaders and their allies who benefit from the arrangement. The economic situation is similar to that in other Arab lands. A Palestinian Spring, long in the bud, can sprout at any moment.
The economic crisis in Europe and the US also has a part in the timing of the protests. The donor nations have cooled toward the PA. The Arab Spring has opened opportunities elsewhere, whereas the money that flows into PA coffers does not go to building an economy, rather only to financing the pleasures of the middle class, which consumes but does not produce. Israeli intransigence on a peace accord and the establishment of an independent Palestine have created an impression of pouring good money into a bottomless barrel.
To what have the donations contributed? To the creation of a big consumer bubble. Until now, the gap between PA salaries and the rise in the cost of living was bridged by loans from banks, which have sprouted like mushrooms. Today, when donations begin to dwindle while the PA deficit swells, it is clear that the party is grinding to an end. If in the past the middle class got benefits from the Oslo Accords, receiving mortgages and buying cars on credit, today it can no longer pay its debts. As in Israel, so in the West Bank, it was the middle class that first went out to demonstrate. The holdback on salaries, the petrol price hike, and the VAT propelled them into the streets. As in the Arab countries, the protest of the middle class opens a gateway for the protest of the poor, which will be more angry and more violent.
The PA on the verge of bankruptcy
Like Greece, Spain, and Ireland, the PA is on the edge of bankruptcy. But it has no Germany or Bank of Europe to bail it out, rather only Israel, and the coinage is not the euro, rather the shekel, which Israel controls. There is no chance in the world that the Bank of Israel will decide on a package to save the PA when it can’t even save the million destitute Israelis. “The poor of your land come first,” and the poor of the neighboring autonomy will have to manage alone.
However, the bankruptcy of the subcontractor places the boss before a hard choice. The fall of the PA will leave Israel alone in responsibility for the Occupied Territories. The result is paradoxical: The more Israel deepens its hold and builds settlements, the more it weakens the PA, increasing its own responsibility for those trapped behind the separation barrier which it built.
The Palestinian demonstrators demand cancellation of the Paris Agreement, the economic part of Oslo, for it chains them to the Israeli economy—as if the cancellation alone might lay the economic foundation for an independent state. But there’s a fly in the ointment. Independence would mean not just control of the currency and of fiscal policy, but also the definition of the territory where the Palestinian law and economy will apply. Such a definition, however, is something that Israel refuses to discuss, and the settlement project makes the problem insoluble. The demand to cancel the Paris Agreement therefore puts the cart before the horse. The way to gain economic independence from Israel is first to gain political independence, that is, to cancel the Oslo Accords to which the Paris Agreement belongs.
Netanyahu is conducting a much publicized campaign on the issue of Iran and the bomb. He is ready to send planes 3000 kilometers in order to save Israel from an imagined new Holocaust. But right outside his window the ground is quaking. The Palestinians are again being pushed, with excessive force, into the Israeli agenda. Bibi sees far-off Iran, but he won’t look into his own backyard. His economic policy and his political blindness are creating the conditions for a new round of violence.
Despite all the attempts to hide this reality, it is coming to meet us. The moment is approaching when Israel will have to decide between a return to full military and civil control over the Territories or, alternatively, withdrawal and abandonment of the settlements in order to enable an independent Palestine. Given that there is no political arrangement in sight, a Palestinian Spring becomes almost the only choice. Like Assad in Syria, Bibi may then send his soldiers to put down demonstrations by the Palestinian poor, but if he does this, then he, like Assad, will lose all legitimacy, and so will the nation he leads.
[For more information on the Paris Protocol of the Oslo Accords, see The Paris Protocol: why Palestinian protesters want to ditch it]
As Palestinian protesters took to the streets this week, they revealed just how tenuous Netanyahu’s ‘economic peace’ theory really is.
By Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz
September 15, 2012
RAMALLAH – In many ways, the Palestinian protest movement that swept the West Bank for nearly seven days before fading out late this week symbolizes the end of an era, the era of the Palestinian Authority. Thousands of protesters took to the streets, clashing with Palestinian security forces, hurling shoes at photographs of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and defacing other PA symbols. In the process, they revealed the pros and cons of the “economic peace” theory espoused by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
In truth, the idea of providing measured assistance to the Palestinian economy, for the purpose of fostering quiet in the security realm, has been discredited. The Palestinian economy is enduring a period of stagnation, and concurrently the PA’s status has been weakened – and so too has the stature of its security forces and political leadership.
