Public transport strikes to continue
Published Tuesday 11/09/2012 (updated) 13/09/2012 17:05
Protesters throw shoes at a banner of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
during a demonstration against high living costs in Hebron on Sept. 10.
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Public transport drivers will strike for one hour on Wednesday and Thursday in protest over economic concessions by the government they say are insufficient.
Head of the general federation of Palestinian trade unions Shahir Saad told Ma'an that union members had flooded to Ramallah to hear Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's measures to ease economic hardship, but were disappointed by his concessions.
Public transport drivers will strike from 2.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, Saad said.
"If no real measures are taken to ease the drivers’ crisis, a general strike will be announced for next Monday," he added.
Fayyad told reporters on Tuesday he would roll back a recent 1 percent VAT increase by 0.5 percent, bringing the tax to 15 percent. In August, VAT stood at 14.5 percent.
The premier also announced he would reverse an increase in diesel, gas and kerosene costs back to August prices, following a week of mass protests and strikes at rising costs.
The head of the public transport union also rejected Fayyad's measures and said fuel prices even before the recent hike were beyond drivers' means.
"These decisions are unsatisfactory, and we will continue in our protests," Jawad Omran told Reuters.
Fayyad: 'We're doing the best we can'
Fayyad has been a focal point of the protests. Demonstrators in Hebron pelted a giant poster of him with shoes on Monday and chants throughout the West Bank described him as "a collaborator with the Americans" and called for his resignation.
Thousands of youths attacked a police station in Hebron on Monday night, calling for the dismissal of both Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.
In the wake of Monday's violence, messages were posted on Facebook and other social media appealing for calm.
"Protest, but don't destroy your country," said one message, adding: "Palestine is bigger than everyone."
Fayyad is struggling to keep finances afloat in the face of a slowdown in foreign donor aid and continued Israeli trade restrictions.
Underlying his problems, government employees, many of whom will receive only part of their August salaries because of a government cash crisis, staged a strike on Tuesday and hundreds of them picketed the government cabinet meeting.
"We're doing the best we can, and we have been all along," Fayyad said.
"I hope that the Palestinian citizen could look at this situation, in light of the unique hardships we face, and will find it sufficient. It represents the maximum, most intensive effort to get to a solution, he added.
PA struggling under Israeli restrictions
Fayyad said the shortfall created by the slash in taxes would be made up by cutting high-end government salaries and scaling back the operations of some ministries, but that only donor aid could pay the bills in the short term, pending greater economic independence for the Palestinians.
Out of cash and bound by economic accords that peg its sales tax to steep Israeli rates, the PA is struggling to salvage its legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and officials have blamed Israel for its economic woes.
"There are clear limits to what the Palestinian Authority can achieve economically given the context of Israeli restrictions it experiences," Fayyad said.
Abbas initially welcomed the protests when they started to pop up last week, equating them with the Arab Spring democracy movements and pinning the blame firmly on Israel for the economic turbulence.
But if the unrest escalates, it could undermine his own position, with the president having little to show for his policy of seeking a negotiated peace settlement with Israel. Protesters in Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus demanded Abbas' resignation in protests Monday night.
The president appeared to circle his wagons around the embattled Fayyad late last week, describing the premier as an "integral part" of his administration and taking responsibility for the government's actions.
Azzam al-Ahmad, a top member of Abbas' Fatah party, rejected Tuesday's government decision, hinting at the animosity of Fatah officials toward the Western-educated technocrat that has lingered for years.
"It is not enough. It won't solve the problems and doesn't support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people," al-Ahmad said.
Reuters contributed to this report.