Palestinian Protests in West Bank Highlight Link Between Economy and Security

Opinion survey shows 40 percent of Palestinians believe economic crisis is 'manufactured'; 66 feel compelled to demonstrate for lack of a guaranteed better future.

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.