By Alexandra Menter
The year 2018 saw two major events characterizing Israel’s continued settler colonial project in Palestine and the resulting subjugation of Palestinian human rights. The first was the initiation of the Great March of Return by Gaza’s civil society, a largely non-violent ongoing demonstration against Israel’s eleven-year blockade on the Gaza strip that prevents Palestinian residents from leaving, as well as outsiders from entering unless granted permission.
Citing statistics from the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Amnesty international reported in October 2018 that the Israeli military’s aggressive response to the protests had thus far resulted in “over 150 Palestinians…killed in the demonstrations, [and] at least 10,000 injured, among them children, women, paramedics, and journalists.”
According to a report in February 2019 from BBC, Israel has come under fire from United Nation’s human rights experts for alleged war crimes during the Great March of Return. They “found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics, and journalists, even though they were recognized as such.” Israel’s foreign minister “rejected these findings outright.” There was no official response from the White House.
The second event was the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. This decision effectively disregarded decades of political negotiation between the U.S., the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Israel which attempted to designate West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem as Israel and Palestine’s respective capitols within sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states in an eventual establishment of a “two state solution.”
The stage was set for 2019, and tensions have continued to escalate between Israel and Gaza, with Israel, Hamas, and various armed rogue factions in the Gaza Strip launching rocket attacks throughout the months of April and May. So, when White House Innovations Director and Senior Adviser to Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, announced the Trump Administration would unveil a new economic and political plan to “resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict,” I couldn’t help but brace myself for the same pro-Israel strategies and talking points parroted by previous U.S. administrations. As it turns out, I was right not to hold my breath.
On May 19th, 2019 Jake Tapper and Jeremey Diamond reported for CNN that Trump’s peace plan to resolve the Israel Palestine conflict, also known as The Deal of the Century, has begun to be revealed to the public. The economic component of the plan will be released in late June of this year and will begin with a summit taking place in Bahrain on June 25th and 26th lead by Jared Kushner and attended by various finance ministers representing a variety of Middle Eastern countries.
The workshop will focus on investing capital into the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the entirety of the Middle East, and will address four major pillars: “infrastructure, industry, empowering people, and governance reforms….” The plan strives to create economic interdependence between Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon “…To show you can’t have peace without economic stability and opportunity, but you also can’t have economic stability and opportunity…[without peace].” Kushner has reportedly “modeled details of the economic proposal on what has worked in Poland, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.”
It’s important to note that a separate political component of the peace plan will be unveiled to the public later on. Thus, the economic plan does not address political aspects of the Israel Palestine conflict that have traditionally created roadblocks to a just peace. This includes the blockade of Gaza which is considered illegal according to the Geneva conventions by U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian human rights organizations, the right of return for ethnically cleansed Palestinian refugees as enshrined under international law, the status of Jerusalem, the illegal settlement enterprise that displaces Palestinians, and the military occupation of the West Bank that shows no signs of being removed.
To many non-Palestinian Americans, this might sound like a sustainable resolution for addressing conflict between nations. After all, facilitating economic interdependence between multiple waring countries might create an opportunity for these countries to disregard conflict in an effort to sustain a mutually beneficial economic relationship.
Unfortunately, Palestine’s economy cannot thrive without the alleviation of military occupation, and the granting of sovereign statehood to create the groundwork for an independent Palestinian economy. Decades of military occupation have taken over the Palestinian national budget and forced the Palestinian Authority to over-invest in Israeli security demands. As a result, the Palestinian authority spends considerably less time supporting its people or resisting against Israeli authority partially because it lacks the funds to do so.
Speaking to the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation Organizer’s Conference, human rights attorney and activist Noura Erakat explained that “… in 2012, 11% of the Palestinian national budget was spent on health, 19.4% was spent on education, and even less is spent on the agricultural sector… in 1993 28.5% of the Palestinian national budget was spent on supporting Palestinian farmers, today that’s dropped to less than 5.8%. In contrast, the security spending has increased to 30%.”
On May 19th, 2019, Erakat told Twitter that “The Deal of the Century seeks to transform Palestinian Bantustans into free trade zones to make life under occupation more tolerable [as opposed to alleviating the oppressive conditions].” Thus, as the Palestinian Authority continues to spend increased amounts of its budget to meet Israeli-imposed security needs, thereby facilitating the diversion of natural resources to the Israeli settlement bloc, the displacement of Palestinian communities, and overall de-development of Palestinian society, the question remains—what will exist for finance ministers to invest in, and would the Israeli military even allow it?
Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-Lebanese American businessman, criticized the plan in 972 Magazine on May 20th, 2019, as “the first step in the collapse of Trump’s peace plan.” He compares Israel’s control over the Palestinian economy to an “addiction [that] will require external support [to recover from]… based on third states holding Israel accountable to save it from itself, rather than building a ‘business plan’ to try and paint life under the boot of the Israeli military occupation as somehow beautiful.” Bahour went on to criticize the history of Israel’s forced economic linkage to the Palestinian territories, beginning with “Israel’s restriction of Palestinian businesses and its control of the freedom of movement of Palestinian labor.” Further, Israel’s use of taxation to flood Palestinian areas with Israeli goods creates another layer of Palestinian dependence on Israel. This is especially relevant to Gaza because Israel’s siege does not allow the strip to have its own exports or imports, instead relying entirely on Israel to supply it with enough food, medical supplies, building materials, and other goods to sustain the strip’s growing population of 2 million people.
Bahour concludes that the development of any truly independent Palestinian economy depends on “a sustainable private sector, one that can create sustainable job opportunities and develop competitive products and services for the local market first, and then for export… a viable Palestinian economy must be able to feed itself, which requires land and water resources to be free from Israeli control.”
In terms of achieving this goal from a government standpoint, resistance could manifest in the utilization of a greater percentage of the Palestinian national budget to support Palestinian health, education, and agriculture, instead of Israeli security needs. At the grassroots levels, this requires continued support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement to pressure Israel to alleviate its occupation and siege. Continued university, church, and corporate divestments from Israeli businesses that benefit from exploited Palestinian labor are a necessity, even at small local levels. Simultaneously, it is important for internationals to purchase Palestinian goods and support Palestinian owned businesses so what is left of an actual Palestinian economy can continue to prosper.
Alexandra Menter is an intersectional feminist, gender justice activist, and amateur activist journalist from Carbondale, Colorado. She is applying to law school for the Fall of 2019 and plans to pursue a career in international criminal law. When she isn’t writing for Alice, she’s probably listening to one of her many favorite podcasts about social justice, art, or LGBT life.