Why there can be no economic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

A recent UN report revealed that $50 billion were lost to Palestinians because of Israeli occupation
epa08039670 Israeli soldiers walk on Shuhada Street near the Ibrahimi Mosque or the Tomb of the Patriarch, holy for both Jews and Muslims, in the West Bank town of Hebron, 02 December 2019. According to media reports, Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett on 01 December announced plans of a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron.  EPA/ABED AL HASHLAMOUN

Since the start of the century, the Israeli occupation has cost Palestine nearly $50 billion (Dh184 billion), according to a United Nations report published on Monday.

The sum of money lost to Palestinians amounts to three times the combined size of the economies of the West Bank and Gaza. It could also easily make up for the budget deficit of the Palestinian National Authority, which has run the West Bank from 2000 to 2017.

These findings shed light on the damaging consequences of the occupation and the immense economic potential that Palestinians are being deprived of.

Israeli forces have imposed draconian restrictions on Palestinians, in addition to looting precious resources that could benefit them. These measures have had tangible effects on the ground that often go under-reported.

In Gaza, a decade-long blockade has pushed more than half of the strip’s inhabitants below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities claim that their military presence is needed in the West Bank to protect settlers who have established themselves on Palestinian land in contravention of international law. These settlements have gradually eaten away at the West Bank as 20,000-25,000 new settlers move in every year, according to Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.

Occupying forces have done more than simply keep the illegal settlers out of harm’s way. They have imposed restrictions on the free movement of Palestinian goods and people within the West Bank, essentially with the establishment of check-points, effectively cutting off communities from each other.

Military presence has also allowed Israel to dominate the West Bank’s many resources. It has control over water supplies in the West Bank at a time when Palestinians are suffering from severe water shortages.

The recently published UN report has quantified these various facets of Israeli occupation, exposing it as the main culprit behind Palestine’s economic woes - although other factors such as corruption and nepotism also play a significant part in the crisis.

Israeli visitors walk below a banner showing the portrait of late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky and text in Hebrew (R) reading "Rebuilding the Jewish Quarter 'The Market' in Hebron", as they enter an old market building along al-Shuhada street in the flashpoint city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on December 1, 2019, following an announcement by the new Israeli hard-right defence minister to start planning a new Jewish neighbourhood in the wholesale market complex. Defence Minister Naftali Bennett's announcement came as the prospects of a third snap election since April loomed larger, with his New Right party leaning heavily on settlers for support at the polls. The market area is on Hebron's once-bustling Shuhada Street, now largely closed off to Palestinians, and which leads to the holy site where biblical patriarch Abraham is believed to have been buried. / AFP / HAZEM BADER

While US president Donald Trump and his administration have focused on a so-called economic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli- conflict, they have refused to tackle the problem at its core. Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and the president’s son-in-law, has put forth an economic plan for the Middle East worth $50 billion. It was discussed in Bahrain this summer, with the intention of giving the Palestinian economy a lift. However, the conference was boycotted by the Palestinians themselves, whose contention is that the plan is biased towards Israel and does not take their own demands into consideration.

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Even economic development, which was the key component of the Manama conference, cannot be achieved without ending the occupation

Also, the plan does not focus on restarting the peace process, nor does it guarantee Palestinians statehood or sovereignty, which they have yearned for over 70 years.

And now it has become evident that had it not been for the Israeli occupation of their lands, Palestinians could have over the years raised the same amount of money promised in Manama all by themselves. This means that even economic development, which was the key component of the plan, cannot be achieved without ending the occupation.

Palestine has a wealth of resources at its disposal. Yet the empowerment of its people is inconceivable when they cannot even have access to their own natural riches.

Aya Iskandarani

Aya Iskandarani

Aya Iskandarani is a correspondent for The National in Beirut, previously based in Abu Dhabi and Paris.