West Bank Workers Strike Amid Financial Woes

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A Palestinian man waves his national flag on the sidelines of a march organized by inhabitants of the West Bank village Nabi Saleh on 21 December 2012 (Photo: AFP - Abbas Momani)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Friday, December 21, 2012

A budget deficit, Israeli seizure of tax revenues, and non-delivery of promised Arab aid leave Palestinian public employees’ salaries unpaid.

Ramallah – Despite the Palestinian Authority’s announcement that arrangements had been made to pay half of the public sector’s overdue wages, workers went ahead with a general strike on Wednesday,19 December 2012.

The strike paralyzed public services throughout the West Bank as the financial crisis within the Palestinian Authority (PA) continued to worsen. At the center of the crisis is the Israeli government’s withholding of Palestinian tax and tariff revenues and Arab states falling through on their promised financial “safety net.”

The PA said that Israel’s refusal to make its monthly transfer of about $100 million in Palestinian tax and tariff revenues is a way to penalize the Palestinians for being granted non-member state status by the UN, thus obtaining de facto international recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Israel had publicly threatened to withhold the PA’s tax revenues if the Palestinians succeeded in their UN bid, prompting Arab foreign ministers to offer the PA a $100 million monthly “safety net” should that happen.

On Thursday, 20 December 2012, Palestinian banks announced that they would lend the PA $100 million. The loans are expected to be repaid when the Arab League delivers on its financial safety net.

The strike of some 50,000 workers lasted two days and led to the closure of all schools, ministries and official institutions, but not the PA’s security agencies. Plans are being made to organize a further series of strikes next week if employees’ salaries remain unpaid. Several public employees told Al-Akhbar that regardless of the strike, they wouldn’t be showing up to work in any case, since they could no longer afford the commute to work.

The half-wage pledged by the finance ministry applies to November salaries. The last pay received by PA employees was in October, paid out at the end of last month. No promises have been made about this month’s wages, which will be delayed as well if the money is not available.

The head of the public sector workers union in the West Bank, Bassam Zakarneh, affirmed that the strike was held primarily in protest of Israel’s “piracy” and seizure of the PA’s funds. He said that despite the disruption it caused to public services, it was important to highlight the seriousness of the consequences of the Israeli move and the impoverished condition of many public sector workers.

But activist Mohammad Abu-Allan doubted the stoppage would have any practical impact on the PA. “Although the strike was total right across the public sector institutions, the evidence indicates that trade union structures are too weak to worry the government enough to force it to accommodate them,” he remarked.

”The crisis is complex and multi-faceted,“ said political analyst Muhammad Hawwash. “On the one hand, the Authority has been running a $30 million monthly budget deficit which shows up in the final months of the year. Add to this the Israeli government’s freezing of Palestinian tax revenues estimated at 500 million shekels per month, and on top of that, making things even harder, you have the delay in the arrival of the Arab aid.”

Journalist Daoud Kuttab took the view that Arab and other aid, while indispensible, was being deliberately held up as a means of putting political pressure on the PA. “We cannot divorce from the Arabs. That’s not the problem, but it is clear that there are political dues to pay, and the PA is not happy about paying them,” he said, adding that the key issues holding up the promised funds were related to the inter-Palestinian reconciliation process.

“It is well known that states base their international relations on their interests,” Kuttab added. “It would seem that the interests of some states, as they see them, are a main reason for the lateness or non-arrival of the Arab and other aid.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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