Israeli leaders might continue to fantasize about upholding this oblivious policy of avoiding talks with the Palestinians, continuing settlement construction, harassing PA President Mahmoud Abbas and ignoring acts of Jewish terror. But it is doubtful whether such a policy can be maintained for a long period of time.
In recent years, the PA and Israel have created a bubble of quiet with regard to security matters, but that bubble may well burst this year as a result of Israeli policy and the continued stagnation of the Palestinian economy.
Officials in Jerusalem this week continued to demonstrate they’re more interested in putting out the small fires than the big ones. Among other things, they took steps to expedite the transfer of tax revenue to the PA and provide 5,000 new work permits to Palestinian laborers.
Yet it appears that Israel’s government, and particularly Netanyahu, refuses to acknowledge what’s hovering on the horizon. The budget crisis gripping the PA apparently is going to worsen, and is liable to stir additional unease among West Bank residents. At first, protesters might direct their rage against the PA, but in the end the rage will be directed at Israel.
The people want social justice
The Palestinian public learned firsthand this week something it had only previously seen demonstrated on satellite Arab television stations: It has the power to influence government decisions. On Tuesday, Fayyad surrendered to heavy pressure from the demonstrators and agreed to reduce gas prices and VAT rates.
The Palestinian protest movement seemed to abate. Student demonstrations planned for Wednesday in Ramallah were relocated to campuses in other parts of the West Bank, and the rallies went off without any acts of violence. Public transportation services resumed their regular schedules, and Shaher Saad, secretary general of the Palestinian Syndicates Union of Workers, announced that the public transport drivers union had decided to suspend its protests, in view of agreements reached with PA officials.
These drivers were key players in the protests, and indeed, the impetus for the demonstrations originated with them. Late last week, they suspended services during a one-hour strike, and on Monday they halted services all day long.
“We staged these strikes because of prices, tax rates and the fact that the Palestinian Authority steals tax revenue,” declared H., a taxi driver based in midtown Ramallah, where dozens of cabs sit waiting for a call at his depot, “Mujama Beir Zeit,” on Al-Irsal Street.
Like his colleagues, H. waits for his vehicle to fill up with passengers before departing for villages north of Ramallah. “I earn NIS 1,500 a month, and if a liter of gas costs almost NIS 7, how am I supposed to survive?” he charges. “What is left to live on? We pay double taxes, both to the Transportation Ministry and to the Ramallah municipality. Why is that?”
As H. vents his frustration, other drivers begin to gather around. “The Palestinian Authority hoards our money, and its senior officials send their children to schools overseas,” exclaims H.
S., a colleague at the taxi depot, notes that the Palestinian Transportation Ministry allows minibus drivers to transport just seven passengers, whereas Israel allows its sherut taxi drivers to ferry 10. “We want the price of gas to be lowered, and we want permission to transport more passengers,” demands S.
Ahmad, another driver and a resident of a village north of Ramallah, articulates sentiments that almost seem to be lifted out of Yair Lapid’s campaign rhetoric. “Where’s the money?” he asks. “I work from 5:30 A.M. until 6:30 P.M., and I earn NIS 70 for a day’s work. We have six people in our family and our monthly rent is NIS 500. How am I supposed to cover my living expenses? The truth is, I’m ready to leave the West Bank the moment I save up some money.”
When these disgruntled drivers are asked whether their protests have political motivations, they respond angrily. “We are not acting on behalf of any party or organization,” Ahmad clarifies. “We own taxis. The situation here is so grave that were Israel to allow everyone to work within its borders, you wouldn’t find anyone in the West Bank.”
The drivers discuss the possibility that Fayyad has become a scapegoat for policies devised by Abbas. “If Abbas appointed Fayyad, then he should go as well,” says M., a friend of Ahmad. “Our goal is to live in peace. Stop talking about politics and policies. What we want is to live in peace, with self-dignity and a normal income.”
Asked about the apparent discrepancy between their own financial difficulties and the recent appearance of a multitude of new restaurants and shopping malls in Ramallah, Ahmad replies: “You are mistaken. Don’t look at Ramallah. That’s like looking at Tel Aviv, in the case of Israel. You should visit the villages and have a look at what’s happening there.”
Should the economic crisis continue, M. claims that “the Arab Spring will turn into the Palestinian spring.”
