New PA Prime Minister
On 13 April, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas swore in 22 ministers in a new PA cabinet, which will be headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. The former cabinet was dissolved after the former prime minister Rami Hamdallah resigned in late January. 5 of the ministers in the new cabinet retained their positions and 17 ministers were not part of the former cabinet. Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the new government, citing that it will cause division among the Palestinian people.
“Peace to Prosperity” Workshop
The PA was very clear in its condemnation of the Bahrain-U.S.-hosted “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, which took place on 25 June–26 June. When the workshop—which focused solely on the economic aspect of the U.S. peace plan—was announced on 19 May, Palestinian officials said that they had not been consulted about the workshop and warned that any solution must be political. In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary-general Saeb Erakat laid out the argument for why the Palestinian leadership would not attend the workshop, writing: “[l]et us be clear: There will be no economic prosperity in Palestine without the end of the occupation.” Prime Minister Shtayyeh said to the New York Times that he was hoping that Arab countries would not partake in the workshop, adding that, “we know also that there are countries who are under serious pressure. Some can afford the pressure, and some cannot afford the pressure.” In June, after it was revealed that Egyptian and Jordanian officials would attend, the PA urged both to reconsider. No Palestinian or Israeli official was invited to the workshop, but businesspeople from both were. The PA urged all Palestinians to boycott the workshop. After the workshop ended, 1 Palestinian businessperson who attended was arrested by Palestinian security forces in Hebron. The man was released 2 days later. During the workshop in Bahrain, Palestinians in major cities throughout the West Bank protested the workshop and a general strike was observed in Gaza (for more on the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, see United States).
After the Israeli government in mid-February started implementing a law passed in July 2018 which allows the Israeli government to withhold parts of the PA tax revenue collected by Israel, the PA economy has been troubled. Israel has since been withholding funds amounting to what Israel believes the PA pays to Palestinians in Israeli prisons and their families, which is estimated to be $140 million yearly. In March, the PA started paying its public servants half their monthly salary, which continued throughout this quarter. The PA said from the beginning of Israel’s withholding of parts of the tax revenue that it would refuse to accept any of the revenue that is paid in part, a position that was reiterated several times this quarter. In May, the PA returned tax revenues transferred by Israel because it was not the full amount due; the PA also did so last quarter.
By the end of the quarter, the governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) warned that the suspension of U.S. aid coupled with the PA-Israeli dispute over the tax revenue had made the Palestinian financial situation on the brink of collapsing. PMA governor Azzam Shawwa said of the PA economy: “I don’t know where we are heading. This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for tomorrow.” After several appeals from the PA leadership, the Arab League pledged to give the PA financial aid totaling $100 million a month in the form of grants and loans. The European Union similarly started providing financial aid for the pay of PA civil servants in April, amounting to $16.69 million a month. Qatar also contributed with $300 million to support the PA’s budget for health and education sectors in May.
Enriching the PA Leadership
Leaked documents showed that the Palestinian cabinet in secret gave itself high payouts and financial perks, like a 67 percent pay raise. The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a tweet that he had spoken to PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh about the issue and that Shtayyeh had committed to stop the practice and investigate the issue. Former prime minister Rami Hamdallah, who was prime minister when the raises were enacted in 2017, released a statement, saying, “[c]abinet ministers requested the raise in 2017 from President Abbas, who approved it while taking into consideration the rising cost of living.”
Palestine Liberation Organization
PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi was denied a visa to the U.S. on 13 May for a personal trip. In February, U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt had tweeted to Ashrawi that she was “always welcome” to meet him at the White House. The U.S. State Department did not provide Ashrawi or the media a reason for the rejection of her visa request.
In the beginning of this quarter, Hamas and Israel reached an understanding for a period of calm after intense bombardment of Gaza in late March. The Egyptian-mediated understanding included, according to Hamas’s political leader Yahya Sinwar, expansion of the list of items allowed into Gaza, easing restrictions on import and export, and for the mobility of traders. Sinwar also announced that Qatar will transfer $30 million a month to assist the impoverished until the end of 2019. On 20 June, the chairman of Hamas’s political bureau Ismail Haniyeh said that Israel was dragging its feet in implementing the agreements made earlier this quarter, specifically pointing to lack of freedom of movement.