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The Palestinians are in the grips of a horrifying economic crisis. It is the product of three factors. The first is the occupying power’s strategy of politically, economically and socially debilitating Palestinian society, deliberately creating as wretched conditions as possible so as to drive increasing numbers of Palestinians to emigrate or to reduce them to a state of utter despondency and despair.
This strategy is aided by the global economic crisis, which aggravates the economic structural distortion inherent in the excessive dependency on foreign aid.
The third factor is to be found in the policies of the Palestinian government, which has failed to develop and pursue a clear strategy for a “resistance economy”.
Instead of promoting an economy that supports the people’s ability to sustain the resistance against the occupation, the government has swamped the economy in consumerist trends that are unsuitable to the conditions that Palestinians have to contend with. At the same time, it has continued to abide to the letter to the Paris economic protocol while attempting to solve the problem of liquidity by weighing the people down with higher tax burdens and higher prices.
The problem with the government’s approach to the economy is not just bad policies but, in some cases, no policies at all. For example, the government has no clear policy for solving Palestinian society’s gravest problem: rampant unemployment. Palestine has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the world, ranging as high as 60 to 80 per cent among educated youth.
Meanwhile, as I had predicted, the problems in education have surfaced again more forcefully than ever. While university students and staff stage protests and strikes, the government persists in ignoring demonstrably viable proposals for solutions, such as the national higher education fund law. In spite of the fact that this law was unanimously approved by parliament in 2006, the government still refuses to put it into effect.
There are some 190,000 Palestinian university students. Applying the national higher education fund law would ease the burden of tuition fees on needy families and simultaneously offer Palestinian universities sufficient liquidity to raise the salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff. By being rescued from the plight of recurrent economic shortages, universities would also acquire sufficient funds to develop research programs and improve educational standards, which have been rapidly declining in the scales of international educational indexes.
Implementing this fund is one way to contribute to supporting a sustainable resistance. It eases financial burdens on the people while offering thousands of outstanding students the opportunity to obtain the type of education they seek with dignity, which is to say without having to beg for what is essentially their right. Although it is true that advertisements in the press have helped some students solve their problem, this is not a comprehensive solution to a collective problem.
Another advantage of the fund law is that it would spare many students the need to resort to nepotistic channels to obtain student aid or loans, in which process kin relations and political affiliations often play a crucial role.
Interestingly, a certain group dipped into the foreign aid designated for education to an amount exceeding what it would have cost to run the fund since it was approved by parliament. Had this money been put to the service of creating the fund, it would have established a renewable or sustainable resource. Instead, it was spent on single purpose projects or activities, good for one time only.
Certainly, the fund law, which provides for an independent supervisory body, would come as a relief to prospective Palestinian donors who, when looking for channels through which to contribute to needy Palestinian families, are keen to ensure that their contributions actually reach the people who merit them.
Our people have no choice but to resist the apartheid system of the occupation, which threatens their very existence. Sustaining the people’s ability to endure in resistance is one of the most important challenges of the Palestinian struggle.
In this context, the subject of the national higher education fund effectively goes straight to the heart of the Palestinian people’s need for a new economic policy, one that is suitable to the real circumstances of Palestinian lives and the threats to their future. Israel is fighting a relentless war to destroy any possibility for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The disappearance of the last remnants of any illusion that there is a political solution on the horizon brings us face-to-face with the certainty that our greatest task at this time is to sustain the Palestinian people’s ability to survive on their land and to mount a unified resistance against the Israeli apartheid system. A major component of this task is to raise the morale of this people by making them sense that their dignity and their rights are respected in the framework of their Palestinian institutions and that they are all co-owners of the future that they must fight for.
Promoting respect for the dignity of students and their families, for their professors and their educational system, and for the principle of justice in the right to obtain an education is the key for inspiring a broad segment of youth to engage in the national struggle, because this will make them feel that they are part of what they are defending and what they are striving to create.
Economics cannot be separated from politics. It is not slogans and long-winded tirades — however elegantly worded — that support a sustained resistance, but rather actions and the development of healthy policies.
The writer is a member of the Palestinian parliament and secretary-general of the Palestine National Initiative.