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Economic Protests in Ramallah: The Word on the Street

Alyssa Goldstein
September 10, 2012

by Alyssa Goldstein
I’m reporting this week from the Jewish Currents Ramallah office (kidding. I’m just here visiting). I happen to be here at a time when the West Bank is rife with economic protests. People are angry at the rising costs of living, Palestinian Authority employees aren’t being paid their salaries, and taxi drivers are staging work disruptions to protest the high price of fuel. On Wednesday, the taxi drivers stopped their cabs in the middle of the streets, halting traffic for two hours. A professor at Bir Zeit University told me that even though the work stoppage had caused her and many others to miss classes, all the other professors and students she spoke to voiced support and solidarity for the taxi drivers. There was talk that if they don’t make an agreement with the Palestinian Authority by Monday, the taxi drivers will stop traffic for the whole day. Now the talk seems to indicate that there will be a general strike . . .
Many of my friends who have talked to me about the protests have critiqued them for being overly fixated on Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the PA. There are reports that Fayyad is ready to resign in response to these protests. Fayyad has garnered both popularity and criticism for his economic policies, which are centered around building a free market and developing lots of infrastructure. Since negotiations with Israel haven’t gotten anywhere, the logic of Fayyadism goes, the PA can create a de facto Palestinian state by building infrastructure and state institutions. However, there are some doubts as to whether a policy of “put some capitalism on it, it’ll be fine” is a good strategy for the future of Palestine. By forging ahead with economic development, occupation be damned, Fayyadism has ensured that this development is concentrated in the ostensibly PA-controlled Area A, where it most benefits upper-middle class Palestinians. Fayyadism can’t end the occupation by creating “facts on the ground” because it is already constrained by Israeli “facts on the ground,” which split the West Bank up into non-geographically contiguous cantons.
But I digress. In any case, by setting up Fayyad as a scapegoat, the PA may be able to consolidate its power, even though it’s not as if Fayyad alone is responsible for the policies which are causing economic distress for working-class Palestinians. The protests have been escalating for the past few days, with protests last night blocking off the main road between the north and south of the West Bank, and a main commercial road between Bethlehem and Ramallah, Wadi al-Nar, with burning tires and rocks. Some protesters have further elaborated on their economic demands, calling for the abrogation of the Paris Agreement of 1993, which set forth the economic relations between the PA and Israel, and has been criticized for solidifying the economic inequality facilitated by the Oslo Accords.
There has also been talk, and some reporting in the Arabic-language news, that these protests are in part being supported by Fateh, out of their desire to oust Fayyad and place another Fateh representative as Prime Minister (Fateh has unofficially attempted to do so for awhile, and these protests provide an opportunity for them to ride on the back of the protests’ momentum). Now, keep in mind that this is just what I’ve been hearing, and my knowledge of the Arabic-language press can only be gleaned second-hand. The nature of Fateh’s involvement in these protests (if they are involved at all) may become more clear in the future.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech on Saturday addressing the wave of protests, announcing that workers would not receive their full salaries this month due to the decline in donor aid. Abbas also payed lip service to the right of citizens to protest, as long as those protests remain peaceful and within the bounds of the law. Given the fact that Abbas’ government attempted to brutally suppress peaceful protests earlier this summer, his words are not exactly confidence-inspiring.