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PA-Israel trade agreements only stabilize occupation

The trade agreements signed earlier this week between Israel and the Palestinian Authority serve as a reminder of the convenient status quo of occupation. They also illustrate just how irrelevant the PA has become in the struggle against the foreign military regime, and raise the question: When and how will it pay the price?

On the face of it, one might have expected that a new treaty signed between the ultra right-wing government in Jerusalem and the less and less influential one in Ramallah after a series of secret meetings would have made it to front pages everywhere. However, once one reads the grey and dull details of these new tax arrangements one can clearly see why the item only made it to the back pages in local papers and raised no interest at all abroad.

These are in fact a set of updates to the Paris Protocol, the financial agreement which shortly preceded the Oslo Accords, and which promised Israel continued domination over the Palestinian economy. The protocol maintains control of the single tax zone between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in Israeli hands, dictates that Israel will collect taxes for the Palestinians and transfer them to the PA (or, as it actually happened over the years, choose not to transfer them as a means of questionable punishment against the PA), and obligates the PA to keep Palestinian markets open to Israeli goods. Of course, all these tools were already in Israeli hands when the protocol was signed, but putting them in writing allowed Israel to be certain that its economic interests in the Occupied Territories will not be harmed by the Palestinians’ initial steps towards independence. As B’Tselem explains it, the PA didn’t really have a choice at the time but to accept these terms.

Women at Qalandia checkpoint on Ramadan. (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Women at Qalandia checkpoint on Ramadan. (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The Paris Protocol actually promised that both markets – Palestinian as well as Israeli – will be open to each other, allowing free movement of labor and of products. But as Israel enjoys the upper military hand and is the one to define the regional security standards, the past two decades led to a shrinking of the number of Palestinian workers permitted entrance into Israel, a limiting of Palestinian goods sold in Israeli markets, and even to severe limitations on Palestinian internal trade and a growing dependency of the Palestinian economy on Israeli products. As the “Who Profits” campaign shows in one report on the captive economy:

… in 2000-2008, the Palestinian dependency on the Israeli economy increased by 52%, from 29% of its Gross National Income (GNI) in 2000 to 44% in 2008. At the same time, import from Israel to the OPT reached approximately 80% of that year’s total import.

A nail in the coffin

So what are the new treaties signed this week good for if they only reaffirm the Paris Protocol and create more tools for its implementation? Israel Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz says they are an important step in the fight against undeclared earnings, which have recently been talked about in Israeli financial papers. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said that the treaties strengthen the basis of the Palestinian economy.

But to understand these treaties one must observe the general political background. Twenty years after negotiations started in Oslo and three years after Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech – Israeli control of the OPTs is as strong and unshaken as it ever was. Settlements are blooming and gain massive benefits, construction is moving forward, a university is being inauguarated in Ariel, and a new government-sponsored program promotes the settlers’ tourist industry, all this as the army goes on chasing Palestinians in the desert to demolish their huts and water wells, the siege on Gaza remains un-lifted, and no political or public force is pressuring the government to return to negotiations and promote the end of occupation through peace, justice, equality and democracy for all.

It is within this reality of a status quo benefiting Israel that one should read the new treaties the PA has agreed to sign, treaties that in no way promote the end of occupation but rather set the terms for its more efficient continuation. When the PA ignores this reality, avoids the promotion of an all out popular uprising and at times collaborates with Israel’s attempts to put down and such uprisings, it only strengthens its image in the Palestinian public as an irrelevant body, to say the least.

The PA is detached from the people's reality of living under occupation (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The PA is detached from the people's reality of living under occupation (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Considering that former World Bank man Fayyad and the PA on the whole are trying to justify their mere existence by gaining certain legitimacy from the U.S., EU and Bretton Woods – these treaties seem to make sense. But in an age of change and transformation and of constant revolutions throughout the Middle East, these treaties seem more like another nail in the coffin of the PA. It is yet too early to say how or when it will fall, and what would come in its stead, but the road it is marching on has a dead end, and once it reaches it we are all likely to suffer for it.

Read also:
One or two states? The status quo is Israel’s rational choice

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    1. Jehudah

      We should be pleased, indeed, very pleased with the trade agreements that have been in place until recently, as well as with those recently added. The reason is simple: economic cooperation, in general, and between the parties in the Arab Israeli conflict, local and regional, only bring closer the day of an accommodation of peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew, between the Muslim-Arab world, local and regional alike, and the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel.

