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Arab Spring hits the West Bank

MaanImages/Eleonora Vio, Wajdi Jafari, stringer

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Sept. 6 announced he would resign if that was the will of the people, amid growing protests across the West Bank over the rising cost of living. Palestinians have taken to the streets for three days in mass demonstrations against price rises and unemployment, and protesters in cities across the West Bank have called for Fayyad's resignation. In Hebron, protesters burned an effigy of the premier.

Fayyad sadi he could not set a date for paying government workers their August salaries because the Palestinian Authority was waiting on donor funds to arrive. He also admitted the PA needs to be restructured on a democratic basis to address political and economic crises. The PA is waiting for the US Congress to approve a request by President Barack Obama to pay $200 million to the Ramallah government. A hoped-for $1.1 billion in 2011 reached only $750 million, as pledges from Gulf states in particular fell short.

Fayyad also emphasized that the PA's economic growth is hindered by Israeli restrictions. Fayyad charged that Israel has paralyzed economic development in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli military control. Israel frequently demolishes development projects in Area C, and has not implemented provisions in the Paris Protocol of 1994 to allow Palestinians access to Israeli markets. Israel's control of the West Bank's borders hinders the export market, and restrictions on imports limit domestic industries. Israel has serially withheld the payments import duties as punishment for past Palestinian political maneuvers, such as negotiations with Hamas or UN statehood initiatives.

But Palestinian protesters are demanding Fayyad's resignation and calling on the PA to set a minimum wage, create jobs for the unemployed and lower university fees. Union leaders addressed the crowds and said they would not remain silent amid rising prices, growing unemployment and lack of welfare, which they said had led to an economic "tsunami."

Taxis and buses blocked roads in Jenin. Taxi drivers, angry at a five percent hike in fuel prices, organized a mass strike across the West Bank, causing traffic jams through the morning rush hour. In Tulkarem, protesters marched with donkeys to show that fuel had made conventional transport unaffordable as the taxi strike shut down traffic in the city. They chanted "Salam, leave, the people want Fayyad to step down." (Ma'an News Agency, Sept. 7)

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