In the past few decades, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made an art out of neglecting clear but disturbing realities. This is someone who drove his nation into an illegitimate war in Iraq – leaving millions of innocent civilians dead and injured – but still maintains that it was worth it. As a mastermind of the war, Blair continues to believe that he can be a representative of the Iraqi people.
The same must undoubtedly be said about his role as the Envoy of the Middle East Quartet, a position he has held for more than six years, advocating economic growth and development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on behalf and with the support of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States. In his speech at a conference on using global investment to provide employment and develop industries last week, Blair claimed that there was tremendous potential in Gaza and the West Bank. Improvements in the Palestinian economy, claimed Blair, would enhance the situation of the Palestinian people.
Even though he is undoubtedly correct, Blair failed to identify precisely what is hampering the Palestinian economy. It is not rocket science; in fact, the answer to the unasked question has been known since 1948. It is the ruthless Israeli military occupation of Palestine.
In the middle of 2013, a report was published by the World Bank indicating that the Israeli occupation is costing the Palestinians $3.54 billion annually. It is important to note that this only applied to the occupied West Bank. The damage to Gaza as a result of the suffocating Israeli-led siege, which has been ongoing since 2006, was not detailed.
Tel Aviv has taken every chance to impoverish the Palestinians. It is an inhuman strategy which was defined by a special adviser to ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as putting the Palestinians “on a diet but not enough to make them die of hunger”. Ironically, the Israelis even made careful calculations of the calories required for children, women and men to determine how much food they would allow through the blockade.
It is obvious that it is the Israeli occupation that has hindered Palestinian entrepeneurs from cultivating the fruits of their struggles. In the West Bank, Palestinians are deprived of water resources because they are restricted to Israeli-only industries and homes within the illegal settlement blocs. Israel effectively forces the Palestinians to work in these industries and prohibits them from developing their own businesses in their own land. The border with the Gaza Strip is closed and the Israeli government has full control over imports and exports.
As a result, it is not surprising that with no control of their borders, no access to their own resources, their land being stolen daily, and not being able to move freely between Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian economy is in tatters. In fact, it is a credit to Palestinian astuteness that it carries on in any way at all.
There is indeed tremendous potential in Palestine. Tony Blair should help the Palestinian people reach their full potential by eliminating the biggest hurdle that they encounter. The Palestinians do not need lectures on economic growth. What they need is political pressure to bring to an end to the ongoing brutal Israeli occupation. The boost to the economy will follow.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.