World Bank: Israelis Strangling Palestinian Economy

Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinians in the Palestinian West Bank impede easy access to fertile farmland and other resources, costing the Palestinians $3.4 billion a year, according to a new World Bank study. This land falls in Area C, which the Israelis agreed to turn over to the Palestinian Authority by 1998. They never did so, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahoo was caught on camera boasting that he had derailed these Oslo agreements. Instead, Israel has flooded hundreds of thousands of squatters onto Palestinian land in a naked grab of property from the stateless, helpless Palestinians. Palestinians suffering under Israeli Apartheid are cut up into Bantustans by a network of roads and checkpoints and cannot move freely through the West Bank.

Here is a summary of the World Bank statement :

“The first comprehensive study of the potential impact of this ‘restricted land,’ released by the World Bank today, sets the current loss to the Palestinian economy at about US$3.4 billion.

Area C constitutes 61 percent of the West Bank and is the only contiguous land connecting 227 smaller separate and heavily residential areas. “But unleashing the potential from that ‘restricted land,’ –access to which is currently constrained by layers of restrictions – and allowing Palestinians to put these resources to work, would provide whole new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth.”

With growth of approximately six percent annually needed to absorb new entrants to the labor market, let alone making a dent in the soaring rate of youth unemployment, urgent attention is needed to find ways to grow the economy and create jobs. The report estimates that if businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35 percent to the Palestinian GDP.

Freeing economic activity in Area C would have a particularly high impact on the development of businesses in agriculture and Dead Sea minerals exploitation, stone mining and quarrying, construction, tourism, and telecommunications.”

It is not only an opportunity cost for economic advance that the Israeli restrictions and colonial policies have made the Palestinians pay. The roads and checkpoints have also impeded access to health care for many Palestinians living in Area C. The New Statesman points out of Area C,

“Israelis living in illegal settlements there enjoy government subsidies and much greater access to services and local resources than Palestinian residents. While the Israeli Ministry of Health is able to freely construct and administer health clinics for the settlements in the area, the Palestinian Ministry of Health is not able to build health facilities in 87% of the Jordan Valley without obtaining a building permit from the Israeli authorities – which are rarely granted. The network of checkpoints and barriers in Area C, together with the proximity of settlements, also makes it difficult for staff and patients to reach clinics or hospitals.”

The Jordan Valley residents have to go to Jericho or Nablus for good medical care. Recently a Palestinian boy suffering from a snake bite had to spend an hour at an Israeli checkpoint on his way to a hospital. The troops refused to call an ambulance. The boy is in critical condition.

The situation is even worse in the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupies by surrounding it and controlling its sea and land access. Since the Egyptian government has taken a hard line toward the Palestinians in Gaza and closed the Rafah crossing, the strip’s 1.7 million people only have access to the outside world through Israel. They have run out of 145 types of medicine, and even their stock of medicine is only 2/3s of what is needed. They no longer have access to Egyptian hospitals, and must often wait months for a bed in an Israeli one. They often don’t have enough fuel to keep hospital generators going. Lack of electricity in a hospital can be life-threatening for many patients.

The World Bank report underlines how hollow are Netanyahu’s hopes of taming the Palestinians and getting them to accept the status quo through growing the economy. An occupation economy is always signficantly distorted, and anyway people are driven to rebellion not only by economic desperation but also by national humiliation. Few people in the world are more humiliated than the occupied Palestinians.

Peace can only come through recognition of Palestinian statehood or through finding some other way to give Palestinians citizenship in something. 

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