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Palestinians have every right to reject another Oslo

With the Bahrain workshop, the Trump administration is relying on the same old Oslo model of economy before politics. What needs to be done is to hold Israel accountable.

By Sam Bahour

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)

After 52 years of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, there is a fact that cannot be brushed aside: Israel is addicted to the Palestinian economy. This addiction is the product of decades of systematic and forceful actions by the Israeli government to make the Palestinian economy structurally dependent on Israel. Just as with a drug addict or an alcoholic, external intervention is imperative for the sake of the addict and all those within his or her reach; otherwise, the self-inflicted damage will sooner or later be fatal.

After all this time under the boot of Israeli military occupation, enthusiastically supported by the United States every step of the way, Palestinians have a watertight case against participating in yet another workshop with those promising to be their saviors — like the one the Trump administration has called for on June 25 and 26 in Manama, Bahrain.

Anyone who has witnessed the last 25 years of the failure of the U.S.-led peace process knows that what needs to be done, albeit extremely belatedly, is to hold Israel accountable. This would mean using tools like boycotts, divestment, sanctions, diplomatic actions.

The Palestinians are doing their utmost on all these fronts. What’s missing today is for other states to uphold their legal and ethical obligations to do the same. Additionally, this upcoming “economic workshop” is a political moment, and the opportunity of a lifetime, for any country that has not yet formally recognized the State of Palestine to do so immediately, especially if it is truly committed to a two-state solution to this conflict.

How is Israel addicted to the Palestinian economy? Israel reaps $5 billion annually from the captive economy called the occupied Palestinian territory; the Palestinian market is one of Israel’s top export markets after the United States, China and Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. Israel is addicted to our customs tariffs, skimming a whopping 3 percent off every customs-dollar the Palestinian import-intensive economy generates.

Israel is addicted to our cheap but dedicated and skilled labor — for the benefit of its construction sector and its agricultural sector and its service sector. More recently, Israel expanded this labor addiction to include our knowledge-based professionals. Our military occupier has even taken out newspaper ads promoting a fast-track permit to go to Israel and directly connect our youth with Israeli high-tech firms, bypassing Palestinian firms.

Israel is addicted to our water. It controls the West Bank aquifers, forcing our agricultural sector to decline from 12 percent of our GDP to less than 5 percent. The World Bank has called these Israeli actions “structural damage” that will take generations to repair.



Israel is addicted to our stone and marble quarries, with the Supreme Court of Israel ruling that Israeli occupation authorities can let Israeli firms enter the West Bank and literally steal the land, block by block, for the benefit of Israeli firms.

Israel is addicted to our air space, giving Israeli cellular operators access to the illegal settlements scattered across the West Bank mountaintops. These companies erect their infrastructure and gain access to our electromagnetic spectrum, so that they can provide telecommunication services to the Palestinian territory — without being licensed, without taxation, and without environmental oversight.

Israel is addicted to using the Gaza Strip as a laboratory where Israeli weapons and security-product manufacturers can freely test their wares with total impunity.

The list is long, but the addiction is clear and has been overwhelmingly documented by every country engaged in the conflict, particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, as well as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), among others.

After being on the receiving end of this Israeli addiction for decades, especially those of us in the Palestinian private sector, we are now being told by a U.S. bankruptcy lawyer, a New York real estate lawyer, and a questionable U.S. real estate developer that the Palestinian economy should be advanced before political parameters are defined.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during an American Independence Day celebration at Avenue in Airport City, July 3, 2018. Photo by (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during an American Independence Day celebration at Avenue in Airport City, July 3, 2018. Photo by (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Is the U.S. Administration blind to the fact that we already tried that, for 25 years? It was called the Oslo Peace Process, and it was monopolized by the United States. It was a process that witnessed our geography being physically fragmented beyond recognition. It was a process that allowed the erection of a wall, higher and longer than the Berlin Wall, which separates Palestinians from Palestinians. It was a process that accelerated the blatantly illegal Israeli settlement enterprise from 100,000 to more than 600,000 settlers in the West Bank. It was a process that resulted in more Palestinians’ being imprisoned, many of them minors. It was a process that witnessed more Palestinian homes being destroyed, in all parts of the occupied territory.

