Palestinians Demand Paychecks In Deepening Crisis

RAMALLAH (Reuters) -

Hundreds of Palestinian government workers protested outside their prime minister’s office on Tuesday, saying they had not received a full salary in almost three months amid a deepening financial crisis.

The demonstration in downtown Ramallah was the latest in a series of sporadically violent protests over cuts and tough austerity measures.

“Our government did not plan for this rainy day, and we think that it has not found any way to deal with this crisis,” said the head of Government Employees’ Union, Bassam Zakarneh, at the protest.

But from a high of $1.8 billion in 2008, foreign aid plummeted to around $600 million last year, according to the Palestinian Monetary Authority.

Despite the shortfalls, hiring has continued to rise in the Palestinian Authority’s swollen public sector, and efforts to improve tax and utility bill collections have only increased the public anger.

Anti-austerity protests in September descended into violent clashes with police and calls for the downfall of the government.

Frustrated Palestinian officials said Arab countries had failed to deliver a $100-million monthly “safety net” promised before the U.N. statehood move and accused Washington of pressing its Gulf allies not to pay.

“The U.S. administration made clear threats before our moves at the U.N. that our success would mean a political and financial siege,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, a leader in the PLO.

The U.S. consulate in Yerushalayim did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Around $200 million in U.S. budget assistance pledged by Washington in 2012 has been held up by Congress, which is opposed to Palestinian moves that it says undermines Israel’s security.

Israel said in December it was retaining the dues to cover millions of dollars of unpaid bills with local utility firms.

“[Arab countries] know the depth of the crisis that will engulf us if their policy of not helping a brotherly country persists,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on a visit to Tunis on Monday.