RAMALLAH – The education sector was paralyzed in various West Bank cities on Sunday after school teachers went on strike over their unpaid salaries.
Mohammed Sowwan, the Secretary General of Teachers’ Union, said that the school teachers went on general strike in the cities of Jenin and Nablus, and in partial strike in the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem to pressure the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to pay their November salaries.
Sowwan said that the teachers will hold a partial strike in the West Bank Wednesday and “if the government does not pay the salaries.”
The Palestinian Finance Ministry said it needs $150 million monthly to pay the salaries of its 148,000 civil and military employee. The Education Ministry warned the Teachers’ Union of holding strikes “which could cause negative impact on the academic lives of students.” The ministry added that “education system and the scholastic year will be in jeopardy due to strikes.”
On Friday, the Palestinian Finance Minister Nabil Qassis said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) could not pay the November salaries and the financial commitments to private sector since it is still waiting on promised emergency funds from Arab states.
Qassis said that his ministry did not receive yet the funds to cover the government’s shortfall which has been caused partially by Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax revenues. He added that no date had been set for any such transfers from Arab states. The Arab League pledged in early December to provide the PA with $100 million to cover salaries and other commitments.
The Palestinian minister warned the Palestinian economy is on the verge of collapse, following Israel’s refusal to release 450 million Israeli shekel in tax revenues (some $120 million) during the month of November, a measure taken by the Israeli government in response to the UN General Assembly vote in November in favor of upgrading the Palestine status to nonmember observer state.
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz completed last week the transfer of the funds to the Israel Electric Corporation, in order to pay for the PA’s debt. The Israel’s Radio said that Steinitz’s decision leaves an outstanding debt of another $70,000 million.
Under the Oslo Accords, the Israeli government administers tax and customs duty payments on behalf of the PA. Israel transfers monthly some 300 million Israeli shekels ($85 million) it collects on behalf of the PA on goods imported by Palestinians and destined to the Palestinian territories.
On October 2011, Israel withheld more than $200 million in taxes it owed to Palestinians after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted the Palestinian state as a full member.
At the beginning of 2001, during the second intifada, Israel withheld more than $50 million in taxes it owed the Palestinians in order to bring the PA to crack down on Palestinian armed groups that carry attacks against Israeli targets.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to take action against the Israeli government at the International Criminal Court if the tax revenues are not released.