For decades, against all level-headed expectations, the Palestinian people continued to hope for just one moment of moral clarity from the United States, one moment when America would finally justify its professions of open-mindedness as a mediator of the Palestine conflict.
They’re still hoping against all hope.
Last Sunday, the administration of US President Donald Trump unveiled plans, part of its much-trumpeted “deal of the century”, to sponsor a two-day “economic conference” late next month, to be held in Bahrain, that would call for “economic development” in the Occupied Territories, involving a multibillion dollar package of loans, grants an investments drummed up from Arab governments, as well as nations outside the region, including Asia.
The initiative was developed by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. “We look forward to engaging with business and thought leaders from throughout the region and the world to build consensus around the best steps the international community can take to develop the foundation for a prosperous future”, he said. “The Palestinian people ... deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives.”
And a political settlement? Deferred. Palestinian independence? Mothballed.
As every expert and his uncle engaged in Middle Eastern affairs would readily tell you, previous international efforts to improve economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza have always floundered because of Israel’s relentless grip on the Occupied Territories, where it sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of what is to be developed and what is to remain undeveloped. And Israel, as Palestinian businessmen there would also equally readily tell you — those whose businesses had been run to the ground by draconian restrictions imposed on them by the occupation — has consistently done its very invidious best to impede, retard and indeed block Palestinian economic progress.
Economic progress cannot be achieved absent a solid political vision, where the core hurdles that an occupied people face are removed. The organic nexus that binds politics and economics is well-known in the social sciences. To suggest that a subjugated community living under the rule of the gun, denied the right to be the determining force in its destiny, can achieve economic progress is to present an oxymoron.
Without the occupation, the Palestinian economy would be almost twice as large as it is today, enabling Palestinians to reduce and finally do away with their dependence on donor funding.
Various studies have for several years tried to quantify the annual cost of the occupation to the Palestinian people. One such, released as far back as 2011 by the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARI-J) assesses the cost for 2010 as having been $6.8 billion (Dh25 billion) — a staggering 84 per cent of the total estimated Palestinian gross domestic product. And that was nine years ago. The economy has deteriorated considerably since.
The striking fact, these reports indicate, is that without the occupation, the Palestinian economy would be almost twice as large as it is today, enabling Palestinians to reduce and finally do away with their dependence on donor funding.
Consider this cherry-picked fact: Limits of movement of goods and labour within the West Bank — through checkpoints and diversion by Palestinian drivers away from roads designated for exclusive use by cars with Israeli license plates — can act as a wrench in the growth of business, small and large. Consider yet another: The distance between the city of Nablus in the north and the town of Jilfik in the Jordan Valley is a mere 36 miles (58km). But the circuitous route Palestinians have taken to transport goods, as the ARI-J report indicated, is 107 miles, adding significantly to labour costs.
Then consider theft of, or rampant damage to, Palestinian resources: Israel uses 10 times more water from West Bank aquifers, including those in occupied East Jerusalem, than do Palestinians — all diverted to colonies, industry, and agriculture. There, 680,000 colonists cultivate 64,000 dunams (a dunam is 1,000 square metres) whereas all Palestinians cultivate 100,000. Around 2.7 million trees, including olive groves, some centuries old, have been uprooted since 1967 to make room for colonies and, more recently, for the construction of Israel’s apartheid wall.
You cannot have a robust economy — let alone a vibrant society — regardless of the infusion into it of outside aid, when you are denied the right to exploit your natural resources, or have had them pilfered by a brazen occupier answerable to no one.
The “economic conference” in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, enigmatically dubbed ‘Peace to Prosperity’, is slated to be held on June 25 and 26. Attendees, good folks and well-meaning champions of peace one and all, do not really need two days to do their work. Two minutes will suffice. Just have them call for an end to the occupation.
That’s all it will take for the Palestinian people to become self-sufficient and prosperous, as they draw on their own initiative and on the abundant natural wealth that God had endowed their ancient land with. They yearn to be free. Surely no attendee will have a problem relating to that. Right?
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.