Every few weeks some international body issues a report directly linking the policy of restricted movement imposed by Israel on the occupied territories and the state of economic deterioration there. The report is often accompanied by a warning that the situation cannot persist. Last week it was the turn of the World Bank to issue a cautionary report, entitled “Movement and Access Restrictions in the West Bank: Uncertainty and Inefficiency in the Palestinian Economy.”
Dozens of international researchers and economic attaches are busy researching the Palestinians’ economic deterioration, and many more similar reports will yet be written, as long as the countries that finance them settle for words and do not take steps to halt the policy of social and economic destruction that Israel is imposing on the Palestinians. The newest report is comprehensive, but there is nothing new in it and it stresses what has been written and said for years: Israel is inflicting enormous damage on the Palestinian economy and on its private sector.
In 2002, following the release of a report on the impact of Israel‘s closure policy, the previous World Bank representative in the occupied territories, Nigel Roberts, praised the Palestinian society’s endurance and suggested that any Western society would have collapsed had it undergone an
economic disaster similar to that experienced in the territories. Today, five years after that report’s warnings and pleas, Palestinian society’s collapse is more worrying than ever – primarily in the Gaza Strip and Nablus, which not coincidentally are the areas facing the harshest Israeli siege.
And why should Israel take into consideration the warnings of the World Bank when they have no teeth? It is not enough to mention the apartheid roads in connection with the expansion of the settlements, or the fact that around 50 percent of West Bank territory is not accessible to Palestinians. It is not enough to count the trucks at the Karni crossing that do not enter and exit, or to calculate the small number of days when the Rafah terminal is open. It is not enough to adorn the reports with scholarly charts presenting the Palestinian territories as a perpetual disaster area.
The United States and Europe knew very well how to punish the Palestinians when democratic, free elections gave rise to a Hamas government: with a political boycott and a freeze on financial aid earmarked for development and for encouraging independent production and rebuilding. True, the donor countries, primarily Arab nations, nearly tripled in 2006 the funds they donated to the Palestinians ($900 million, compared to $349 million in 2005), but these were provided mostly in the form of nonproductive grants to an impoverished population, as detailed in the paper prepared by economist Karim Nashashibi, a former International Monetary Fund official, for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The generous donations quell some of the humanitarian fires set by Israeli policy, but at the same time they subsidize it. They encourage Israel to continue to rob the tax and customs monies that make up approximately two-thirds of the Palestinian treasury’s revenues. Non-transfer of the funds, of
course, creates a chain reaction of economic and social regressions in the private and public sector.
The countries issuing the warnings continue to purchase Israeli manufactured arms and other security-related products. They host military officers who are directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of Palestinian citizens and fervently implement the siege policy. They invite Israeli ministers who are responsible for the economic and social de-development of a whole people. Their representatives also meet with ministers whose remarks and actions negate the rights of the Palestinian people with no less determination than those of Hamas ministers, who refuse to declare their recognition of Israel‘s right to exist. The Western countries chose to punish the occupied with very concrete means – but not the occupier, which it sees as part of their Enlightened Civilization. They thus signal to Israel that it may adhere to the same policies whose impact the reports are warning against.