The Palestinian Authority is facing a severe fiscal crunch that threatens to make the looming showdown at the United Nations next month even more risky for all sides: Israel, the United States, and Palestinians themselves.
Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad pray in Ramallah last month. (Mohamad Torokman / Courtesy Reuters)
With anti-American unrest spreading through the Muslim world and an ongoing crisis unfolding in Syria, one might be forgiven for missing the wave of Palestinian protests that swept through the Israeli-occupied West Bank this month. The uprising virtually paralyzed life in Palestinian cities, with scenes reminiscent of the first intifada: burning tires, shuttered shops, and general strikes punctuated by occasional clashes between rock-throwing Palestinian youths and uniformed security forces. What began as a relatively limited display of anger over soaring prices and unpaid salaries soon became, as the Associated Press put it, “the largest show of popular discontent with the Palestinian Authority [PA] in its 18-year existence.” The intensity of the protests has subsided in recent days, but the sentiments behind them will persist, plaguing Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and U.S. policy toward the region.
For ten straight days, starting on September 5, thousands of Palestinians, upset over rising food and fuel prices and the PA’s inability to pay government salaries, took to the streets to demand the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. These initial demonstrations were exploited by members of Fatah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ faction, with the aim of sidelining Abbas’ longtime rival and perhaps winning concessions from Israel and the PA’s foreign donors. But the protests quickly took on a life of their own, spreading to cities across the West Bank and eventually leading to demands for the ouster of Abbas, too.
In a bid to shore up the crisis, Fayyad relented and agreed to rescind planned price increases and promised to pay salaries. Israel consented to transfer in advance some of the Palestinian tax revenue it collects, and the European Union pledged to pitch in more money to the cash-strapped PA. These measures, along with the regional controversy over a crudely made anti-Islam video that also sparked protests by Palestinians, seem to have dampened the intensity of the anti-PA demonstrations for now.