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Palestinians need a state, not a 'business plan'

Jared Kushner believes the first stage to peace is investing capital in Gaza and the West Bank. But just how far can that investment go when Israel is determined to maintain full control of and exploit every aspect of the Palestinian economy?

By Sam Bahour

Thousands of Palestinian workers line up before dawn to pass through the Israeli army's 'Eyal Checkpoint' on their way to work in Israel, July 16, 2017. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Thousands of Palestinian workers line up before dawn to pass through the Israeli army’s ‘Eyal Checkpoint’ on their way to work in Israel, July 16, 2017. (Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

President Donald Trump is taking part in an all-out attempt to batter the Palestinians into political surrender, and his weapon of choice is money. In full coordination with the Israeli government, he is overseeing a global campaign to ensure funds supporting Palestinians are drying up. Everything from Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem to health care and education for Palestinian refugees are on the receiving end of the cuts. In the bullseye of this attack is the Palestinian government.

So when CNN reported on Sunday that the Trump administration would be hosting an “economic workshop” in Bahrain to encourage capital investment in the West Bank, Gaza, and the region — the first part of the president’s so-called “Deal of the Century” — it sounded like more of the same.

The plan is said to address four major components: infrastructure, industry, empowering and investing in people, and governance reforms “to make the area as investible as possible.” While on paper all of this sounds fine and well, it may very well be the first step in the collapse of Trump’s peace plan.

The unforeseen silver lining is that the U.S. has lost any remaining influence it had on Palestinian society. As the U.S.-monopolized peace process was driven to total collapse, past U.S. administrations understood that keeping USAID funds operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip gave the U.S. some sort of financial clout, after losing any semblance of political credibility. Now that Trump has closed the USAID mission in Tel Aviv, which previously served the West Bank, Palestinians are free to think without a noose of U.S. funding around their necks.

American President Donald Trump speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and advisor Jared Kushner at the White House, May 22, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

American President Donald Trump speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and advisor Jared Kushner at the White House, May 22, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Trump administration is not letting up. With its newly-announced workshop, it seems the White House will be dangling billions of dollars to get the Palestinians to accept the plan.

Speaking last week at the Washington Institute about the administration’s upcoming Middle East peace plan, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, said, “I think we developed a good business plan.” As someone who formulates real business plans for a living, I understand that if one works according to misguided assumptions, even the best of business plans will fall flat on their faces.

Kushner seems to be missing the point entirely: Israel is addicted to Palestine’s economy, and without overcoming that addiction, there is no chance for any grand “business plan” to succeed. Moreover, his “in-depth operational document,” which he calls “realistic, executable…and will lead to both sides being much better off” is borderline hallucinatory, given the fact that it dismisses the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel’s determination to maintain full control of the Palestinian economy for over five decades has become a major hurdle in getting it to realize that its occupation must come to an end. And like recovery from other addictions, this one will require external support. That support needs to be based on third states holding Israel accountable to save it from itself, rather than building a “business plan” to try and paint life under the boot of Israeli military occupation as somehow beautiful.

Palestinians cross the Bethlehem checkpoint, as they head to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem's Old City during Ramadan, May 18, 2018. Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinians cross the Bethlehem checkpoint, as they head to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem’s Old City during Ramadan, May 18, 2018. Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Here, in addition to human rights, we speak of economic rights, too: our rights to our economic assets — land, water, natural gas wells, our Dead Sea and Mediterranean Sea shores, borders, and the like — and the ability to employ them within a Palestinian-defined economic development plan, free from Israeli or donor agendas. Dumping more humanitarian and developmental funds into Palestinian coffers will not solve the conflict.

Structural dependency

From the start of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip 51 years ago, Israel systematically linked the territory’s economy to that of its own. Before the Oslo Accords, this forced linkage was most apparent in Israel’s restriction of Palestinian business and its control of the freedom of movement of Palestinian labor. For nearly a decade prior to Oslo, Israel issued work permits to tens of thousands of Palestinian workers to allow them to enter Israel to find work. Palestinian labor was found in Israeli construction, agriculture, hotels and the like.

