- Published on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 10:00
by Muhammad Shtayyeh
The latest World Bank report on the Palestinian economy is clear.
It ratifies what the Palestinian position has been for many years now: There is no economic alternative to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
It is impossible to reach our full economic potential without ending Israel's occupation.
The report calls for international initiatives and investments to be strategically oriented towards development in so-called "Area C" of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Area C makes up over 60 percent of the West Bank, and is home to over 250 Palestinian communities. As the World Bank report acknowledges, Area C development requires the international community to challenge illegal Israeli restrictions on Palestinian residence, construction, and movement in these areas.
Thus far, however, the international community has done little to challenge these restrictions. In fact, the world continues to reward Israel for its illegal policies by increasing its trade with the settlements.
Palestinian entrepreneurs have challenged Israeli restrictions in Area C, defying the risk of huge fines and the destruction of their property.
Their steadfastness has yielded an increase in Palestinian products available in our markets.
Today, although Israel's control over our borders and customs policy make Palestine a captive market for Israeli products, most of our homes proudly drink Palestinian milk, eat Palestinian pasta and serve Palestinian juices.
But we can't enjoy our own water, nor expand our farms and groves.
In the occupied Jordan Valley, Palestinian palm trees are being cut down with the excuse that they are planted in Area C. Meanwhile 40 percent of Israeli dates exported to the European Union are grown in Jordan Valley settlements, whether they explicitly label them as Jordan Valley products or give them a different source of origin.
Israel makes a 550 million euro profit annually from their settlements in the Jordan Valley.
The average annual exports from Israeli settlements to the EU is 230 million euros while Palestinian exports to the same markets total only 15 million euros.
The solution is not only to buy more Palestinian products and to ban Israeli settlement produce, but to allow Palestine to control its international borders in order to export and import without Israeli restrictions.
Accurate labeling of settlement products is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough as a disincentive for Israel's illegal settlement enterprise.
In per capita terms, an Israeli settler receives 100 times more than a Palestinian for their exports.
This figure shows that the international community continues to support Israeli settlements, despite claims to the contrary.
The worrying statements of the Dutch prime minister and president of the Czech Republic, who have supported delaying the implementation of the guidelines on EU funding for settlement entities and activities, are further proof that some prefer to continue granting Israel impunity instead of taking the wise decisions needed in order to end Israel's occupation of Palestine.
The World Bank Report tackles one important issue for Palestine's present and future which is Area C.
Israeli policies of annexation in such areas have led to the worsening of the living conditions of our people, something clearly seen in the Jordan Valley, whose indigenous population has decreased from 250,000 people in 1967 to no more than 70,000 today.
But certainly it isn't the only issue that affects the Palestinian economy.
By 2010 we had estimated that 84.9% of our Gross Domestic Product (almost $ 7 billion) goes to the item we termed the "cost of occupation."
It does include not only Area C but also the lack of access to our airspace, sea and territorial international borders (compared to the free use Israel makes of them); our electromagnetic sphere, the extra costs of transportation due to the segregation of roads, and the indiscriminate and illegal use made by Israel, including its Tourism Ministry, of our national heritage places, among other items.
In recent years, some international parties have tried to convince the world that solutions begin by removing a roadblock or allowing ketchup and mayonnaise into Gaza.
The Israeli government argues that giving Palestinians some work permits and allowing a few trucks into Gaza are "confidence building measures."
But what Palestine needs is ending the Israeli occupation, which is the only way for Palestine to reach its full economic potential.
No "confidence building measures" will end the theft of Palestinian resources nor the catastrophic social consequences of the Israeli occupation policies.
Freedom for Palestine is the only possible way to achieve a healthy economy, which is an essential condition for a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.
Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh is Minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), a member of the Fatah Central Committee and a senior Palestinian negotiator in the current talks with Israel.
This Op-Ed was originally published in Haaretz