As Israel and its advocates promote a depoliticised framework of economic improvements for Palestinians under military occupation, a new United Nations (UN) document is required reading.
Late last month, the UN Country Team in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) published an extensive, 180-page report on “the state of development in Palestine as the Israeli occupation of its territory enters its 50th year.”
‘Leave No One Behind: A Perspective on Vulnerability and Structural Disadvantage in Palestine’, focuses in particular “on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups among Palestinians and the development constraints they face”, and “analyses the factors driving their vulnerability.”
The report’s main conclusion is categorical, and a wake-up call for those who still think it is possible to promote Palestinian ‘development’ without addressing Israel’s ongoing colonial occupation.
“Any discussion of development in Palestine”, the report states, “must start with the fact that the largest and most visible constraint on Palestinian development is the occupation.” For most Palestinians, it continues, “there is scarcely any sphere of life that the occupation does not touch.”
Furthermore, the report adds, “the tools to reverse this fundamental vulnerability are not in the hands of Palestinian development policy makers nor the UN Development Group.”
That is because “this vulnerability can be reversed only by ending the military occupation of Palestine” – or “in the short term, mitigating its most pernicious measures.” In other words, “development (and humanitarian aid) can only mitigate its [the occupation’s] effects.”
The Israeli occupation, the report states, “impacts the movement of people and goods, fragments the territory geographically and socio-politically, stunts economic growth, and restricts Palestinian use of critical resources such as land, water and minerals.”
And, it adds, “with the very same instruments, it hinders policy making, governance and service delivery by the Palestinian Authority (PA).”
That pithy summary should be brought to the attention of policy-makers, politicians and diplomats. The conclusion is clear: without the political will to pressure Israel to end its occupation, aid money for the PA or development projects in the OPT is like pouring money down a bottomless pit.
The report goes into a number of specific ways that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land obstructs development, of which the following is just a sample.
First, there are Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods, which are “implemented through a complex system of checkpoints, permits, military roadblocks, settlements, a bypass road system, parallel legal regimes and the [Separation] Barrier.”
These restrictions have “fragmented the Palestinian landscape”, and “created isolated communities, undermined social cohesion, ruptured a common identity and reduced economic activity within and among the fractured Palestinian populations of the territory.”
Restrictions on the movement of goods, for example, “severely impair the Palestinian economy and its potential for growth”, and contribute to limitations on “the ability of the private sector to function, let alone thrive and generate employment.”
Since Israel imposed its external trade and fiscal regime on the OPT, notes the report, “the flow of Palestinian labour and goods to Israel was allowed under non-reciprocal restrictions” and imports to the OPT “were subjected to Israeli tariff structures and quotas.”
As a result, “Palestinian producers became increasingly cut off from their traditional trading partners and had to reorient trade towards the Israeli economy.” Over time, “Palestinian exporters lost much of their competitive edge while Israeli products enjoyed unhindered access to Palestinian markets.”
Second, in addition to discriminatory controls on movement and trade barriers, Palestinian development is further stymied by Israel’s colonisation of natural resources.
According to the report, “Israeli settlements, military zones, nature reserves, and the [Separation] Barrier” constitute 44 per cent of the entire West Bank, including 70 per cent of so-called ‘Area C’ – the remaining 30 per cent of which “is heavily restricted for construction.”
That is because Israel’s planning regime in Area C and occupied East Jerusalem is “discriminatory and restrictive”, states the report, and, contrary to international humanitarian law, “is not designed for the benefit of the protected population.”
The agriculture sector is limited by “restrictions on essential land and water resources”, while the industrial sector is similarly and “profoundly affected by limits on land availability and by limited
opportunities for quarrying and mining of minerals.”
In addition to land colonisation, “Israel controls all shared surface and ground water resources” and utilises 85 per cent, leaving only 15 per cent for Palestinian use. “Restrictions related to water affect the livelihoods of communities, deepening poverty levels and further increasing vulnerability.”
Third, and crucially from the point of view of how the international community has engaged with this issue to date, even “Palestinian attempts to overcome these numerous hurdles to development are likewise circumscribed by the occupation.”
So for example, “the Palestinian government has no control over its borders – land, air or sea – or of its customs revenues.” It lacks “access and policy prerogative over Area C,” 60 per cent of the West Bank, and its “fiscal space” is also subject to restrictions (e.g. Israeli control over tax and revenues).
Meanwhile, the Israeli-driven territorial fragmentation of the OPT has a negative impact on “Palestinian local governance and service delivery”, hampering “rule of law, maintenance of security, and the delivery of justice services by the Palestinian state.”
The PA is thus “a government that does not control its borders, its revenue, and its monetary policy and cannot access much of its natural resources.”
This new UN report has not made any headlines, but its contents deserve a wider audience – especially amongst international policy-makers and diplomats.
It documents, in detail, how the “[Israeli] occupation translates into restricted development opportunities for all Palestinians of all walks of life”, and “in every corner” of the OPT.
The conclusion is clear: “Ending the occupation is…the highest development priority.” And anyone who promotes Palestinian economic development without placing an end to Israeli colonisation and occupation front and centre is either acting in ignorance, or disingenuously.