Occupied economy

Occupied economy
Comment: The world's most powerful financial institutions agree - there can be no Palestinian economic development while the Israeli occupation stands, says Vijay Prashad.
4 min read
28 May, 2015
The economic devastation of Gaza has led to widespread political unrest and despair [AFP]

Somewhere in the vaults of the Palestinian nation sits an archive of miserable documents - first among equals are the numerous UN resolutions and UN reports.

These texts are pristine. They have barely been opened, let alone acted upon.

No-one considers them to be significant. In drawers that no longer open sit human rights reports that tell of atrocities that are too ghastly to comprehend.

Their main stories hide behind euphemisms such as "targeted assassination" and "administrative detainee". In the corner, in a closet shrouded with dust, sits a docket of information on the Palestinian economy, itself a term of euphemism: can there really be an "economy" of a territory under military occupation?

Those lonely economic documents register precisely this: that there is no economy when a nation is under occupation. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), not known for its courageous political choices, said last year that the West Bank and Gaza Strip have a "dim" future unless "obstacles to economic growth" were removed.

What they mean by obstacles are the "Israeli restrictions" - namely the blockade of goods and services.

In March 2014, the World Bank complained that development was not possible for Palestine as long as there were checkpoints and other restrictions to movement. Occupation is antithetical to development.

The Palestinian Authority concurred in its own report, Unlocking Statehood, pointing out that "without an end to the Israeli occupation and its prohibitive restrictions" development was impossible.

     Even the IMF said the West Bank and Gaza Strip have a 'dim' future unless 'obstacles to economic growth' were removed

On May 18 of this year, the IMF Ad Hoc Liaison Committee reported on its journey to the Occupied Territories.

The IMF report hurts the teeth to read. Last year's Israeli bombing of Gaza destroyed the coastal enclave. Gaza has no economy to speak of, so reconstruction without external aid is impossible. The "international community" pledged $3.5 billion, but has only coughed up 27 percent of that.

Little more seems immediately forthcoming.

The Gulf Arab states made great pledges at the Cairo summit, but have barely delivered. Qatar generously sent in 10 percent of its pledge, while Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait are no-where near even that level.

Because so little money has come in, not one of the 5,000 homes that the UN said had been destroyed in the last bombing have been rebuilt. As many as 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza rely upon aid. If it does not come, they have nothing.

Aid is necessary because Gaza's economy has been throttled. Manufacturing has collapsed by 60 percent since 1994, and unemployment stands at 47 percent. Half the population has no job. That number is set to rise.

While Gaza's economy had been in catastrophe by mid-2014, Israel's summer bombing destroyed its capacity by a third. The data is terrifying. With few options available, the IMF expresses its displeasure: "Meanwhile, the blockade of Gaza largely remains in place."

     Everyone concedes that little can be done in terms of development without the removal of Israeli occupation.

This IMF report will be consigned as well to the corner vault.

Everyone concedes that little can be done in terms of development for the Palestinian nation without the removal of Israeli occupation. It is the futility of the political situation that renders these reports ineffective.

With the situation as it is, says the recent IMF study, "unemployment will continue to rise".

What could change the tide for Gaza? The only way forward is if there is a transformation in the "climate that would lead to a lifting of Israeli restrictions in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza".

One of the reasons why I edited Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation (Verso, 2015) was to help in a small way to transform the climate around what British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 called a "prison camp". Contributors to the book reveal the cracks in the pro-Israel consensus in the United States, the great enabler of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

If more cracks open up in the US, this will provide space for Palestine to drive its agenda through the United Nations.

Khalid Maashal says that the psychological situation in Gaza is bleak. The West believes that Hamas is the most dangerous organisation possible, he says. What they do not realise, he adds, is that the bleak conditions have incubated more dangerous political formations.

Hamas is moderate in their own eyes. If you push people deeper into the cage, they will come out fighting with greater ferocity. What is remarkable about the Palestinian cause is that, despite the humiliation and the defeats, there is a hopeful resilience in its politics.

Palestinians are always looking beyond the last sky for a chance to live dignified lives - or just to stay alive.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, journalist and commentator. He is professor of international studies at Trinity College (Connecticut) and formerly held the Edward Said chair at the American University of Beirut.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.