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Date posted: March 16, 2013
By MIFTAH

In breaking news on the morning of March 16, 14 Palestinian pilgrims were killed in a bus accident in Jordan en route to the Allenby Bridge. The pilgrims, who were returning from Saudi Arabia after performing the umra were involved in an accident between their bus a truck and a car, resulting in their bus overturning. Five others are in critical condition according to Jordanian hospital sources.

In other news, US President Barack Obama will reportedly skip Ramallah on his upcoming visit to the region according to a Palestinian source on March 13. According to the government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Obama will meet President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and will only spend four hours in the West Bank, including a visit to the Nativity Church. In contrast, the US President will spend some 50 hours in Israel.

Palestinians are not pinning many hopes on Obamas trip, especially after the US President made it clear that he was not bringing a peace plan with him, saying he was coming here to listen.

On March 10, a Palestinian youth group called Palestinians for Dignity called for demonstrations during Obamas visit, in protest of any return to negotiations.

"We call on the masses of the Palestinian people to change this path and demonstrate against receiving he who considers Israel 'the closest ally in the region', the group said in a statement. Rather, they said Obama's visit was only to relieve pressure on the Israeli government, to restrain the frustration of the Palestinian street and to bolster the Palestinian Authority "which after 20 years is becoming more and more disconnected from its people." Billboards have gone up in Ramallah and at the Qalandiya checkpoint urging President Obama not to bring his smart phone because there is no 3G in Palestine, in reference to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian internet and cell phone companies.

Obamas upcoming trip is especially discouraging in light of recent international reports on bleak the Palestinian situation. On March 14, the International Monetary Fund warned that the Palestinian Authority's fiscal situation is "increasingly precarious."

In the IMF report issued ahead of a donor meeting in Brussels on March 19, it said the Authority faced mounting debt on domestic payments, including on civil servant wages and rising domestic bank debt. The Fund said there was a financing gap of about $400 million for 2013, which includes expected donor budget support of $1 billion and payment of 2012 wage arrears. However, the funding shortfall could reach $700 million if donors fail to deliver on aid promises.

It urged the PA to draw up contingency plans that includes spending cuts and look at ways to boost growth. "Domestic sources of financing are drying up, with both the bank and non-bank private sector increasingly reluctant to finance the government," the IMF said. "If left unchecked, these trends will ultimately lead some to question the legitimacy of the PA and undermine its ability to govern effectively".

The World Bank also issued a disconcerting report on March 12, saying Israeli restrictions and closures coupled with the worsening fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority is causing "lasting damage" to the competitiveness of the Palestinian economy. It also warned that the fiscal stress "could worsen in 2013."

"While urgent attention to the short-term financing shortfalls is essential, it is important to recognize that the continued existence of a system of closures and restrictions is creating lasting damage to economic competitiveness in the Palestinian Territories," the report said.

"The longer the current, restrictive situation persists, the more costly and time-consuming it will be to restore the productive capacity of the Palestinian economy," it concluded.

The PA welcomed the report, saying the only way to solve an economic disaster would be "an end to Israel's occupation."

On March 10, the Palestinians were delivered a blow of a different kind with reports that Israeli experts were working to cancel out the Palestinian right of return for refugees. During a Harvard conference earlier in the week, Israeli experts, including Israeli UN envoy Ron Prosor, said the UNs classification of Palestinian refugees was the principal stumbling block to a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO.

No one will admit it... the real obstacle [to a two- state solution] is the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, Prosor said. The refugees problem is the main obstacle to peace, not settlements.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his coalition had been formed for a government on March 13. The new government will be mainly right-wing with the coalition in control of 68 of parliament's 120 seats. Netanyahu has made agreements with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties as well as with a smaller faction under Tzipi Livni.

On the ground, two Palestinians were killed this week during clashes with Israeli occupation soldiers. On March 15, a funeral was held for Moayad Nazih Ghazawneh, 35 in Al Ram north of Jerusalem. Ghazawneh died from a massive heart attack after being wounded by a tear gas canister shot directly into his car a few weeks earlier.

On March 12, Mahmoud al-Teiti, a 25-year-old journalism student, was killed after being shot in the head with an expanding "dum dum" bullet by Israeli forces in Al Fawwar refugee camp. Nine others were injured by both live and rubber-coated metal bullets.

Israeli settlers from the Maon settlement near Yatta south of Hebron vandalized summer crops on March 14. According to anti-settlement officials there and the residents themselves, settlers first ran the farmers off their land and then allowed their own sheep to graze, ruining the Palestinian crops.

Settlers from the same settlement attacked a family on March 10, pelting their car with stones. No injuries were reported but the car was badly damaged.

Israeli forces arrested 10 Palestinians on March 15, on suspicion of being involved in a rock throwing incident that injured several Israelis on a bus near a West Bank settlement. Eight Palestinians were arrested in Haris and two in Kifl Haris near Salfit in the northern West Bank. One Israeli child was severely injured and three others were in moderate condition, according to an Israeli army statement.

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