Bernard Avishai writes in Harpers about the wonderful economic possibilities of the US-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. I believe he grossly exaggerates the potential to thrive as a society while under occupation (as I explained recently on ABC Radio). So long as Israel shows no intention of giving up its colonial mindset, “economic development” is simply window-dressing:
Benjamin Netanyahu ran for prime minister last winter rejecting a Palestinian state but promising to advance “economic peace.” In his much anticipated speech at Bar Ilan University in June, he cautiously reversed himself on statehood but returned to his favorite theme: “Economic peace is not a substitute for peace, but it is a very important component in achieving it. . . . I call upon the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here.”
For Netanyahu’s boosters, the phrase often means little more than increasing jobs for Palestinians on Israeli construction projects, including settlements that ring Ramallah, and in tax-exempt industrial zones; as well as more opportunity for West Bank farmers to sell to Israeli fruit wholesalers (who, in a grotesque twist, then pad their profits by controlling the distribution of their produce in Gaza). Economic peace slyly implies that Israelis can have no “partner” for a political settlement until Palestine looks more like Delaware. Meanwhile, presumably, fuller bellies and fatter wallets will make Palestinians more tranquil.Nevertheless, economic peace prompts a reasonable question. If a Palestinian state rises, will it work? Does not the prospect of sovereignty presume a class of resilient entrepreneurs and professionals, people who will build competitive businesses that will, in turn, employ a burgeoning population? The median age in Palestine is nineteen. It is likely that 2 million refugees will be returning in the event of a deal with Israel. Palestine will inevitably become an Arabic-speaking megalopolis spreading east toward Jordan from Jerusalem, yet interlocking with Israel, itself a mainly Hebrew-speaking megalopolis spreading north from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Together, Israel and Palestine will look something like greater Los Angeles. In that environment, fellahin harvesting their olive trees are going to seem beside the point.…Yet what’s missing is precisely the Israeli cooperation that Netanyahu’s talk of economic peace would require. The problem is not Israeli companies, many of which are as hungry to chase business opportunities with Palestinian companies as the latter are to engage with Israelis. The problem is the occupation, whose military tactics and settlement institutions have long been directed to the realization of Likud’s Greater Israel, not a Palestinian state; whose logic is to repress Palestinian autonomy rather than help prepare the ground for it or just get out of its way.
If you spend time in Ramallah and talk to its emerging leaders, it becomes depressingly clear that if the Israeli government were intentionally trying to crush Palestinian entrepreneurship, it could not pursue the endeavor more perfectly. Palestinian businesses have not only been cut off from Jerusalem, their natural commercial center; they cannot count on the things any company needs to survive: access to obvious markets in Jordan and Israel, the mobility of goods, the capacity to recruit talent, basic resources for specialized manufacturing and services, and a reliable financial infrastructure.