Weekly protests raising the heat on Mahmoud Abbas’ Ramallah-based government
For nearly 100 hundred days Palestinians have been staging protests against a widely-detested social security law, raising the pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ government. The law, passed by decree, established the Social Security Corporation, an entity that administers retirement benefits on behalf of Palestinian West Bank residents.
On Wednesday, despite difficult weather conditions, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the city center of Ramallah to voice their dismay over the measure. To date, smaller rallies have taken place in other towns such as Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jenin.
“The PA claims that the number of Palestinian protesters against the law is less than the number that supports it,” Amer Hamdan, a spokesman for the National Social Security Movement (NSSM), a grassroots organization that opposes the move, told The Media Line. “This has led to the majority being subjected to the will of the minority.
“The PA maintains that a social security fund is a national demand everywhere,” he elaborated, “but given the ongoing political and economic instability, social security is the last thing the Palestinian people need.”
Numerous Palestinians expressed similar sentiments to The Media Line, questioning the legitimacy of the initiative which they described as “biased.” That the unilateral move was implemented outside the framework of a proper legislative process adds to the concerns of a citizenry already distressed by intermittent tensions with Israel as well as the longstanding division between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Abbas’ Fatah faction.
“The concept of social security is not necessarily a bad thing but the way it was implemented is not ideal,” Yamen, a Palestinian activist who asked that his last name not be disclosed, asserted to The Media Line. “It is critical that this type of legislation, which affects people’s lives quite directly, be clearly understood by the general population.
“Palestinians may or may not agree with such socialist measures from an ideological point of view but the only way to know the details is through democratic means such as a vote.”
Since the Hamas forcibly evicted Fatah from the Palestinian coastal enclave in 2007, Abbas has introduced all regulations by presidential edict—a scenario that will persist until new elections are held. Notably, the Palestinian Legislative Council passed 90 laws between its establishment in 1996 and it’s shuttering a decade later, whereas Abbas enacted over 140 laws during the ten-year period ending in 2016.
Hamdan thus claims that the PA does not take into consideration the will of its people, treating them as “slaves.” Accordingly, he believes that “if the PA in its current form was to run in elections, no Palestinian would vote for it.”
Presently, Palestinians employed by Israeli companies remit taxes to the Histadrut—the country’s labor federation—which, in turn, pays out social security benefits. Nevertheless, the PA has in the past argued that an economic protocol with Israel permits Ramallah to request that these finds be transferred to various internal Palestinian departments.
“The PA has the option to ask for these amounts,” Hamdan asserted, “and last year it received 22 million shekels [about $6 million] from Israel.”
Recently, many Palestinians that work in Israel staged a demonstration at the Qalandiya checkpoint where they garnered signatures for a petition calling on the Histadrut to not send their money to the PA due to a lack of trust.
Since the formulation two years ago of the controversial social security draft-law, the NSSM has spearheaded the largest series of anti-government popular demonstrations in the West Bank in many years.