Treated as a second-class labor force, Palestinian workers were exposed to conditions that allowed Israeli businesses to benefit from lower wages without being subject to Israeli labor law. Many Palestinian workers even found themselves building the illegal Israeli settlements that threaten the very existence of Palestinian communities. For Palestinians, being able to work — anywhere — while under Israeli occupation was a matter of survival. For many, it still is.

The Israeli occupation authorities also levied taxes on the occupied and used a portion of these taxes to flood the Palestinian areas with Israeli-made infrastructure and goods. This created further Palestinian dependence on the occupier’s economy.

Trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, following a partial reopening of the crossing point on July 24, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Trucks at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, following a partial reopening of the crossing point on July 24, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The Oslo Accords were followed by an economic arrangement called the Protocol on Economic Relations, signed in Paris on May 4, 1994. Just as the Oslo agreement itself kept intact Israeli control over all key aspects of Palestinian life, the Paris Protocol institutionalized the occupier’s economic interest as part of what was meant to be a framework for a peace agreement.

Following the Oslo agreements, the role of state donors in funding Palestinian “development” turned into an international underwriting of the Israeli occupation, reducing and often removing the financial costs of military occupation. Knowingly or not, donor funding had an accomplice-type role in allowing the situation to reach the place it is in today.

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Although donor money fueled the Palestinian economy, at no time did donors view the development of the private sector as the highest priority in building a viable Palestinian society. Donors assisted in the creation of sector trade associations and provided a certain level of assistance, but a strategic approach to the private sector, namely reducing structural dependency on Israel, never materialized.

Many in the international community were quick to criticize the growing number of Palestinian public sector workers, but few, if any, had the foresight to see that a strong Palestinian private sector was the only way to provide an alternative to public employment. Those who did realize this ignored it for the most part, since it would mean challenging the Israeli occupation and the restrictions placed on the Palestinian economy that come with it.

All the while, Israel was going forward with its unilateral settlement enterprise, which severely damaged the Palestinian private sector and left the Palestinian Authority playing catch up for its own survival. This left the Palestinian private sector to deal on its own with Israeli restrictions on Palestinian society.

Palestinian construction workers build a new house in the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Palestinian construction workers build a new house in the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

After being structurally linked to the Israeli market for decades, Israel’s decision to unilaterally separate — or “disengage,” as it was called — from the Palestinians left the private sector with few options other than following the Israeli plans. Initially, Israel attempted to eliminate Palestinian labor employed in Israel, which increased the unemployment rate in the West Bank and Gaza overnight. After applying this shock to the marketplace, Israel decided to re-engage Palestinian labor and today issues as many permits as it had during the decade before Oslo, perhaps even more. All this in the service of the Israeli economy — not that of Palestine.

Furthermore, the separation wall’s land grab has separated Palestinian farmers from their lands, causing great pressure on Palestinian agriculture. Add this to the constant restrictions Israel has placed on land and water, the results of which can be seen in Palestine’s GDP, where agriculture has dropped from 12 percent prior to the Oslo Accords to below 5 percent today.

The foundation of a future state 

The viability of any future Palestinian economy must come within the context of a sustainable private sector, one that can create sustainable job opportunities and develop competitive products and services for the local market first, and then for export. The Palestinian private sector must be able to absorb Palestinian university graduates in a knowledge economy, while also absorbing the tens of thousands of construction workers who Israel uses to serve its economy. Similarly, a viable Palestinian economy must be able to feed itself, which requires land and water resources to be free from Israeli control.