Need I go on to explain why another U.S.-driven process using the same old Oslo model — economy before politics — is unacceptable to Palestinians?

After all the damage done by the very political actions already taken by the Trump administration, is it really necessary to hold a “workshop” in a third country, without the Palestinians and possibly without our military occupier?

Will Bahrain convince the Israelis to give us access to our natural gas wells in the sea of Gaza that have been blocked since 1999? Will Saudi Arabia compensate us for all the financial damage done to our economy from the Israeli pillaging of our resources for the past 52 years? Will the United Arab Emirates convince Israel to implement what Israel signed on to in Oslo, which are four safe passageways between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Do Kushner and company actually believe that a few Palestinian Uncle Toms will be able to absorb the $60-80 billion in investments they say they are aiming to raise at this workshop?

The answers are clear.

Israel is driving drunk on power, and it is about to fall off the cliff. The cliff has a name; it’s called the two-state solution. Israel’s only friend who can tell it to stop driving drunk is the U.S., but instead of stopping the car, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman jumped into the driver’s seat and is pressing the gas pedal with all his might. He and the United States will be the only ones to blame for the failure of next week’s workshop and the infamous “Ordeal of the Century.”

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is chair of the board of Americans for a Vibrant 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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    1. Firentis

      Your economic argument of supposed Israeli dependency is hilarious.

      As an export market the WB is tiny – let’s say 4% of Israeli exports – $4b? Your labor can be replaced – construction workers from China, Vietnam, Thailand or India, technology workers outsourced to Ukraine. We replaced all of your labor during the second intifada. We can do that again. The water we are increasingly getting from desalination. If suddenly Israel had no access to the Palestinian economy, labor, water, the resources of the WB, etc, it would lose maybe 2% of GDP. If it no longer had to maintain the military infrastructure to deal with Palestinian terrorism and could let its young people do less army service it would more than make up for that loss within a year or two. And even if it maintained the same military it would still just mean the loss of less than a year’s GDP growth. Even if you argue the number is a one time drop of 3-4% that is still relatively minor. It would be the equivalent of a minor recession.

      I wonder what impact a complete separation would have on the Palestinian economy on the other hand. Somewhere around 140,000 laborers (working legally and illegally) earning 2-3x as much as they do working for Palestinians. Around 80% of WB exports. No more Israeli Arabs shopping in the WB. What would such a massive drop in consumption do to the rest of your economy? There is no Palestinian or regional economy to absorb either so that would be a net loss. Around 30% loss of GDP? Would that be a conservative estimate? Where would your economic growth come from exactly? Gaza’s natural gas? Estimated total revenue from that would be around $5b after putting $1.2b in extracting it. Most of that will go to whoever finances the construction. Tourism? No real reason to think it would grow much. Trade with the surrounding countries? What exactly do you have to offer to Egypt or Jordan? Agriculture? They don’t have enough of that surely in the Nile valley.

      Your economy is a tiny pimple of dependency on outsourcing labor to Israel and collecting welfare checks from foreign donors.

      The Palestinians seem to have a very strong addiction to repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot and then complaining that walking is hard.

      If you like the current situation, it works for us as well. Nice talking to you.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        All Firentis is doing here, with his coldly contemptuous, purely “economic analysis”–in other words, just the greedy bottom line of “what we rake in and what you don’t”– is displaying the cruel power-drunk sadism of the Israeli occupier.

        Sam Bahour is talking about addiction, not just to shekels, but to power, Firentis–not a rational business plan. Addictions are not rational processes. Shir Hever, Israeli economist, has shown that the occupation is a loser on the financial bottom line for Israelis en masse, but that Israelis get compensated for this by payment in the fees of ethnic supremacism; and that specific industries like the IDF-armaments-industrial complex, benefit at the expense of the average Israeli; and where the West Bank and Gaza are literally laboratories for Israeli weapons industry scientist–and their advertisers, who tout the results to the leaders of Myanmar and Uganda and such like.

