The “choked” Palestinian economy

“Israel is stifling the Palestinian economy by implementing a closure regime, and blocking it from developing export markets.”

This often-repeated rhetoric of Palestinian leaders was explained yet again by the former Palestinian minister of national economy, Bassem Khoury, speaking openly in Jerusalem this week.

To sum up the argument: Israel’s restrictive military procedures in the West Bank and around Gaza hinder freedom of movement. Until that issue is dealt with, there can be no true economic progress.

As an Israeli, I can say, and read the whole sentence: Khoury is correct  but only in a very limited context of political spin.

Look even the Israeli government knows that roadblocks etc do not help Palestinian society. Minister Silvan Shalom reopened the Jalama crossing this week, north of Jenin. He described how:

The opening of the Jalama crossing, like other actions we are promoting, contributes not only to creating trust and understanding, but [is an] important engine of growth. Opening the crossing to vehicles will enable the movement of dozens of cars and trucks between Israel and the city of Jenin every day. Opening the crossing will promote the Palestinian economy by bringing in Israeli Arabs as consumers to Palestinian cities.

But from here on, Khoury’s argument is not just shallow, but false to the point of dangerous. Why?

  1. The World Bank has confirmed that until the violence of the Intifada commenced,  the Palestinian economy was one of the world’s strongest between 1968 and 1999. As the violence has decreased, stats show that growth is edging back towards previous levels. No violence means no restrictions of movement. Simple and undisputable.
  2. Even Khoury acknowledges that the current fiscal crisis is due to “a 55% drop in the foreign aid as compared to 2008”. According to the World Bank reports, most of the unfulfilled promises historically come form members of the Arab League.
  3. And if Khoury wants greater cooperation, how about letting Israelis trade openly with Palestinians. It is an accepted fact that in most of the territories, Israeli products are banned, while Palestinian agricultural products are found in Israeli stores.

When the global recession took hold in September 2008, the Israeli commercial community as a whole took the view: “Let’s find a way to get out of it, and not wait for others to help us”. There is a message there for the country’s neighbours.

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