The international community has a historic responsibility to Palestinians, especially after so many years of observing the Israeli occupation from afar, and a decade of footing the bill as Israeli violations continue unabated. The challenge today is to remove Israeli military occupation and allow the Palestinian private sector to assume its natural role of becoming the foundation of a future state.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is Chairman of Americans for a Viable Palestinian Economy (AVPE) and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at ePalestine.com. @SamBahour

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      “Israel’s determination to maintain full control of the Palestinian economy for over five decades has become a major hurdle in getting it to realize that its occupation must come to an end.” In 2016 the U.N came out with a report on the Palestinian economy:

      “New UN report finds Palestinian economy would double in size without Israeli occupation…The economy of the occupied Palestinian territories would be at least twice as large if the 49-year-old Israeli occupation was lifted, a new United Nations report has found. ..The report, which analyses the economy of the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for 2015, underlines Israeli “restrictions on the movement of people and goods; systematic erosion and destruction of the productive base; losses of land, water and other natural resources”, as some of the main factors hindering the territories’ ability to thrive…It adds that the separation of the Palestinian market from international markets, the blockade on Gaza, expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land, are further causes for the underdeveloped state of the Palestinian economy.”

      https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/israeli-occupation-stunts-palestinian-economy-160909151839441.html

      Reply to Comment
      • JW500

        The “Palestine” economy would not double in size without “occupation.” Instead, this “Palestine” like Gaza would be a corrupt base of terrorists against whom Israel would have to continuously strike. Things would be much much worse for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria just like they are for the Arabs of Gaza.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ray

      Jared Kushner seems here to exemplify that old saw: “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

      This he doubtless shares with his father-in-law; why else would he let his daughter marry a Jew?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Don’t you think Trump, if he wants his grandchildren to be just like him, which no doubt he does, could not have chosen a better match for his daughter? Their paternal grandfather will be Charles Kushner (you can look up the extremely sordid details). And their maternal grandfather will be…Trump. Need we say more? This is quite a match. If there is any genetic component to narcissistic-antisocial behavior, any heritability to acquisitiveness, criminality and viciousness, and there is, then watch out. Combine that with the environment they will be raised in. The effect could be multiplicative. Their uncles will be none other than Eric and Donald Jr. Their mother Ivanka, their father Jared. The mind boggles. I can see the Nature Genetics paper title now: “The genetic and shared environment contributions to the purely transactional Trump-mind.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Firentis

        “Would let his daughter marry a Jew?:

        Clearly 972mag is reaching a very high quality audience.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Two things:
          1. I think you misunderstand Ray’s intent. Ray was channeling Trump’s attitudes not his own.
          2. I seem to have missed your vociferous objections to Halevy’s and others “why would a Jew let his daughter marry an Arab (or other goyim)?” sentiments, the whole “anti-miscegenation” thing, the whole Lehava thing. Quality audience indeed.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      The so-called “fakestinians” do NOT need a state.
      They need to disappear, ideally by returning to their original JORDANIAN identity.
      Otherwise, their destiny is to become JORDANIAN after we repatriate them to the East Bank.
      Everything else represents a total waste of time.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: Can you provide us with some details? Is the plan to march all the Fakestinians across the Allenby bridge, or what? Fill us in.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The mechanism will be similar to the expulsion of Jews from Gaza. Except the people will be Arabs instead of Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: So in Gaza it was Israeli police and soldiers who expelled the settlers. You’re saying there will be Fakestinians who are going to round up their fellow Fakestinians and deport them to Jordan?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Lewis: Oh you mean the Gaza Palestinians will cynically pretend to “withdraw” but still occupy Gaza nevertheless and they will do this as a way of putting any two state solution in formaldehyde and furthering their occupation of other territories, as Sharon’s man admitted the Israeli maneuver was all about? Gee whiz, I had no idea. Thanks for the inside scoop!

