GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Israeli daily Haaretz reported April 2 that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to improve the economic conditions of the Palestinians.
Many Palestinians believe that his words came on the request of US President Donald Trump.
According to Haaretz, during the Cabinet meeting March 29, Netanyahu said that Trump asked him to make concessions to improve the economic conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank as part of his efforts to reach a political settlement in the region. The newspaper noted that Netanyahu would avoid appearing as though he wanted to derail the US efforts and predicted that he will agree to the request without committing to any specific action.
In an April 4 press statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry responded to Netanyahu’s decision, calling the announcement an “attempt to mislead the world and to give the impression that it is reacting positively to the efforts to resume negotiations.”
The statement went on to say that Netanyahu’s economic concessions are “nothing but a partial lifting of a number of punitive measures imposed by the Israeli authorities on the Palestinian people. They do not come to support or develop the Palestinian economy, but to further perpetuate its dependence on the Israeli economy and continue Israel's oppression.”
Manal Farhan, undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy, told Al-Monitor, “The government believes that no breakthrough in the Palestinian economy is possible without a political solution that ends the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two-state solution.”
Farhan added, “Trump’s demand that Netanyahu work to improve the Palestinian economy is of major significance, but [Israel] will mislead him by making simple concessions like allowing hundreds of Palestinian workers to work inside Israel without taking any strategic action.”
There are about 400,000 unemployed Palestinians and 320,000 families living below the poverty line across the different Palestinian governorates in both Gaza and the West Bank, according to Minister of Labor Mamoun Abu Shahla, during his meeting with Marina Wes, World Bank Country Manager in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Nov. 17.
To improve the Palestinian economy, Farhan said the Israeli prime minister must “lift all restrictions on economic activities by eliminating all security checkpoints between Palestinian cities and villages, allow Palestinians to import and export and take advantage of their natural resources including the shores of the Dead Sea, allow the extraction of Palestinian gas from the Gaza Sea, revive tourism by lifting restrictions on freedom of movement, and lift all restrictions on development works in Area C.”
Nasr Abdul Karim, a professor of economics at Birzeit University in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor that what Netanyahu called “economic facilities” are basic human rights.
“Netanyahu is playing the economic facilities card as a weapon in his relations with the Palestinian Authority [PA] in order to achieve two goals: first, to provide security for the settlers living in the West Bank settlements and second, to achieve peacemaking based on the principle of economy for peace, rather than the principle of land for peace.”
Abdul Karim considered that any economic concessions for the Palestinian economy would reduce the cost of economic activity, increase the areas that may participate in trade and industry, boost the confidence of foreign investors to invest in the various developing sectors in the Palestinian territories, and contribute to reducing poverty and unemployment levels.
According to data released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in July 2016, the unemployment rate stood at 26.6% in Palestine, with 18% in the West Bank and 41.2% in the Gaza Strip.
Mohammed Abu Jiab, the editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Al-Eqtesadia newspaper, told Al-Monitor that Netanyahu’s pledges are a “lost bet” and that he is hoodwinking the international community by presenting himself as trying to improve the Palestinian economy, while the actions on the ground are completely different.
“What is actually happening is that Netanyahu is imposing further restrictions on the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, with more checkpoints and further demolitions of houses and closing of economic facilities,” he added.
Abu Jiab added that if Netanyahu actually wants to make economic concessions, they would affect the West Bank alone and not the Gaza Strip, as the Strip is under control of Hamas, which is on Israel’s list of terrorist organizations.
“Gaza’s economy is completely destroyed, as the most recent war destroyed its infrastructure and from Israel's ban on the entry of many raw materials and other goods under security pretexts. This is not to mention the restrictions on traders, whose travel permits are being taken away at the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing,” he added.
Ziad Hammouri, the director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, told Al-Monitor, “Netanyahu is one of the most ardent advocates of the principle of economic peace as an alternative to the political solution.”
He added, “Since the PA came to power in 1994, the economy had witnessed a great boost and started to attract foreign investment. Palestinians had their own airport. However, following the second intifada in 2000, Israel wiped out everything. Israel deliberately destroyed the economic structures and the only Palestinian airport to make the lives of Palestinians hell. Now, Netanyahu is offering Palestinians economic peace to improve their life in return for giving up their rightful demands, most notably the Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.”
Hammouri noted that according to UN reports, the biggest obstacle for the Palestinian economy is the Israeli occupation.
Farhan shares Hammouri's opinion. “The main Palestinian demand is to end the Israeli occupation and to build an independent Palestinian state based on the two-state solution. This would allow Palestinians to build their economy independently and autonomously,” she said.