It seems PA officials agree, and they appear to be seized by panic. Last week, during a live Palestinian TV broadcast from Tulkarm, some commentators attempted to criticize the PA on the air. A studio engineer shut off the sound.
Yet it is clear that even if this criticism never makes it onto television, it is nonetheless rampant throughout the West Bank.
19 years since Oslo
Thursday marked the 19th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords. Under the original agreement, within five years of its signing a Palestinian state was to have been established alongside the State of Israel.
Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, one of the key architects of the Oslo Accords on the Palestinian side, met with Israeli journalists this week. (It bears mention that the Palestinian leadership generally refrains from speaking with Israel’s media; perhaps this new openness is a sign of the frustration its members fell at the way Palestinian issued are ignored in Israel.)
Qurei noted that, “Shimon Peres will certainly recall that for hours our negotiations were delayed by debates over a few words, referring to the fact that the interim period after the signing of the agreement would not last more than five years.
“Israel talks about the solution of two states for two peoples, yet it kills this formula,” he added, noting his astonishment over Israel’s policies. “I can’t see what Israel has to gain from continued settlement building, or from attacks on Palestinians. For if you kill the two-state solution, what do you have left? What’s the alternative? One state. That’s not in Israel’s interests.”
The veteran Palestinian negotiator explained in simple terms to Israeli journalists what officials in Jerusalem seem unable to grasp: “An intifada against the PA?” Qurei scoffed, dismissing speculation about the implications of the recent Palestinian protests. “There isn’t going to be an intifada over the price of bread. When it happens, it will be about, and against, Israel’s occupation.”
Protest in Ramallah
By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
September 15, 2012
VISITING RAMALLAH after an absence of several months, I was again amazed by the ongoing building activity. Everywhere new high-rise buildings are going up, and many of them are beautiful. (Arabs seem to have an innate talent for architecture, as any world anthology of architecture affirms.)
The building boom seems to be a good sign, confirming Israeli assertions that the economy in the occupied West Bank is flourishing. But on second thought, my enthusiasm faded. After all, the money invested in residential buildings does not go to factories or other enterprises that provide jobs and promote real growth. It only shows that some people are getting rich even under the occupation.
My destination was a diplomatic reception. Some high functionaries of the Palestinian Authority and other upper-class Palestinians attended.
I exchanged pleasantries with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and some of the well-dressed guests, and enjoyed the delicacies. I did not discern any excitement.
Nobody would have guessed that at that very moment, in the center of the city, a stormy demonstration was taking place. It was the beginning of a massive protest that is still going on.
THE DEMONSTRATORS in Ramallah and other towns and villages in the West Bank are protesting against the high cost of living and the economic hardship in general.
Palestinian journalists told me that the price of gasoline in the West Bank is almost the same as in Israel: about eight shekels per liter. That would be about eight dollars per gallon in the US or 1.7 Euro per liter in Europe. Since the minimum wage in the West Bank, about 250 $ per month, is only a quarter of the Israeli minimum wage, that is atrocious. (This week the Palestinian Authority hastily lowered the price.)
Recently, on the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the Ramadan month of fasting, the occupation authorities surprisingly allowed 150 thousand Palestinians to enter Israel. Some went straight to the sea shore, which many of them had never seen before, though they live less than an hour’s drive away. Some went to visit ancestral homes. But many others went on a shopping spree. It appears that many goods are actually cheaper in Israel than in the impoverished occupied territories!
(By the way, not a single incident was reported that day.)
THE PROTESTS were against the Palestinian Authority. It’s a bit like a dog biting the stick, instead of the man who is wielding it.
Actually, the PA is quite helpless. It is bound by the Paris Protocol, the economic appendix of the Oslo agreement. Under this protocol, the occupied territories are part of the Israeli “customs envelope” and the Palestinians cannot fix their own customs duties.
Amira Hass of Haaretz quotes the following conditions: inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are not allowed to export their agricultural products; Israel exploits the water, minerals and other assets in the West Bank; Palestinian villagers pay much higher prices for water than Israeli settlers; Gaza fishermen cannot fish beyond three miles from the shore; Palestinian inhabitants are forbidden to travel on the main highways, compelling them to make costly and time-consuming detours.
But more than any restrictions, it’s the occupation itself that makes any real improvement impossible. What serious foreign investor would go to a territory where everything is subject to the whims of a military government which has every motive for keeping its subjects down? A territory where every act of resistance can provoke brutal retaliation, such as the physical destruction of Palestinian offices in the 2002 “Operation Defensive Shield”? Where goods for export can rot for months, if an Israeli competitor bribes an official?
