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A Palestinian Crisis of Expectation

August 1, 2013
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Experts on the local political scene, as well as insiders in the PA, believe his sudden resignation was prompted by a power struggle between himself and two deputy prime ministers appointed by Mahmoud Abbas, both close aides to the president. The consensus is that Hamdallah was deprived of rights the prime minister is guaranteed by the Palestinian constitution while the president by-passed him and gave sweeping powers to the two deputies.

Resignation Signals Internal Strife 

A woman shows her inc-stained finger, indicating that she has voted in Palestinian elections.
Ryan Rodrick Beiler/ Shutterstock.com
Salam Fayyad, the previous prime minister, tendered his resignation in April and many believe the two back-to-back resignations will significantly erode the ability of the PA to continue getting necessary financial and political support in the international arena. And for many Palestinians, Hamdallah’s resignation was a symbol of a government with no ability to lead or commitment to the people. Increasingly, Palestinians are dismissing their government as a sham. “There is no system,” says Basem Zubeidi, political science professor at Bir Zeit University. “Everyone knows that there are no ministers, no ministries, and no government because they have no real mandate to do anything. There is no authority, there is no money, there is nothing.”

According to Major General Nitzan Alon, Commander in Chief of the IDF Central Command, this is not only bad for Palestinians, it is very bad for Israel. The region has actually enjoyed a few years of stability compared to a decade ago when bus bombings were a common occurrence throughout Israel and terrorism was at an all-time high. But as confidence in Palestinian leadership has dwindled, a change of atmosphere has crept back into Palestinian society. The number of rocks and Molotov cocktails being thrown at civilians has doubled in the last few months and violence is on the rise. Alon reports that Fatah, which has traditionally claimed to favor political resistance over violence, is increasingly involved in terror.

Further, Hamas has become powerful in the West Bank as well. Through humanitarian outreaches and social assistance, they have garnered the support of over half the area’s Arab population. According to Alon, this has created an area of mutual interest and concern between Israel and the PA, with both security forces working to stem the growing tide of Hamas activity in the area. Although the role of the IDF in Judea and Samaria is very difficult, balancing tensions and functioning in a very complex and fragile situation, the relative calm seen over the last decade is in no small measure due to their success at stabilizing the security situation and countering terrorism.

Real Stability Includes Economic Growth

However, experts agree that real stability is not just a military issue, but economic growth and reform are equally essential. That calm has allowed Israel to ease security restrictions which in turn has theoretically boosted the economy in the area. The PA reports that economic reform has resulted in significant improvement in private demand for goods and services as well as in the areas of industry and agriculture.

But the facts on the ground paint a much different picture. The PA has been in financial crisis for several years, often having difficulty paying salaries to the tens of thousands of government employees on time, if at all. This includes the security forces as well as teachers, doctors, and others whose responsibility it is to provide services to the people. And any economic growth that has been achieved is not the result of productive economic activity. Rather, it is the result of external assistance. The PA is dependent on the international community, says Alon, with the United Nations and individual countries pouring millions into the PA economy each year. According to him, it is a goal of the IDF, whenever possible, to maintain the security situation not just to protect Israel's home front, but to allow the Palestinian people the opportunity to prosper, living honest lives free from dependence on foreign governments.

Disillusionment Leads to Despair

And here is where the greatest concern lies. Years of indoctrination and propaganda have convinced the Palestinian people that Israel is an evil occupier and the entire land of Israel is rightfully theirs. Furthermore, the leadership has convinced them that years of resistance plus patience would eventually result in the expulsion of the Jews from the area. But if the disillusionment with the current political situation continues, some have come to fear what is being called a “crisis of expectation” among the Palestinian public. Should the current instability undercut international support for the PA, both financial and political, the resulting sense that leadership has failed again may push the Palestinian people into a popular grassroots revolt. Following the example of the many nations involved in uprisings during the Arab Spring, such a development fueled by Palestinian terrorist groups could quickly devolve into a full scale action against Israel.

At the time of this writing, Mahmoud Abbas has two weeks to appoint a new prime minister. His choice will not only affect his government, but may well determine the future of the Palestinian hope for statehood and Israel's dream of living in peace.

Source: By Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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