Missing $48 billion would be 'game-changer' for Palestinian economy

Missing $48 billion would be 'game-changer' for Palestinian economy
Between 2000 and 2017, Palestinian officials have lost out on some $48bn because of the occupation, the UN says, mostly cash that Israel was supposed to hand over to them.
4 min read
04 December, 2019
Two million Gazans are 'hermetically isolated' in an 'open-air prison' [Getty]

Israel's occupation of Palestinian land has cost Ramallah some $50 billion so far this century – money that could have been used to fuel growth and create jobs, the United Nations General Assembly heard on Tuesday.

A report from a UN trade body, UNCTAD, calculated that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza had denied Palestinian coffers some $47.7 billion in withheld taxes and other fiscal revenues between 2000 and 2017.

According to Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD expert on Palestinian finances, the losses were about three times the size of the Palestinian economy in 2017, and easily enough to pay off Ramallah's budget shortfalls.

"These are large sums of money that Palestinian officials should receive in revenues for spending on delivering services," Elkhafif told The New Arab on Tuesday.

"Instead, the money is leaked to the Israeli treasury, or lost as a result of measures imposed by the occupation. Getting hold of this money would be a game-changer for Ramallah, which could end its budget deficit and spend more on job-creation schemes for Palestinians."

UNCTAD's 60-page report, The Economic Costs of the Israeli Occupation for the Palestinian People: Cumulative Fiscal Costs, was presented to the UN's 193-nation assembly during an annual debate on Palestinian issues on Tuesday.

Palestinian families were 'forcibly dispossessed and displaced' as Israeli firms profited from exploiting their 'massive natural resources'

Researchers counted money that should have been available to Palestinian officials under the terms of the so-called Paris Protocol, which was signed by Israelis and Palestinians as part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

The UN economists found that, in the studied 18-year period, some $6.6 billion had "leaked" to Israel, including tax revenue and other monies that were collected by Israel and were supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

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Another $28.2 billion was lost as loan interest payments that Palestinian officials needed to cover their budget.

More losses were attributed to "Area C" of the West Bank, which makes up 60 percent of the Palestinian territory and where Israeli checkpoints and settlement construction deny many Palestinians access to their lands.

The scale of losses to Palestinian coffers has mounted up these past two decades. They amounted to $565.5 million in 2000 and grew to $1.9 billion in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available.

Researchers said the estimates were "partial and conservative" as the real losses may be higher.

Addressing the General Assembly, Palestinian ambassador Riyadh Mansour blasted the occupation, saying Palestinian families were "forcibly dispossessed and displaced" as Israeli firms profited from exploiting their "massive natural resources".

Mansour described two million Gazans being "hermetically isolated" in an "open-air prison" and subjected to a "dire humanitarian crisis and poverty" with unemployment rates as high as 70 percent for young people.

According to Elkhafif, the lost $48 billion could have made life easier for Palestinians these past two decades, as Ramallah would have been able to spend the money on services and boosting development funding tenfold.

Injecting funds back into the $14.7 billion Palestinian economy would have created some 11,000 jobs each year

Injecting funds back into the $14.7 billion Palestinian economy would have created some 11,000 jobs each year.

Currently, 27 percent of Palestinians are jobless, though this figure climbs much higher in the impoverished coastal strip of Gaza.

Israel's UN mission to the world body did not respond to TNA's request for comment.

Addressing the General Assembly, Israeli envoy Danny Danon criticised Palestinians for refusing to engage in "direct negotiations" and instead arranging "pointless events" at the UN headquarters in New York.

The report comes amid growing concerns about growing poverty and despair among Palestinians, with the likelihood of peace talks leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state looking ever-more remote.

James Reinl is a journalist, editor and current affairs analyst. He has reported from more than 30 countries and won awards for covering wars in Sri Lanka, Congo and Somalia, Haiti's earthquake and human rights abuses in Iran.

Follow him on Twitter: @jamesreinl