In an official editorial (“The Guardian view on Trump and Israel-Palestine: the reality behind Kushner’s fantasy”) published on June 25, the Guardian predictably lambasted the new US peace plan, particularly its economy-first approach of promoting Palestinian prosperity as a path to a permanent resolution.
Whilst there was little in the editorial that was surprising, one sentence in particular caught our eye, because it says so much about how little the Guardian understands the root causes of Palestinian economic woes.
Many of these initiatives have been proposed before – in some cases, more than a decade ago – and are unachievable under current conditions. The report advocates them nonetheless because it simply refuses to recognise that the biggest obstacle to economic development is the West Bank’s occupation and the blockade of Gaza.
On the same day, the Guardian published another analysis by Mid-East correspondent Martin Chulov which similarly opined that “a central factor in the slow growth of the Palestinian economy has been the Israeli occupation”.
First, the suggestion that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is the biggest obstacle to the territory’s economic development grossly misunderstands the basic causality. The blockade is not a cause, but the natural result of Hamas’s decision to prioritise terror, and their goal of annihilating Israel, over the well-being of their citizens. No country in the world would allow the unimpeded flow of weapons to a territory on its border ruled by a government that has launched thousands of rockets at its civilians. If there wasn’t a fanatical, Islamist terror group controlling Gaza, there would be no blockade.
Turning to the West Bank, again, the Guardian gets it wrong. First, they conveniently ignore the fact that Palestinians could have permanently ended the occupation if they hadn’t rejected Israeli peace offers in 2000 and 2008 – offers that would have created a Palestinian state in Gaza, more than 90% of the West Bank and a capital in east Jerusalem. As Israel is of course not going to unilaterally withdrawal from the disputed territory in the absence of a peace deal, to blame Israel – and only Israel – for the continuing occupation is dishonest.
Moreover, the Guardian editorial’s assignment of blame for the West Bank’s economic problems solely on Israel is deceptive in another way: it ignores the injurious economic impact of PA corruption, poor governance, bad budgetary decisions (such as ‘pay for slay‘) and an extremely illiberal political culture that’s inimical to prosperity. Plus, unlike Gaza, there are no major Israeli restrictions on the PA export of traditional products (agriculture, building materials, etc.) to foreign markets.
Moreover, in addition to the export of traditional products, if Palestinians worked on developing their own high-tech industries in Ramallah and Gaza City, there would be nothing preventing them from reaping economic benefits from such virtual products-based economies.
In Israel, for instance, high-tech exports represented over 45% of the $102 billion in total exports in 2017.
Though there is no denying that the ongoing conflict has a negative impact on the West Bank and Gaza economies, Israel represents proof that a country with built-in structural impediments (a lack of natural resources, a hostile political climate, etc.) can find innovative ways to achieve long-term growth.
Finally, whatever your view of the new US plan, it certainly seems possible for Palestinians to hold two ideas in their heads at the same time:
- We will NEVER give up our goal of an independent Palestinian state.
- We will NOT turn down billions in aid to build our infrastructure, economy and educational system so that our future Palestinian state will be economically self-sufficient.
Though economic problems facing Gaza and the West Bank are different, the editorial’s reflexive dismissal of the US plan and myopic diagnosis of the territories’ challenges have one common – and characteristically Guardian – thread: the failure to hold Palestinians even minimally responsible for their fate.