Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Suspends New Social Security Law

In 11th-hour move Palestinian leader averts general strike in the West Bank, partly because any future Fatah-based government will need to preserve its popular appeal

A protester holds a placard that reads in Arabic, "my salary is a red line," during a general strike protesting the Palestinian Social Security Law, Ramallah, West Bank, January 15, 2019.
Nasser Nasser,AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas backtracked on implementation of a new social security law Monday, one day before a planned general strike called by West Bank organizations opposing the controversial legislation.

The decision was a victory for the coalition that has taken shape in the past six months, which said the demonstration planned for Ramallah on Tuesday would instead become a celebration.

The growing movement has publicly expressed distrust of the Palestinian Authority government and its ability to safeguard the social insurance funds at its disposal without diverting them for other purposes. Changes to the law have not satisfied its opponents.

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The Fatah Revolutionary Council said on Monday it supported Abbas’ move as reflecting the wishes of the people.

“The Fatah movement was and is a mass movement, and will always stand with its heroic people, who are conducting a campaign of national liberation. We call on the masses of our public to make themselves available to address the challenges and to stand alongside the leadership of our people and the president at its head, which oppose the American and Israeli plans to eliminate the desire of our people for freedom,” the council said in a statement.

A hint of criticism can be seen in the Fatah statement against the popular movement, which it says diverted enormous efforts to supporting an issue which is not nationalistic in nature.

The social security law was intended to guarantee private-sector employees’ rights, including those related to pensions, maternity leave and disability coverage.

On Sunday, the Palestinian banks association said it intended to act according to the new law, which went into effect this month, and deduct money from employees and employers as required. But now Abbas’ order will make their declaration redundant. In 2016, the social security legislation was issued in the form of a presidential order.

The movement against the law is based on three main pillars: Palestinian employees in the private sector; the large corporations of the Palestinian economy and other employers; and large family clans — in particular from the Hebron area — most of whom own businesses of various sizes. The latter two groups are well organized and wield more influence than the private sector employees, who are spread out among many workplaces and whose official union, which is meant to represent them, is affiliated with the Fatah leadership. The union is weak and its head has been on the job for almost 30 years.

The Palestinian Authority leadership has been careful to keep a good relationship with the other two groups: with employers – as was reflected in the lowering of tax rates and a lack of enforcement of the minimum wage law – and with the clans, a source of conservative values and stability.

As long as Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his cabinet of “technocrats” were in power, it was possible to interpret the anger and lack of public faith stemming from opposition to the social security law as directed against the government in Ramallah. After Hamdallah resigned, or was forced out — and in advance of the establishment of a new cabinet that will obviously be dominated by Fatah members — Abbas and his movement must preserve their popular appeal.