Move hurts Palestinian people as crime rises and money disappears amid pandemic
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s halt to security and economic ties with Israel in May has led to an increase in lawlessness and is partly responsible for businesses closing, people in the West Bank say.
Abbas decided to pull the PA out of agreements with Israel, including security coordination, to protest plans by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank.
He ordered Palestinian forces to withdraw from territory under full Israeli control or shared control.
Area C, one of three zones demarcated under the Oslo Accords, is under full Israeli control, while Area A, where most Palestinians live, is under total Palestinian control. Abbas withdrew the Palestinian forces that had been in Area C to Area A.
Area B is under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil administration, but understandings have enabled PA forces to operate there in a limited way.
As a result, movement by the Palestinian security forces has been hampered.
“There is still security control by our forces in many areas due to the loyalty of people who rallied around the leadership,” Abdullah Kameel, a former security official who today is governor of the Salfit Governorate, in the central West Bank, tells The Media Line.
However, security forces have had difficulty performing their duties, he says. For example, when there is “shooting in a certain area, we cannot leave this area due to the presence of the Israeli army and police.”
He also cites the lack of security coordination.
“If we go outside our areas, there will definitely be friction between the Palestinian forces and the Israeli forces,” he says.
If we go outside our areas, there will definitely be friction between the Palestinian forces and the Israeli forces
Kameel adds that back in the days of security cooperation, there was a “hotline” between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“Previously there was immediate communication – a signal from the Palestinian security coordination officer to the other side to inform them of our plans,” he explains.
Since the rupture, the crime rate has increased, he says, claiming that many of the suspects hold Israeli identity cards, making it easy for them to escape the grasp of the Palestinian police.
“It happened a few days ago, when a Palestinian police car was stopped by Israeli security, with two outlaws who had been arrested by the Palestinian security forces inside the vehicle,” he relates. “They both had Israeli identity cards and were released by the Israelis.”
They both had Israeli identity cards and were released by the Israelis
The Israeli military responded to an inquiry from The Media Line about this incident.
“Israeli archaeologists in Area C were detained by the Palestinian Police with no authority. Therefore, they were released by IDF forces that arrived at the scene,” the military said.
The governor alleges that the Israelis are intentionally trying to create problems “to pressure the Palestinians” to resume security coordination.
“They want to weaken the image of the Palestinian security services in the minds of Palestinian citizens and send a message that problems can be solved and matters can go [more smoothly] through security coordination,” he says.
He notes that security personnel are often forced to wear civilian clothing to make it easier to get around, and insists that they are able to do their job.
“We have arrested armed men and drug traffickers. We have security personnel who live with people in all areas. We cannot but serve and protect our people,” he states.
After suspending security ties, Abbas began to refuse millions of dollars in tax money collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. This money accounts for more than 60% of the PA’s budget.
The PA – the largest employer in the West Bank – is now teetering on the brink of economic collapse. It has not been able to pay the salaries of civilian employees regularly or in full. When it does pay, these employees receive just half of their wages.
In 2018, the US halted more than $200 million in aid to the PA. Money from international and Gulf donors has all but disappeared, and the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the Palestinian economy has been devastating.
Taysir Fraige, owner of a Ramallah automobile dealership, tells The Media Line that the lack of security ties has increased the area’s economic problems.
“Without security ties, we can’t transport our cars from Israeli ports [to the Palestinian territories], and we have to pay for storage,” he says. “Undoubtedly, we in the auto sector have been greatly affected.”
Fraige, a Palestinian-American businessman, says he has been forced to close one of his showrooms.
“We have a complex problem, the most prominent of which is the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected the whole world,” he explains. “But we have our own circumstances in Palestine, the first of which is the cessation of security coordination, which has resulted in irregular salaries and an unstable economy, and this makes people hesitant to make decisions on purchases.”
Fraige says he has incurred major losses owing to the suspension of security cooperation – and is not alone.
“Every car dealer has a daily loss of thousands of dollars,” he notes, adding that the demand for cars has dropped by at least 40%, meaning that prices and profit margins have also declined.
Every car dealer has a daily loss of thousands of dollars
“These conditions have sown confusion among merchants who sell and import. We have fixed expenses every day whether we sell or not,” Fraige says.
Samir Al-Ghani, a Palestinian-American businessman who works in the import-export field, tells The Media Line that his sales have dropped significantly in the past few months.
“The onset of the coronavirus crisis and the cessation of security coordination affected my business in a big way, and sales have virtually stopped,” he states. “I have goods piled up in warehouses or in ports that I cannot deliver to customers in Israel, or [bring] from Israel to the Palestinian territories.”
If the situation does not change soon, Ghani says, he will close down.
“This is pushing me to leave the country and return to the United States,” he says.
This is pushing me to leave the country and return to the United States
Even though the Israeli government has not acted to annex parts of the West Bank as part of its normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, Palestinian officials say the move remains a possibility. Yet people who initially supported the end to security cooperation and tax transfers are now questioning the wisdom of continuing down the same path.
Abu Ali works for a government ministry and is one of the PA’s 160,000 employees in the West Bank. He tells the Media Line that he sold his only car to pay his mounting bill at the local supermarket.
“My full [monthly] salary, which was less than $1,000, wasn’t enough. Now, with them paying only half, it makes the situation even worse,” he notes. “I can’t buy all the school supplies my kids need.”
The time has come, he says, for the PA to at least accept the tax funds from Israel.
“It is we who suffer the most, not the president [Abbas] or the officials,” the father of four laments.
It is we who suffer the most, not the president or the officials
“What do they care? They still get their full salary and enjoy life. I’ve been able to buy meat for my family only once in the past two months,” he says.
“I’m ashamed of myself,” he continues. “I feel that I’ve failed my family. I don’t know what to do now.”