Israel’s economic punishment of Palestinians must be stopped

Israel’s economic punishment of Palestinians must be stopped

Israeli soldiers surround Palestinian men trying to plant olives trees on land close to an Israeli military camp in the Jordan Valley, in the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)

When Palestinians protested against the provocative entrance of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Al-Haram Al-Sharif in the fall of 2000, Israeli troops responded with live ammunition, killing 13 and injuring dozens. This brutal Israeli reaction lit a fire throughout the Occupied Territories and Israel, and thus began the Second Intifada, often referred to as Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Despite the fact that Israel had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Palestinians a mere seven years earlier, the ensuing protests and the further Israeli crackdown brought about the retaking of major Palestinian cities in the months that followed. Sharon, who became prime minister in 2001, led Operation Defensive Shield, which caused further death and destruction.

While Israel eventually left the major cities to be patrolled by the Palestinian police, the fact is that the hopes and dreams that many people had of an independent Palestinian state were dashed as a result of this cycle of violence. Over the next two years, Israel not only withdrew from major West Bank cities but, in another unilateral decision, pulled out from the Gaza Strip entirely, while keeping the tiny waterfront territory completely surrounded. The Palestinian airport that had been opened less than two years before was bombed out of existence by Israel, and the international border supervising team that ensured the Rafah land crossing allowed the movement of people into Egypt was also disbanded because Israeli decisions.

The actions carried out by Israel were part of a plan designed by Sharon and his deputy at the time, Ehud Olmert, to disengage Palestinians from Israel. The disengagement plan was not negotiated with Palestinians but was carried out unilaterally, thus leaving the occupied areas, especially Gaza, vulnerable to power grabs by local armed groups. Palestinian security, which was largely based in the West Bank, needed Israel’s approval to move around and get to Gaza.

While the political changes have been hotly debated over the years, few have paid attention to the economic cost of Israel’s post-Al Aqsa Intifada policies.

Attempts by Palestinians to build an independent economy and to move toward full independence were dashed by deliberate Israeli policies, which were strategically planned to cut off the idea of Palestinian statehood.

Daoud Kuttab

Attempts by Palestinians to build an independent economy and to move toward full independence were dashed by deliberate Israeli policies, which were strategically planned to cut off the idea of Palestinian statehood.

According to the UN Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the fiscal cost of occupation for the Palestinian people over the period 2000 to 2017 is estimated at $47.7 billion. UNCTAD said in a detailed report released last week that this cost is three times the size of the Palestinian economy in 2017, and it is continuing to rise.

This economic cost has meant that the central Palestinian government has had to stay dependent on foreign financial support and has allowed Israel, which was supposed to temporarily handle the customs and tax revenues collected at the borders, a political instrument to be used to put further pressure on the Palestinian government. Attempts by the Palestinian leadership to extract themselves from this oppressive Israeli control mechanism have failed. When President Mahmoud Abbas turned to the UN to ask it to recognize the state of Palestine, the US and Israel began a policy of economic pressure aimed at forcing the Ramallah-based leadership not to pursue membership of major international agencies as a state under occupation. More than 140 countries, including Sweden, have recognized the Palestine state on the June 4, 1967, borders. Almost all European parliaments have also recognized Palestine.

With Israel directly or indirectly controlling all borders of the state of Palestine under occupation, the economic pressures have proved to be tremendous. When Palestinians refused Israeli demands to stop their social support to families of prisoners, Israel moved to cut off Palestinian-earmarked funds that were collected at the borders. This Israeli decision and the unilateral US withdrawals of support for the UN agency supporting refugees and Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem, as well as infrastructure programs, have been aimed at bringing the Palestinian leadership to its knees so that it will accept without protest US and Israeli diktats.

This has not happened. Palestinians have decided to live on with pride rather than receive funds under unjust Israeli demands toward those who sacrificed their lives and their futures as part of the struggle for liberty and freedom.

The economic cost of Israeli policy is staggering. The international community has an obligation to ensure that this punishment of a people whose leaders have been fighting for independence using nonviolent means should not be allowed to continue. In the meantime, it is incumbent on those countries that support Palestine and recognize it as an independent state under occupation to move up and help fill this economic gap, whether in direct support or through buying Palestinian products as both an act of defiance to the occupiers and in support of the courageous people of Palestine.

  • Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Arab journalist. He is the former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and runs Community Media Network in Amman, Jordan. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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