      And, after all, such an accommodation is what we all seek, don’t we?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jack

      Under Arafat the corrupation was running high. Obviously the political corrupation and ecomonic(?) is still vibrant in the West bank.

      This is just another indication how badly palestinians are in need of a new competent leadership, with such measures as trade agreements it show that PA not longer eagerly trying to end the occupation, now they even accept more agreemens with them and therefore make the occupation more stable, robust and permanent. Question is, is there any idea to argument for the sake of a palestinian state/two state solution where apprently no party really want it? I have been critical of the occupation and constant wars but after all these years it seems that this is a support that goes directly down the drain and arent appreciated by the people living the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Haggai Matar

      Jehudah – of course we all seek peaceful coexistence, but do agreements such as this bring it closer? I think not. As mentioned above, these agreements do little more than maintain Israel’s supremacy over the occupied territories. This is of course very good for Israel, but not a very promising situation for Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jehudah

      “…of course we all seek peaceful coexistence…” — let me be skeptical about this statement in light of the fact that since one the Arab side, categorically, objects to accepting Israel’s RIGHT to be, to exist as the SOVEREIGN NATION-STATE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. And, in addition, refuses to accept a peace treaty as the “end of the conflict” and the “end of all future demands”. Surely, there can only be one interpretation for this series of refusals, don’t you think…??

      Universally, cultural and economic modes of cooperation from which all sides benefit have provided the infrastructure for conflict resolutions, and since the economic cooperation here is designed to ensure mutual benefits, one can only reasonably hope that it is another step towards de facto accommodation of peaceful coexistence as has been provided by both international law and by bilateral agreements reached by the parties so far.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jack

      Both Hamas and the PA have offered peace along the lines of pre-1967 lines.

      What is your view on palestinians who doesnt want this settlement? In terms of the evictions and palestinian refugees since the 1948. Doesnt these people have the right to return according to you?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jehudah

      “Both Hamas and the PA have offered peace along the lines of pre-1967 lines”.

      Really?? This is news to me. To the best of my knowledge, Hamas, to date, has refused to accept the three demands of the international community: Accept Israel’s right to exist; cease all acts of violence and terror against Israel and its population; and, adhere to all agreements with Israel already signed by the parties.
      As for the PLO’s PA, they have rejected each of the offers and opportunities presented to them since the present peace process commenced in 1991: 1995, Rabin’s Contour for Peace; 2000, Barak/Clinton peace offer; 2005, Sharon peace gesture; and, 2008, Olmert/Bush peace offer.
      I suggest that we don’t attempt to re-write history and develop “narratives”, i.e. fictional short stories designed for political expediency, and instead look at reality directly and view it in a factually based rational analysis.

      Reply to Comment
    7. There is no point in talking about “end of occupation”. We should call it “end of apartheid” when one state, which already exists from the river to the sea, extends equal rights to all its constituents.

      Jehudah represents the Zionist establishment and since those view are not going to change on the Zionist side, there is no point talking about ending the occupation. Of course, the Zionist invaders and colonizers see themselves as “making generous offers” and even when the Palestinian leadership accepts their ridiculous demands, such as “to recognize Israel as a Jewish State”, the Zionist colonizers keep expanding settlements, entrenching the occupation and having the enormous chutzpah to blame Palestinians that there is no peace.

      Israel’s whole charade falls apart when you consider they have the most compliant Palestinian leadership ever, that has recognized Israel’s right to exist, fights terrorism, jails Hamas activists, cooperates with their oppressors – yet in return has nothing to show for. On the contrary – Palestine is shrinking by the day, settlements are expanding and the Israeli leadership has even dropped the pretense of “trying to make peace”.

      Jehudah just represents the Zionist establishment. As long as this is their attitude (and it is not likely to change, ever, since they deny the very essence of Israel’s colonial nature) the pursuit of a two state solution will fail. In that light, Palestinians should move to dismantle the PA and start a civil movement for equal rights which will expose Israel for what it is – an apartheid state.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jack

      Yes they have reiterated its support for two separate states for the involved groups of people in the conflict. Your revionism of PA rejection doesnt bear scrutiny either. But please answer my question.

      “What is your view on palestinians who doesnt want this settlement? In terms of the evictions and palestinian refugees since the 1948. Doesnt these people have the right to return according to you?”

