18 July 2011
Does the Arab League really support Palestinian statehood?
By Pinhas Inbari
On 14 July 2011 the Arab League endorsed the PLO's bid for UN membership during a special meeting of the League's foreign ministers convened in Doha, Qatar. Was this response representative of the real position held by the Arab countries? Are they really on board with the idea? The Palestinians certainly should be happy with the all-Arab political endorsement of the statehood project, but in fact, they are far from satisfied.
The Arab states had already given their opinion on the Palestinian unilateral gambit when they dramatically decreased their donations to the Palestinian Authority. As a result, the PA was unable to pay salaries to its civil service, which represents the largest sector of employees in the West Bank and supports families numbering around 1 million people in total. Leading Palestinian writers have wondered how the PA could seek statehood, while it is unable to provide salaries to its own administration. The same Arab leaders that are asked to extend political support to the Palestinian state project have already decided to deny the Palestinian state much of the financial support it sorely requires. To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia – a leading Arab power – has not delivered a single penny to the PA this year. The rest of the Gulf countries have made good on only one third of their commitments.
Consequently, the Fatah-controlled trade union of governmental employees rejected Prime Minister Fayyad's offer that he reduce this month's salary by one half, thus confirming that the coffers are in a position to pay salaries and that the holdup is strictly political and designed to demonstrate the Palestinian Authority's inability to handle financial issues once Mr. Fayyad is relieved of his position as prime minister.
The Fatah-controlled trade union went even further, and for the first time openly accused Fayyad's government of corruption. Until recently, it was understood that PM Fayyad had succeeded in both establishing the infrastructure for statehood and in keeping it clean. Now, however, Fayyad has admitted that the PA cannot function without foreign donations. His Fatah rivals have charged his government with corruption, including adding the family members of ministers to the list of needy welfare recipients and even shaheed families.
Salam Fayyad is now the main obstacle that stands in the way of establishing a joint Fatah-Hamas government. While both rivals disagree on many things, they are, however, united in their demand to replace him. Hamas' rational is clear: Fayyad's government is the rival to its government in Gaza headed by Ismail Haniyya. Fatah now clamors to depose PM Fayyad, who is not a Fatah member, because he by-passed it and did not appoint its members as ministers in his government.
Furthermore, he denied their budgets, effectively drying up the Fatah movement. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas stands firmly behind the demand that Fayyad continue to serve as prime minister in the post-reconciliation government because he understands that without him Western donations will peter out. Ironically, the decrease in donations has come from the East – the PA's Arab allies.
Politically, the Arab League has endorsed the Palestinian unilateral move to statehood, but will it guarantee its economic viability? No Arab country will ever publicly come out against advancing Palestinian statehood, but as far as facts on the ground go, the message is loud and clear.
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