The high cost of living has prompted thousands of Palestinians to call for the scalp of the prime minister, who should be a hero for rooting out corruption
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Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is footing the political bill for the recent increase in Israel’s fuel prices. Thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank - from Hebron in the south to Jenin in the north - protested the high cost of living, specifically against the recent hike in fuel prices. The protesters denounced the prime minister and called for his resignation. One even burned a photo of Fayyad. However in this case, it seems, the masses are picking an easy target.
Fayyad, who was appointed prime minister in 2007 after Hamas seized control over Gaza, has managed to generate nothing short than miracles in the West Bank. After years of anarchy and chaos, peace has been restored to the streets of the Palestinian cities: Armed militants have disappeared; the newly rehabilitated security forces are now operating with efficiency; many West Bank roads have been repaved and the government - and most prominently the Finance Ministry which until recently was under Fayyad’s direct supervision – has waged an all-out war against corruption.
Businessmen owning monopolistic companies in the Palestinian Authority were forced to compete for contracts (and of course lose); corrupt officers and clerks have been removed from public service. And that's only part of a long and impressive list of accomplishments.
I have written in the past how I wish Israel had a prime minister with the vision and executive capabilities that Fayyad possesses. I still believe that.
Fayyad’s problem is that he belongs to the wrong organization. He is not a member of Fatah or Hamas. Fayyad has made plenty of enemies in both factions, some in professional unions controlled by Fatah, but also among business figures and clans that controlled the Palestinian economy during the “golden” - and inundated-with-corruption - Oslo period.
Fayyad may have hoped that his political independence would provide him with wide public support. But, as it turns out, cleaning house is not enough for the Palestinians. They also want economic growth, which refuses to come.
The West Bank economy is in significant decline, and the Fayyad government is finding it difficult to pay salaries. Myriad financial agreements, among them the Paris Protocol, tie the West Bank's economy to Israel's. This dependency has certain advantages, such as customs duties that provide the Palestinian Authority with annual revenues of nearly half a billion dollars.
There are also, however, disadvantages: from funds Israel refuses to transfer to the PA despite its obligation to do so (sales tax, for example), to the cost of fuel, which is entirely dependent on Israel. At the same time, various donor countries, primarily Arab states, are not meeting their commitments to the PA. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, Fayyad and his government don't have enough money. All these factors have rendered impossible for the PA to manage its economic affairs.
At the same time, Gaza's economy continues to grow at a rapid rate. A major factor is the “free trade zone” under the border at Rafah – the 1,200 tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza through supplies, gasoline for example, is provided at a ridiculous price.
Beyond that, Arab countries (Qatar is one example) are aiding the Hamas government, while the PA continues to pay the salaries of some 60 to 70 thousand of its employees who reside in Gaza and now get paid for doing nothing.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is barely involved in the day-to-day financial affairs, and so all the anger is channeled to Fayyad – the same miracle-worker who managed to improve the economy and bring in more and more donations without requiring military forces to guard his back.
As may have been predicted, aides close to Fayyad reported that the prime minister is considering resigning as soon as Abbas returns to Ramallah from Egypt, which he was visiting Wednesday.