            Reply to Comment
      • David

        “They need to disappear, ideally by returning to their original JORDANIAN identity”
        Sigh. It seems you have been duped by Joan Peters’ mountain of mendacity, “From Time Immemorial…”

        Professor Porath, Israel’s leading demographic historian, called Peters’ book a “forgery… [that] was almost universally dismissed [in Israel] as sheer rubbish except maybe as a propaganda weapon.”(New York Times, Nov.28, 1985)

        Rabbi Arthur Herzberg, vice-president of the WJC, agreed: “I think that she’s cooked the statistics…. The scholarship is phony and tendentious. I do not believe that she has read the Arabic sources that she quotes.”(ibid)

        Professor Porath: “The precise demographic history of modern Palestine cannot be summed up briefly, but its main features are clear enough and they are very different from the fanciful description Ms. Peters gives…. [S]he has apparently searched through documents for any statement to the effect that Arabs entered Palestine. But even if we put together all the cases she cites, one cannot escape the conclusion that most of the growth of the Palestinian Arab community resulted from a process of natural increase.” (“Mrs. Peters’ Palestine” New York Review of Books, 16 January 1986.)

        Reply to Comment
    4. Dianne

      This is an excellent article describing a horrendous situation that has transpired for my entire life time. My most sincere wish is that it could end in Palestine being recognized and given it’s own state with all rights for their wellbeing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        “Fakestine” will never be recognized for the simple reason that it never existed & never will. Like Narnia, Middle Earth and Dorothy’s Oz, the fake state of fakestine is a mental construct, a delusion of extreme barbarity that only exists in the sick minds of bigoted people.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “he fake state of fakestine is a mental construct, a delusion of extreme barbarity that only exists in the sick minds of bigoted people.”

          I couldn’t agree more! A mental construct/delusion of extreme barbarity that only exists inside your head, the mind inside of which you describe nicely! Finally some insight on your part! Congrats!

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben sees the truth, at last !
            The “fakestinyans” are a nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You’re halfway there. For your first cognitive behavioral homework assignment go meet an actual Palestinian human and talk to them. It’s the first step in relinquishing childish mental constructs and primitive compulsive thoughts like “fake state of fakestein” for a mature, reality-based interaction with the real world. And please also take down the scantily clad poster of Caroline Glick in your bedroom. A key to treating behavioral disorders is to first stop the behaviors…

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            South Syrians = Fakestinyans = Jordanians = United Arab Republic Pwople
            Different names for the same disease.

            Reply to Comment
        • David

          “’Fakenstine’ will never be recognized for the simple reason that it never existed & never will.”

          Sigh, such appalling ignorance.

          Reality:
          The region between the Jordan River and the Med. Sea was referred to as “Palestine” by the Greek historian Herodotus (“the father of history”) during the 5th century BCE.

          100 years later, in the mid-4th Century BCE, Aristotle referred to Palestine while discussing the Dead Sea in his Meteorology. “Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine….”

          Jewish historian Josephus’s (c.37-100 CE) The Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews contains many references to both “Palestine” and “Palestinians.”

          Contemporaries of Jesus also routinely referred to “Palestine.” In the first decade of the 1st Century, the Roman poet Ovid mentioned Palestine in both his famed mythological poem “Metamorphoses” and his erotic elegy “The Art of Love.” He also wrote of “the waters of Palestine” in his calendrical poem “Fasti.” Around the same time, Tibullus, another Latin poet, wrote of “the crowded cities of Palestine” in the section “Messalla’s Triumph” in his poem “Delia.”

          When the Muslim Arabs arrived in Palestine led by Caliph Omar in 638 CE, they retained the administrative organization of the territory of Palestine as it had been under the Romans and later, the Byzantines. They referred to the territory as Filastin – no “P” in Arabic. BTW, many Jews refer to the arrival of the Muslims as a “liberation” for Omar gave them unfettered access to Jerusalem which they had been denied under the Christian Byzantines. Omar was equally generous to the Christians: “Never in the sorry story of conquest up to that day, and rarely since, were such noble and generous sentiments displayed by a conqueror as those extended to Jerusalem by Omar.” (Report by Sir William Fitzgerald on the Local Administration of Jerusalem, Jerusalem: Government Printer, 1945, p.4)

          To quote the opening sentence of the section entitled “Filastin” that appears in the book “Dictionary of the Lands,” written by geographer Yaqut ibn Abdullah al-Hamawi in 1225: “Filastin: It is the last one of the regions of Syria in the direction of Egypt. Its most famous cities are Ashkelon, Ramle, Gaza, Arsuf, Caesaria, Nablus, Jericho, Jaffa and Beit Guvrin.”

