New reports underline the cost of Israeli occupation
Two recent international reports underlined the high cost of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and its oppression of the Palestinians.
The reports, released in early September by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations’ main development agency, put a price tag on continued Israeli occupation policies.
“Without occupation, the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory could produce twice the GDP [gross domestic product] it currently generates,” the UNCTAD report said.
Using 2015 figures, it estimated that the occupation of Area C costs the Palestinian economy the equivalent of 35% of GDP, about $4.4 billion.
According to IMF simulations, the Palestinian per capita GDP would have increased by between 37% and 130% were it not for the continuing conflict.
The UNCTAD report bemoans the continued Israeli policies of house demolitions and settlement expansion, with “Palestinian structures demolished between September 2015 and April 2016, while construction of 1,800 housing units in Israeli settlements was initiated and greater expansion planned for 2016″. Today, it notes, there are 142 settlements in the West Bank and the number of Israeli settlers there has risen to about 21% of the Palestinian population.
Restrictions, harsh regulations and settlement policies imposed by Israeli authorities have rendered the Palestinian economy heavily dependent on Israel’s own economy and foreign aid.
The occupation’s water policies have imperilled the viability of Palestinian agriculture. The UNCTAD report noted that with Israel confiscating 82% of Palestinian groundwater, “Palestinians must import from Israel over 50% of their water” and can ensure the irrigation of only 35% of their land, “costing the economy 110,000 jobs and 10% of GDP”.
The reports also depict a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza requiring humanitarian assistance to survive.
“A shocking indicator of the grim situation in Gaza is the rising infant mortality rate… [which] has risen for the first time in 50 years,” pointed out the UNCTAD report.
“The trend in Gaza is unprecedented and rarely observed outside communities affected by HIV epidemics,” it added.
Overall unemployment has risen to 26.9% in the West Bank and is more than 40% in Gaza.
In view of their dysfunctional economy and surrounding turmoil, it is not surprising that the Palestinians continue to depend on international aid for their livelihood.
But while the Palestinian Authority faces a deficit of nearly $500 million in 2016, international assistance could fall 25% this year, according to the IMF. The Palestinians face a competition of misery. Their tragic fate is somehow dwarfed by that of the hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced elsewhere in the Middle East.
Crucial international assistance to the Palestinians remains essentially a palliative and will remain so until the international community gets serious about finding a durable solution to the Palestinian question.
The cost of occupation is beyond the economic toll. “No monetary value can be assigned to the distress caused by the destruction and loss of life, community, culture, shelter and homeland,” noted the UNCTAD report.
Another intangible consequence is the regional effects of the Palestinians’ plight, which continues to fuel resentment by millions of Arabs and too often serves as a rallying call for extremist groups.