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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PLO Finds Freedom Is Tough Too

GAZA -- The party is almost over. The Israelis left a week ago under a final shower of intifada stones, touching off an explosion of joy. Gazans are still savoring the novelty of freedom from occupation and curfews by dancing at midnight barbecues along a Mediterranean coast festooned for the first time in six years with lighted fishing boats. Men and boys ask to hold the AK47 rifles of the still smiling Palestine Liberation Army soldiers who have arrived to police them. Shops and restaurants have thrown open their doors to trade all hours of the day and night. But many of the Gazans who stroll past cannot afford to buy. The problems of 27 years of occupation -- poverty, economic stagnation and withered institutions -- have not disappeared and the Palestinians have barely begun to tackle them. Israel gave the Palestine Liberation Organization the keys to the Gaza Strip and Jericho but so far it has done little with them. PLO leader Yasser Arafat has sent in his police and security chiefs but the political leadership is still abroad in Tunis. "There is, no doubt, a vacuum," said Rashid Abu Shbak, a senior PLO official recently returned to Gaza. "All the security and civil departments of the" former Israeli "civil administration have been dropped on the shoulders of the Palestinians," he said. "Most Palestinian cadres do not have enough experience nor the details of how to run it properly yet." Other PLO officials, like chief transition coordinator Jamil Tarifi, deny that the PLO is ill-prepared for governing the 1 million residents of Gaza and Jericho. "More than 13,000 Palestinians ran the civil administration with about only 120 senior Israelis as bosses," he said. Services like health and education have carried on under their own momentum, but departments which were under strict Israeli control, like the interior and tax departments, are barely working. Israel will pay civil servants' salaries until the end of May then the PLO will have to find the money. Promised funds from Western donors anxious for accountability have so far only trickled in. Most have gone to the police. "The United States will pay $5 million this week and Norway has already paid $2 million," Abu Shbak said. Palestinian economists acknowledge privately that the new leaders may not be willing to disappoint Gazans' rising expectations and take the painful economic decisions needed to turn the economy around. "Arafat may come in June and hand out dollars to buy allegiance. Such quick-fix solutions could ruin us," one economist said. But Abu Shbak is less pessimistic. "It is not new that Israel keeps harping on about our inability to take over, but Palestinians have built up many countries," he said, in a reference to the Gulf. "Universities in the United States and Europe have many Palestinian professors. We are a qualified people but it will take time. "The national authority will not be able to build a state in days, even Arafat knows he cannot wave a magic wand to erase the scars of the occupation."