Israel still pitching economics, not politics, to Palestinians

An Israeli politician has an economic development plan that he says is compatible with the one proposed by the United States, which the Palestinian Authority has already rejected.

al-monitor Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem, Feb. 23, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Jul 3, 2019

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has made it clear it's not interested in economic "solutions" to the Palestinian cause without political change. Still, an Israeli politician is proposing yet another economic plan.

Israel Hayom newspaper reported June 24 that Likud party lawmaker and former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has a plan designed to improve the economic situation in the West Bank, focusing on Area C, which is under Israeli control. The proposal is seen as complementary to US President Donald Trump’s controversial Mideast plan, which asserts that economic prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved through cooperation.

The newspaper said Barkat, a Knesset member, devised this plan in collaboration with Michael Porter, an international expert on business management at Harvard University.

After touring the West Bank to learn more about joint industrial areas there, the two came to the conclusion that 12 industrial areas should be built, employing more than 200,000 Palestinian workers. Some 30,000 Palestinians are already employed in Area C, half of them in industrial areas and the remainder in Israeli settlements. Area C constitutes 60% of the West Bank and is home to more than 400,000 Israelis and about 300,000 Palestinians.

Barkat's plan was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two months ago, as well as to senior Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, and settlement heads, all of whom reportedly welcomed it.

“The Israeli economic plan will boost the economy for Palestinians in the West Bank and increase their income levels. The plan, however, is only focused on the economic side, disregarding the Palestinians’ political situation,” Nael Moussa, an economics professor at An-Najah National University in Nablus, told Al-Monitor.

“I believe the [PA] will announce its rejection of the plan. But it may accept it under the table. The PA would want it to appear that it denounced the plan and that it was imposed on it. If the plan gets American support, it will find its way to implementation in the West Bank,” Moussa added.

According to the plan published in Israel Hayom, four industrial zones would be established in Maaleh Adumim and Tarqumiyah. A giant industrial park would be built near the Mehola settlement that would employ some 100,000 people. Three other industrial zones would also be established in Hininit, Hermesh and Bara'a to employ 168,000.

Some of these areas would host more than one industrial zone.

Barkat and Porter believe that if their plan is implemented, it will double the average Palestinian employee's salary, according to the Israel Hayom report.

The other aspect of the plan is to develop a dozen tourist sites in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which would pump economic oxygen into both communities and employ more Palestinian workers in tourist centers.

Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Al-Monitor, “There is a consensus among Palestinian leadership and factions — at the level of Palestinian civil society, the private sector and businessmen — to boycott any Israeli and American plan focusing on the economy and disregarding political [issues]. This is regardless of the details of Barkat's plan. We stand at the same distance from all plans that try to delude Palestinians into believing they would improve their living conditions.”

The PA — which boycotted the US economic workshop June 25-26 in Bahrain because the meeting focused on economic proposals, bypassing the Palestinian political situation — issued no position on Barkat's plan. The PA is expected to reject it, despite the employment opportunities for Palestinians, in part because there has been no coordination with the Palestinian leadership.

In an article published June 25 in The Washington Post, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said, “Palestinians don’t need or want handouts. We need freedom and our rights and for Israel to end its domination over our lives and economy.”

Mohammed Abu Jiyab, editor-in-chief of Al-Eqtesadia newspaper in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Barkat’s plan is part of the Israeli and US economic proposals after the failure of political solutions. This plan coincides with the Palestinian economic collapse and the rapid growth of the Israeli economy. The plan is based on the fact that economic and employment projects and industrial cities in the West Bank are successful and efficient, but … Israel controls these projects and can decide whether to halt them or not. The industrial areas in Barkat’s plan aim to instill a joint Israeli-Palestinian employment mechanism and produce efficient political and security outcomes in favor of Israel.” 

Barkat’s plan is an attempt to copy the model of existing industrial zones in the West Bank, in the cities of Jericho, Jenin, Selfit, Hebron, Nablus and in the Jordan Valley. Yet, if implemented, the plan would imply Palestinian recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Area C, where the new industrial areas would be established.

At this time, the plan could be accepted by Palestinian citizens in light of 18% unemployment in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in May.

Barkat’s plan comes in response to calls by the Israeli right to achieve economic peace with Palestinians at the expense of political peace.

Perhaps, despite some political and security difficulties, this plan could align with the inclinations of the US administration and some Arab countries to skip political issues and restrict the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the economic dimension.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings