The new Hamas-led government is broke and missed the April 1 monthly pay date for tens of thousands of Palestinian public workers, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Wednesday.
It was the Islamic militants' first admission they will have difficulty running the West Bank and Gaza without massive foreign aid.
Mr. Haniyeh offered no solutions to the cash crunch, pledging only to do his best to make up for tens of millions of dollars in aid being withheld by international donors and appealing to the Arab world to send more donations.
The Palestinian Authority is the largest employer in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, providing salaries for 140,000 people that sustain about one-third of the Palestinians. Mr. Haniyeh said it was unclear how the government will meet its payroll.
Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said he is waiting for the equivalent of about $93-million from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
“If they pay, and I hope they will, we will be able to pay salaries by the middle of the month,” he said.
A collapse in the Palestinian Authority would devastate an economy where 44 per cent of the population lives under the poverty line of about $2.30 a day and nearly one-quarter of the work force is unemployed, according to the World Bank.
Rest assured, however, that the leadership in Hamas is still being well taken care of, even if they are giving up their official cabinet salaries as a public relations gesture.
Even the Minister of
Israeli police on Thursday detained a cabinet minister in the Palestinians' new Hamas-led government, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.
Khaled Abu Arafa, Minister Of Jerusalem Affairs, was detained along with his bodyguard on his way to Izzariya, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem, where he was to sign off on furniture and office equipment from his predecessor, Ziad Abu Zayyad, a moderate.
Paramilitary police stopped Mr. Abu Arafa's car at a checkpoint at the entrance to Izzariya, said Ahmed Jalajel, a photographer for the Arabic Al-Quds daily, who was in the car with the minister when he was taken into custody.
The reason for Mr. Abu Arafa's detention was not immediately clear, but it may be because he was trying to open an office in the suburb. Part of Izzariya is in Jerusalem, and interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords bar the Palestinian Authority from opening offices in the disputed city, said Mr. Abu Zayyad, the former minister.
Pulling out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is quickly proving to be the best way to discredit claims to a Palestinian state. They can't run a lemonade stand without blowing it up and blaming the Jews. At some point, even the most fervent friends of Palestine are going to walk away from this mess.
Ariel Sharon was right, after all.