Friday, September 25, 2009

[ePalestine] FOREIGN POLICY: Think Again: Palestine (BY ZAHI KHOURI)


Think Again: Palestine 

President Obama got the leaders of Israel and Palestine to shake hands this week. But a meeting in Midtown does not a Palestinian deal make. Here’s why. 


"Economic Peace Is Possible." 

No.  Neither sustainable economic development nor peace is possible without political freedom. 

The idea of "economic peace" suggests an economic conflict, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is certainly not that. Although economic issues do figure into Palestinian concerns, they are not nearly as important as addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees, terminating Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, and establishing a viable, independent, and sovereign Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. To suggest that economics are what this is about would be to sideline history and to willfully ignore the reality of Israel's occupation. This conflict is political and it calls for a solution that is political. 

Besides, even if economic growth were issue No. 1, the greatest impediment to economic development and opportunity for Palestinians is not the absence of industrial parks as advocated by the Israeli government under its model of "economic peace." Rather, it is the denial of basic freedoms and rights to Palestinians under occupation and the myriad restrictions Israel imposes on the free movement of Palestinian goods and people within, and in and out of, the occupied Palestinian territory. It is the inability of Palestinians to access the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under Area C (Israeli control), including the 40 percent that Israel claims for its settlement enterprise. And it is the forced isolation of occupied East Jerusalem, long the economic heart of the Palestinian economy, from the rest of the West Bank. All these economic constraints are fundamental to the architecture of Israel's occupation. 

In short, "economic peace" is a slogan designed to give the appearance of positive movement while distracting from the real issues and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians. It does not mean, nor does it promise, an end to Israel's occupation. Rather, it offers economic crumbs in an effort to normalize and better manage the occupation. 

"As with Gaza, a West Bank Withdrawal Endangers Israel." 

Wrong.  Israel argues that its withdrawal from Gaza was rewarded with rocket attacks by Hamas. The attraction of such an argument lies in its simplicity. But just as "economic peace" is designed to divert attention away from the real issues, the argument that a Gaza withdrawal was dangerous for the Israelis is designed to mask the reality that Israel never stopped occupying the Gaza Strip. 

Contrary to popular belief, Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 did not bring about an end to the occupation. Yes, Israel removed its settlers (who, in many cases, relocated to settlements in the West Bank). And yes, Israel withdrew its troops -- though only as far as the border. From that close distance, Israel has imposed a medieval-style siege on Gaza that continues to this day. Israel remains an occupying power under international law because it retains effective control over Gaza's borders and its land, sea, and airspace, allowing it to suffocate and starve Gaza as it is doing today. 

The scale of the humanitarian crisis that Israel has created in Gaza is hard to convey. Even before the election of Hamas in 2006, there were severe restrictions on the amount of food, water, fuel, and other essentials allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. In 2006, then-senior Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass callously claimed that "the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." The result was that by the end of 2007, well over 80 percent of Gaza's population lived below the poverty line. Authorities have also clamped down on Gaza's imports and exports, suffocating the Palestinian economy. By November 2007, the U.N. World Food Program was already warning that less than half of Gaza's food import needs were being met. Following the election of Hamas, Israel tightened these economic restrictions further to enforce a complete closure, further compounding the humanitarian crisis. It is within this context that Israel's disengagement from Gaza must be judged. 

Of course, rocket attacks from Gaza are not a proper response to Israel's harsh policies. Palestine is a just cause fought for in the name of rights, universal principles, and international law; its actions must be faithful to that. The lesson that should be drawn from Gaza is that the only guarantee of security for Israel is a full end to its occupation and domination -- not just an end in name. The only form of withdrawal carrying the promise of peace is a full withdrawal -- from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with Gaza -- that allows for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. 

"Arab Intransigence Blocks Peace." 

Four words: the Arab Peace Initiative.  First proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and subsequently endorsed by 57 Arab and Islamic states, the Arab Peace Initiative offers full normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for Israel's full withdrawal from all territory occupied in 1967, as well as a just and agreed upon solution for Palestinian refugees in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194. That resolution, in essence, says to Israel: Do what is required of you under international law and U.N. resolutions, and the Arab and Islamic world will normalize relations in return. Israel's response so far has been to ignore the Arab Peace Initiative, squandering what is a historic opportunity. 

As for the Palestinians, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are the most accommodating Palestinian leaders ever to hold office. Yet Israel is frittering away their time at the helm; Israeli leaders evidently feel no urgency to negotiate. Eventually, this window of opportunity will close. As settlers flock to the territories, Palestinians will determine that a Palestinian state is no longer viable. When the debated solution turns from two states to one state with equal rights for all, Israel may well regret it did not seize multiple opportunities to return all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of a peace deal. 

"Settlements Are Not the Issue." 

They are crucial.  Israeli settlement activity is precisely the undertaking that is foreclosing the possibility of a Palestinian state. Recent U.S. efforts to restart meaningful negotiations have faltered around Israel's refusal to implement a comprehensive settlement freeze in keeping with obligations under both international law and the "road map." Israel's refusal to comply has undermined the credibility of the peace process and eroded Palestinian public confidence in the ability of negotiations to bring tangible results. 