Donor nations can give some money to the Palestinian Authority to keep it alive, but they cannot change the situation. Neither would the abolition of the Paris Protocol, as demanded by the demonstrators, change much. As long as the occupation is in place, any progress – if there is any – is conditional and temporary.
STILL, THE situation in the West Bank remains far better than the situation in the Gaza Strip.
True, as a result of the “Turkish flotilla”, the blockade of the Strip has been lifted to a large extent. Almost everything can now be brought into the Strip from Israel, though almost nothing can be brought out. Also, the naval blockade is in full force.
However, lately the situation there has been improving rapidly. The hundreds of tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border are in practice bringing in everything, from cars to gasoline to building materials. And now, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt, this border may be opened completely, a step that would radically change the economic situation of the Strip.
Nabeel Shaath, the top Palestinian diplomat, told me at the reception that this may actually be a major obstacle to PLO-Hamas reconciliation. Hamas may want to wait until the economic situation in the Strip surpasses that in the West Bank, reinforcing their chances to win all-Palestinian elections again. Mahmoud Abbas, on his part, hopes that the new Egyptian president will convince the Americans to support the West Bank and strengthen his Authority.
(When I reminded Shaath that years ago I attended his wedding at Jerusalem’s now desolate Orient House, he exclaimed: “We thought then that peace was just a step away! Since then, we have been thrown a long distance back!”)
DESPITE THE economic troubles, the picture of the Palestinians as a helpless, pitiable victim is far removed from reality. Israelis may like to think so, as well as pro-Palestinian sympathizers around the world. But the Palestinian spirit is unbroken. Palestinian society is vibrant and self-reliant. Most Palestinians are determined to achieve a state of their own.
Abbas may ask the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a “non-state member”. He may do so after the US elections. I wondered aloud if this would really change the situation. “It certainly would!” a prominent Palestinian at the reception assured me. “It would make clear that the Two-State solution is alive and put an end to the nonsense about a bi-national state.”
On the way to the reception I did not see a single women in the streets with her hair uncovered. The hijab was everywhere. I remarked on this to a Palestinian friend, who is quite unreligious. “Islam is gaining,” he said. “But that may be a good thing, because it is a moderate form of Islam that will block the radical ones. It is the same as in many other Arab countries.”
I did not perceive any sympathy for the Ayatollahs of Iran. But nobody wished for an Israeli attack. “If Iran bombs Israel in retaliation,” Nabeel Shaath remarked, “their missiles will not distinguish between Jews and Arabs. We live so close to each other, that Palestinians will be hit like the Israelis.”
SINCE my visit, the demonstrations in Ramallah have intensified. It seems that Fayyad serves as a kind of lightning rod for Abbas.
I don’t think that this is just. Fayyad seems to be a decent person. He is a professional economist, a former official of the International Monetary Fund. He is not a politician, not even a Fatah member. His economic viewpoint may be conservative, but I don’t think that this makes much of a difference considering the situation in Palestine.
Sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, the wrath of the Palestinian poor will change direction. Instead of blaming the Palestinian Authority, they will turn against their real oppressor: the occupation.
The Israeli government is aware of this possibility, and therefore made haste to pay the PA an advance on the tax money that Israel owes the PA. Otherwise the PA – by far the biggest employer in the West Bank – would be unable to pay salaries at the end of this month. But that is only a stopgap measure.
Binyamin Netanyahu may stick to the illusion that all is quiet on the Palestinian front, so that he can concentrate on his efforts to get Mitt Romney elected and frighten Iran. After all, when Palestinians are protesting against Palestinians, that’s OK. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is frozen. No problem.
But this illusion is, well, an illusion. In our conflict, nothing is ever frozen.
Not only are the settlement activities going on steadily – if quietly – but on the Palestinian side, too, things are moving. Pressures are building up. At some time, they will explode.
When the Arab Spring finally arrives in Palestine, its main target will not be Abbas or Fayyad. Abbas is no Mubarak. Fayyad is the very opposite of a Qaddafi. The target will be the occupation.
Some Palestinians dream about a new intifada, with masses of people marching non-violently against the symbols of the occupation. This may be too much to hope for – Martin Luther King was no Arab. But the demonstrations in Ramallah and Hebron may be a sign of things to come.
There is still truth in the old saying, that the conflict here is a clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object.