Written by: Adham Manasra
The ongoing strikes carried out by unions and associations in the West Bank have reached an ultimate peak. This indicates a crisis that has been building for many years. The escalation could be compared to a growing bill that has yet to be paid.
It is clear that the recent strikes across various Palestinian sectors are not merely seasonal or driven by demand manipulation. Rather, they represent a cumulative result of a policy of crisis postponement adopted by successive Palestinian governments, which failed to provide fundamental solutions. These governments resorted to a manoeuvring approach to stop strikes through bilateral agreements with unions, often at the expense of citizens' interests.
Governments often utilise three tactics to subdue the waves of strikes: 1. They may delay a crisis through bilateral agreements that do not ensure the government's fulfilment of its obligations, 2. Attempt to shift the burden onto citizens in one way or another, as seen in previous agreements with the Doctors' Syndicate and other unions, 3. The government attempts to encourage affected citizens to take an anti-strike position.
The third attempted results in citizens paying the price on both fronts. The first is during the crisis and when a resolution is achieved through bilateral agreements that end up making the citizens pay the price. Citizens are already enduring challenging economic and social circumstances amidst high costs and inadequate wages. Moreover, the declining job prospects in the small Palestinian market is grappling with both longstanding and emerging crises, which further exacerbate the situation.
While it is true that teachers, doctors, engineers and others are all citizens, there exists a significantly large segment of citizens who lack representation through unions. This group of citizens has become a marginalised and excluded party amidst the ongoing crisis. Furthermore, the absence of a legislative authority over the years has led to the non-existence of a Legislative Council, which is legally mandated to protect the interests of citizens from violations by the executive authority without any restraints.
The citizen, much like the teacher and other professionals, is adversely affected by a policy that adopts the theory of "crisis disintegration." This policy separates unions and treats each group’s issues as an independent and distinct matter rather than a collective crisis. As a result, the government enters into bilateral agreements with each union separately to prevent simultaneous strikes and to distribute pressure over time. However, this approach only serves to inflate the harm against citizens in all sectors and categories.
The recent strike crisis has exposed the government's increasing incapacity to resolve the situation, highlighting the failure of its policies and crisis management approach.
In this context, it is worth noting the earlier warnings of economic and development experts about the looming possibility of a crisis erupting among unions at any moment due to the government's failure to honour agreements that were previously signed with these unions and associations. The warnings were based on the expert's knowledge of the government's financial situation and its inability to meet the demands of these unions. This raises a significant question about the government's commitment in honouring the rights of professionals such as teachers, doctors, engineers and others.
The statement does not absolve the government of its responsibility for going back on agreements with unions. Rather, it is an objective assessment of the nature and magnitude of the crisis, including the government's responsibility for not being transparent with citizens and various unions. This was done out of fear of losing its "prestige." Additionally, the government is responsible for not making sufficient progress in reducing the size of the crisis, let alone finding a radical solution. By adopting serious austerity measures, they seek permanent and stable sources of funding for the general budget that is not influenced by international political mood swings or Israeli blackmail. The list keeps going on.
The crisis in Palestine is undeniably complex. The main cause being is the occupation and its policies that exert pressure on Palestinians. However, a significant portion of the crisis also stems from the mismanagement of Palestinian affairs and various unions. The occupation's policies have always aimed to deprive Palestinians of a decent life. However, poor governmental management has compounded the crisis's impact on Palestinian citizens from an economical and good governance perspective. Solutions to today's problems should have been initiated yesterday, specifically from the formation of the Palestinian Authority 29 years ago.
The first step towards resolving the crisis must begin with the citizen and ultimately ends with the citizen. This can only be accomplished by addressing the dilapidated Palestinian governance system, starting with holding general legislative and presidential elections accountable, enabling the Legislative Council to return and carry out its legally authorised role of representing citizens, defending their rights and monitoring the executive authority and its practices.
This step seems to be the only approach to achieve the necessary balance between the functional capabilities of the government and the interests of citizens, including unions and federations. Furthermore, within the theory of balance, not continuity, expediting a general conference that includes the government, unions, experts and representatives of citizens is necessary to search for guaranteed solutions in the interest of all parties without favouring any particular group. The conference should take into account the specificity of each union's demanding rights in the context of serious and balanced agreements.
It is time to take action to save the citizen who has lost all hope and is fed up with the diplomacy of indecision. Is it not time to make this happen?
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.