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ILO report warns of Gaza 'tinderbox', West Bank 'fragmentation'

A reinforced siege has turned the Gaza Strip into a “tinderbox”, while the West Bank economy remains stunted by a “labyrinth of restrictions” – that’s the stark message of a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The report, prepared for the ILO’s upcoming 103rd session, highlights the need for “urgent measures” to “bring relief” to Gaza, as well as for the removal of “multiple restrictions…arising out of the occupation” in the West Bank, according to Guy Ryder, ILO Director General.

In his foreword to the report, Ryder notes that over the last 12 months, “the Palestinian growth rate has further declined” while “overall unemployment has continued to rise”. Under such conditions, he writes, “no sustainable improvement in the situation of Palestinian workers and entrepreneurs can be expected.”

The report makes grim reading for diplomats involved with the stricken Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It notes “the pessimism arising out of the lack of results in this latest phase of the peace process”, documenting how, in parallel to talks, “settlement activity has intensified, violence has increased, especially in the West Bank, and whatever promises there have been of economic advances have not materialized”.

The ILO report is based on the findings of a mission to the occupied Palestinian territories and Syrian Golan Heights, as well as “in-depth discussions” with various relevant bodies, such as the Israeli government, Palestinian Authority, NGOs, and workers’ organizations. The final report constitutes a powerful indictment of Israeli policies.

The strongest language is reserved for the situation in the Gaza Strip where, despite the ceasefire agreement that concluded the November 2012 hostilities, there has been no significant easing of access restrictions for goods and people.

Indeed, as the ILO point out, after the post-coup Egyptian regime “close[d] down the tunnels “, without “any palpable increase in trade…through the regular crossings”, the “siege of Gaza was effectively reinforced.” According to the ILO, Gaza has been brought to “an ominous standstill” following “nearly seven years of blockade, soaring unemployment, aid dependency, social tensions and the paralysis of all economic activity”.

Restrictions on the movement of persons represent a significant factor in the social and economic decline and increasing isolation of Gaza from the outside world, which has acquired a dimension where it profoundly affects every part of the society.

The ILO point to how the amount of goods entering through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing is around 50 percent of pre-blockade levels, while exports “are practically non-existent” – just 182 truckloads of agricultural produce were exported in 2013 (compared to 15,000 in 2000). “Ultimately”, the ILO concludes, “the blockade must be lifted.”

Gaza Exports chart

When it comes to the West Bank, the report describes how, after “a relative easing of movement” in 2012, “there was no substantial further easing in 2013”. Thus “economic development remains impeded by a multilayered system of movement and access restrictions, combining physical obstacles with a complex and controlling permit regime”.

In addition, “no progress has taken place regarding the relaxation of the occupation in Area C, which covers 60 per cent of the West Bank”. Meanwhile, demolitions of Palestinian property is “on the rise”, increasing “in 2013 by some 10 per cent over the previous year”. In East Jerusalem, “demolitions have virtually doubled.”

According to the ILO, “continued settlement expansion restricts Palestinians access to land, water and other natural resources”. In addition, “the Israeli planning policies and practices for Palestinian communities” are “highly restrictive”, discriminating “against the Palestinians in favour of Israeli settlers, thus breaching international human rights law”.

A picture emerges of the “fragmentation” of the West Bank, with a road network that “aims to provide transportation contiguity to Palestinians instead of territorial continuity”, as “more and more, commercial links between various parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory are being severed”.

The new ILO report leaves no doubt that international aid, and employment in Israel and settlements, are no substitute for a Palestinian economy unhindered by Israel’s discriminatory policies. Palestinian workers struggle in “a two-tiered world with increasingly heavy and entrenched patterns of domination and dependency”, what the ILO calls a “geography of occupation” that is “controlled by Israeli political, military and economic priorities”.

Where, earlier, people asked what could be done despite the occupation, there now appears to be a resigned admission that, with the occupation, little can be done…This is not surprising in a context where even transporting strawberries from Gaza to the West Bank is thwarted by security concerns.

The ILO’s conclusion is straightforward: “without political will for a breakthrough and the repeal of the heavy limitations resulting from the occupation, the potential for sustainable economic activity cannot be realized.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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