      Reply to Comment
    9. Jehudah

      Two points:

      1. No, I don’t represent anyone but myself and the way in which I observe reality: in a factually based rational analysis.

      2. “…one state, which already exists from the river to the sea, extends equal rights to all its constituents”. — When I read international law, objectively, that was indeed the intent (read the League of Nations decisions of 1922; and, the UN Charter, Article 80, 1945): to have 23% of “Palestine” – the name of a territory, never a nationality or a state of course – located between the Jordan River and the Med. Sea as “the national home for the Jewish people” and only of the Jewish people (the rest of “Palestine”, 77% of it, located between the Jordan River and the Arabian Desert, had been handed over to the Arabs in 1921). The only rights afforded, by international law, to the non-Jewish population of the 23% portion of “Palestine” were civil and religious rights, not national right, which, one assume, were to be met in the 77% of the territory under exclusive Arab rule.
      However, Israel has offered the Arabs of the 23% of “Palestine” much, much more, including an autonomous region and self-controlled civil affairs, which they continue to exercise under the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, to refer to this situation as a “one-state” and an “apartheid” one is a bit or a “narrative”, i.e. fictional short story designed for political expediency, don’t you agree?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Yes, Jehudah, you are an exact representation of the Zionist establishment and even worse – the messianic nazionalist zionism which views a “nation” as having “rights” to lands, which is some sort of a combination of biblical and fascist views.

      You should read my latest essay, since I addressed those points, although I am not holding my breath that a Judeo-Nazionalist would ever realize the fallacy of his world view:


      Reply to Comment
    11. Jehudah

      “Yes, Jehudah, you are an exact representation of the Zionist establishment and even worse – the messianic nazionalist zionism…”

      I shall not even address myself to this non-substantive and totally inappropriate form of rational discourse. I placed it here, however, to demonstrate/emphasize the level to which some among us sink in their inability to be rational; which lead me to an answer to a different poster as to what is my view…, etc. which is: the drive for an accommodation of peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew, between the Muslim-Arab world, local and regional alike, and the Jewish people and its sovereign nation-sate of Israel. The way to reach this goal, I still believe, is the application, as is, of the relevant elements of international law designed to achieve this goal.

      Reply to Comment
    12. A Zionist talking about international law… that would be the day Dracula turns vegetarian…. I am pretty sure you are aware what international law says about the occupation, the settlements and the apartheid wall – it’s quite unambiguous.

      But again, your (baseless) claim is that Palestine was awarded to the Jewish people by the international community. And I assume you consider Israel extending sovereignty all the way to the river with Palestinians living in some sort of confined autonomous reservations (which can be and are colonized by Jews at the will of the Israeli government) but don’t have citizen rights in Israel. That’s called Apartheid – and that’s what we are fighting against.

      There is no such thing as “autonomous”. Autonomous regions in Iraq (Kurds) and Russia (Chechens) are conferred on people who are full citizens of these states – not confined ghetto dwellers.

      Reply to Comment
    13. The power to tax is the power to govern. If tax revenue can be withheld by Israel, then the PA is subordinate in policy to Israel, a client entity with an avowed ideology of autonomy. Networks of support for the PA within the West Bank channel what stability there can be, but also create marginalized individuals unable to get, locally, ahead. Corruption or stability, depending on where you are, in or out of these networks.
      I see little difference between this and the bantu states of apartheid South Africa. Because access to stability is limited to the Israeli tax funded PA, polorization will result. An autonomous PA would have its own polarizaed networks, but not the common focus of external Israel. In consequence of this external focus, I see not but a recurrsion to violence at some point. The point of autonomy is that dominant networks can, potentially, shift; not so when beholden to an outside power. This inability to shift, to relieve stress through political regrouping, places those advocating violence in a stronger position. Fewer will turn from them. That’s all they need.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Richard Witty

      Trade agreements both firm up the status quo AND overturn the status quo.

      Is this glass half-full or half-empty?

      Its half-empty, its emptiness describing that much is possible, there is room, not the dogmatic litmus test of language only.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Prometheus

      “I am pretty sure you are aware what international law says about the occupation”
      There is no “occupation” in “Palestine”
      Occupation in international law terms means State A “occupies” State B.
      No state – no occupation.
      It’s funny though – Palestinians have rejected the very right to be occupied by law. Willingly turned themselves into outlaws.

      Reply to Comment