        But what does Firentis do? He misses the whole point about addiction and doubles down on the attempt to be cruel and to humiliate, taking obvious pleasure in humiliating, proving my point. Nice job.

        (And you gotta love how “a pimple of dependency”–could any phrase better epitomize the contemptuous, cruel colonial occupier attitude?–“works well for us.” “It’s just a pimple, but it works well for us.” Now THAT is hilarious.)

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          Oh I am sorry. Are facts cold, cruel, contemptuous and greedy? You clearly prefer to deal in sanctimonious blather.

          And thank you for confirming the fact that this entire article written about Israeli economic addiction to the West Bank is complete and utter nonsense. Israel would economically benefit from separating permanently from the Palestinians. As for your source, Shir Hever writes leftist garbage to provide clueless foreign morons with quasi-academic explanations as to why Israel isn’t making peace. Because the obvious reason – the Palestinians have refused to actually accept permanent peace – is taboo in your circles.

          And I do enjoy humiliating sanctimonious propagandists that try to peddle economic nonsense. Got me there.

          Reply to Comment
          • Rivka Koen

            I think you’re making the mistake of believing that being cruel, contemptuous and greedy is the same as being rational and presenting facts. It’s not; it’s actually extremely emotional and irrational.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Facts don’t care about your feelings. Go back to your safe space.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You can’t have it both ways, Firentis. Your incoherence is glaring. EITHER Israel would economically benefit from separating permanently from the Palestinians, OR Shir Hever makes no sense. You cannot have it both ways.

            You persist in misrepresenting the concept of addiction Sam Bahour is writing about.

            The facts in question, and their significance, are in dispute. Not anyone’s feelings. To be precise, the facts are not cold, contemptuous and greedy, but you and your account of them are.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            I say Israel would benefit. You rely on Shir Hever that says Israel would benefit. So we agree that Israel would benefit from separation. I don’t even see how I am having it both ways here. Shir Hever just happens to make up idiotic reasons for stupid conspiracy theorists for as to why Israel doesn’t carry it out.

            The fact is that the impact on Israel of a separation from the Palestinians is minor. The fact is that the Palestinian economy is a cesspit of corruption and dependency. And the fact is that this cesspit is dependent on the Israeli economy and would collapse even further without it. Which fact would you like to argue with? Pick one and we are off. If not then all your incessant pestering is just tone policing common to leftists when facts fail them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is a jumble of confusions, getting things backwards, and dishonest representations of history and context. Not my job to de-obfuscate this.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Thanks for admitting that you are just blowing hot air.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Is that right? Got any argument? I don’t detect one.

            Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Firentis: so if I understand you correctly, the end game is no longer two states for two peoples, but a state for the Jews and a small closet for the Palestinians?

        “The former chief of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, has said that Israel does not want peace and that, if it had, it would have made peace with the Palestinian Authority (PA) long ago.”


        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          My end game is one state for Jews and one state for the Palestinians. When the Palestinians accept that let me know.

          Reply to Comment
          • Rivka Koen

            When will you accept reality and not jingoistic “Israel is number 1, anyone who says otherwise must be smashed” narcissistic nonsense?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Where, aside from the inoperative Hamas Charter, have the majority of Palestinians said they DON’T want two states for two people?

            Better question, would you accept 2SS, with:

            1. ’67 borders, with no Israeli military or state jurisdiction beyond said borders
            2. Palestinian right to sovereign control over their airspace and joint control over borders
            3. Palestinian right to their own professional armed forces (note: NOT a Japanese-style “self-defense” force)
            3. Every single settler vacated
            3. Freedom of trade and travel between said borders

            If the answer to each of these is anything other than a simple “yes,” then your idea of “Two States for Two People” is unfair and lopsided.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            The Palestinians have never accepted negotiations on the basis of a Palestinian state coming into being next to a Jewish state. The last time the Americans tried to get negotiations on such a basis Abbas rejected it as he had before and has since.