          By about 1300 CE there were virtually no Jews in Palestine, which was a recognized geographical concept using coinage with “Filistin” written on them. There were diaries of Palestinian travelers who said they missed “Palestine” and a distinctive Palestinian dialect of Arabic had evolved. From 1300 on, the vast majority of people who lived in Palestine were Christians and Muslims.

          In 1603, Shakespeare wrote in his play Othello: “Emilia: I know a lady in Venice would have walked barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.” (Act IV, Scene iii.)

          European tourist books of the nineteenth century refer to “Palestine,” as did Theodor Herzl in his correspondence and the 1917 Balfour Declaration as well as the 1922 Class A League of Nations British Mandate.

          To quote the (Winston) Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British League of Nations Class A Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Who cares some Greece-based historian, living in Greece, calls “The Land of Israel” ?
            The indigenous people living ON THE LAND NAME their country.
            Not some pontifying Hellenistic Bigot living far away.
            The same goes for poets of the bloody Roman Invaders, the odd Roman-assimilated Jew, an antisemitic English playright, the 7th Century Arab Invaders and the miscellaneous bunch of foreigners you mention in your irrelevant rant.

            We know what happened to the original filastines. They are no more. But at least those bastards EXISTED unlike the fake fakestinyan non-people that NEVER existed & neaver will.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is satire, right? You’re putting us on, right? You’re either satirizing yourself or some imposter adopting your name is making fun of you. It’s pretty funny and pretty absurd. You sound like Gilda Radner doing Roseanne Roseannadanna.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The only crazy satarist here is a certain SJW nutter who supports Dr Mahmoud Abbas’s thugs.
            That ain’t me !

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Seriously you don’t sound all that different from Emily Lattella:

            Chevy Chase:
            Here with an editorial reply is Miss Emily Lattella.

            Emily Lattella:
            What’s all this fuss I keep hearing about violins on television? Why don’t parents want their kids to see violins on television? I thought the Leonardo Bernstein concerts were just lovely, now, if they only show violins on television after ten o’clock at night, the little babies will all be asleep and they won’t learn any music appreciation. They’ll learn to play guitars, and bongo drums and go to Africa and join these rock’n roll outfits and they won’t drink milk! I think there should be more violins on television and less game shows, it’s terrible the way…

            Chevy Chase:
            Um, Littella, that’s Violence on television. Not violins.

            Emily Lattella:
            Oh, well that’s different.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            This persistent ranting about Chevy Chase, Emily Lattella, TV and violins indicates that our SJW nutcase is ready to be committed into the nearest asylum.

            Reply to Comment
    5. tamarque

      Very interesting and written from a capitalist motivation. Which is exactly what the Trump/Kushner plan is about. Run the opposition into such an impoverished state that it will accept the economic terrorism to be imposed by the US and its ally, Israel. It is a fake plan that portends only more domination under the watchful eye of the US that will invest money for major control.

      What the article does not address is the reality that capitalism may not be the best move forward. Nationalizing resources may work to the advantage of the general population with guaranteed employment for those who can work (ie, those not crippled by the Occupation or too young). Developing worker owned/controlled cooperatives might be a better solution than the individualistic private ownership written about here.

      The primary thing is that Palestinians need to have a free hand to develop their own process and economic system. Unwritten is the fact that these people have a long history in working, managing, coordinating and profiting from their own labor and are quite capable of making their own decisions collectively. I don’t know which way they would go given the squashing of the Occupation but that will be their choice.

      I would also add that Israel needs to pay serious reparations to the Palestinians for the decades of genocidal abuse. European Jews fought for years for reparations and got them along with the power of guilt tripping the rest of world into submission to its illegal occupation and removal of people from their land & homes. It is now time for them to pay the piper for the damages they caused.

      Reply to Comment
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