            What’s the point of talking about details as long as the Palestinians refuse the only realistic basis for a peaceful outcome?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            A preposterously false version of the history of this.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Excellent. Happy to be wrong. Point me to a point in time when the Palestinian leadership agreed to negotiations on the basis of two states – one Palestinian and one Jewish.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Neither you nor Ray gets this quite right. The Palestinians have accepted two states, one Israeli, one Palestinian, living side by side in peace. The Palestinians are appropriately suspicious of what is meant by “a Jewish state,” the rabbit Netanyahu pulled out of his hat to purposefully kill off any two state solution, and that all of a sudden Palestinians just had to sign off on on the dotted line. If by “two people” it is meant “the Israeli people, Jewish, Arab and whatever, and the Palestinian people, Arab, Jewish or whatever,” then a deal is on the table. Couple to this is the Israeli disinformation that Abu Mazen wants the West Bank “Judenrein” but of course he wants the West Bank “Israeli-settler and soldier-free” and has not said that Israeli Jews cannot apply for Palestinian citizenship. Now you can then point to anti-semitic and Arab nationalist statements made by some Palestinian honchos or by Hamas but the Israelis actually know that a deal with all appropriate security and guarantees can be made but they don’t want one so they pull out this neo-fascist “nation state of the Jewish people” gimmick (cynical gimmick to some, gospel truth to the fanatics) to kill any progress and in light of the nation state law already passed, it is only too clear what Netanyahu and Likudists like you really truly mean by “two states for two people.” If you meant something else you long since gave up any credibility on convincing people otherwise.

            Reply to Comment
    2. OMER

      THE land of pelastine belongs to the hebrew nation…as at states in the TORA …youre argument is gone…be gone

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        No, this argument has never been more relevant than it is today.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Richnauer

      Free Israel from PLO!! I would like to make a contribution in line with the worth of your articles. One penny!!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mana

      Palestinian nationalism only emerged in the 1960s. Now the Arab-Palestinians want an own nation state but rejected every peace offer they ever got and started riots and manslaughter (intifada) the next day (Oslo, etcetera). We come to the conclusion that they don’t want a state next to an Israeli state. All the want is Israel to be obliterated.
      Let’s be realistic: if tomorrow a Palestian state would be established it won’t be a Democracy with human rights for everyone and free practice of religion like in Israel. It will not be any different than Syria, Jordan, Iraq where all this doesn’t exist today.

      Shalom Israel, Salam to the precious few Arabs (who really want peace) from someone who is sitting on the sidelines! Bien à vous

      Reply to Comment
    5. Nathanael

      I see that several people have shown up in the comments, as they do with every article here, to espouse the view that Germany (oh, I mean “Israel”) has a god-given right to seize Poland (oh, I mean “Palestine”) and that the needs of the people don’t matter if they aren’t “Aryan” (oh, I mean “Jewish”).

      This is sadly a common view in “Israel”. There’s a lot of fascists in Israel.

      I don’t know how the country is going to recover with so many fascists. The history of other countries full of fascists may be instructuve. Before it recovered from fascism, Germany had to be invaded by Russia and the US; Japan had to be invaded by the US and firebombed; but Spain just needed Franco and his generation to die of old age and Italy just needed to have Mussolini and his gangs captured. We might hope that Israel follows the path of Spain or Italy rather than that of Germany or Japan.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        I am assuming this stinky pile of intellectual Bullsh&t does not deserve a reply.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Tweeted by ’emptywheel’:

      ‘At some point is the media going to stop playing along with the claim that Jared Kushner has a “peace” “plan” for the Palestinians and isn’t instead rolling out a plan to turn apartheid into a profit center for his hedge fund and murderous Gulf Autocrat buddies?’

      Reply to Comment
    7. Eagle wing streaches

      Here hear.

      Reply to Comment
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