Rather than favoring Palestinians or Israelis, a credible peace process holds both accountable to commitments made in the name of peace. The true test of meaningful negotiations, as distinct from negotiations for their own sake, is what happens on the ground. The faux freeze Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now proposing -- build units already in the pipeline and then implement a brief six-month freeze, all the while continuing pell-mell with construction in East Jerusalem -- is powerful on-the-ground evidence that Netanyahu and his coalition intend to build greater Israel at the expense of Palestinians. 

Israeli settlements pose the greatest threat to the two-state solution. Settlements and their related infrastructure, like settler bypass roads, account for more than 40 percent of the West Bank, fragmenting the territory, monopolizing freshwater resources, and confining Palestinians to a series of disconnected cantons where unemployment, poverty, and hopelessness have reached endemic levels. Settlements run counter to the very principle of "land for peace" on which the Middle East peace process is built, and they make a viable and sovereign Palestinian state a physical impossibility. Without a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, there is no two-state solution. 

"Israel's Occupation Is Not Apartheid." 

It is.  In fact, it would be most accurate to call it occupation, colonialism, and apartheid all rolled into one. This is the conclusion reached in a recent report commissioned by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, titled "Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?", that brought together a team of international scholars and legal experts to assess Israel's occupation vis-à-vis international law. 

On apartheid, the report identifies a series of discriminatory laws, standards, and practices that Israel applies exclusively to Palestinians living under occupation -- laws, standards, and practices which do not apply to Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and that are intended to "maintain [Israel's] domination over Palestinians in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] and to suppress opposition of any form." 

In particular, the report identifies three pillars of apartheid as it existed in South Africa, noting that they also exist in the occupied Palestinian territory today. The first pillar consists of laws and policies that "establish Jewish identity for purposes of law and afford a preferential legal status and material benefits to Jews over non-Jews." The ramifications of this include the massive disparity in terms of the rights and privileges enjoyed by Israeli settlers compared with Palestinians, such as the denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees compared with the 1950 Law of Return allowing all Jews to immigrate to Israel or, since 1967, the occupied Palestinian territory. 

The second pillar concerns Israeli policies intended to segregate the population along racial lines. These policies center on the confinement of Palestinians to areas that resemble "Bantustans" (the largest being Israel's complete closure on Gaza), policed by Israel using a network of walls, roadblocks, checkpoints, and a special permit regime. Meanwhile, the Israelis construct settlements and a separate road system to service them, all built on confiscated Palestinian land that Palestinians can no longer access. 

The final pillar focuses on repressive measures initiated under the rubric of "security." For example, Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest, administrative detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and an oppressive code of military laws and military courts that fall short of international standards for a fair trial. These measures are reinforced by restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, movement, and so on, which are ultimately designed to suppress Palestinian dissent while reinforcing Israeli control. 

In short, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, has it right when he uses the term apartheid to describe Israel's policies in the occupied Palestinian territory. And the facts are increasingly on the table. Whether the Barack Obama administration, already saddled with a brutal fight over health care, has the courage to challenge Israel's "economic peace," siege of Gaza, intransigence, settlements, and apartheid remains to be seen. 

Zahi Khouri is chief executive of the Palestinian National Beverage Co. (a Coca-Cola franchisee), chairman of the Palestinian Tourism Investment Co., and chairman of the board of the NGO Development Center, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization. 


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

[ePalestine] Washington Post: Settling for Failure in the Middle East (By Stephen M. Walt)

The Washington Post 

Settling for Failure in the Middle East 

By Stephen M. Walt 
Sunday, September 20, 2009 

Like so many of his predecessors, President Obama is quickly discovering that persuading Israel to change course is nearly impossible. 

Obama came to office determined to achieve a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. His opening move was to insist that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- a tough line aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and persuading key Arab states to make conciliatory gestures toward Israel. These steps would pave the way for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and the normalization of Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors, and also help rebuild America's image in the Arab and Muslim world. 

Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has no interest in a two-state solution, much less ending settlement expansion. He and his government want a "greater Israel," which means maintaining effective control of the West Bank and Gaza. His response to Obama's initiative has ranged from foot-dragging to outright defiance, with little pushback from Washington. 

This situation is a tragedy in the making between peoples who have known more than their share. Unless Obama summons the will and skill to break the logjam, a two-state solution will become impossible and those who yearn for peace will be even worse off than before. 

Netanyahu initially claimed in early June that the Bush administration had assured Israel that "natural growth" of the existing settlement blocs was permissible -- an assertion that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials promptly denied. Netanyahu further declared that 2,500 housing units under construction would be completed. He then made a minor concession after Obama's June address to the Muslim world in Cairo, slipping a single reference to a "demilitarized Palestinian state" into an otherwise uncompromising speech at Bar-Ilan University. The onerous conditions that Netanyahu demanded of such a state made it clear that he was merely tossing Obama a bone to avoid clashing with a then- popular U.S. president. 

Netanyahu's stance hardened as Obama's approval ratings slipped. In July, after U.S. officials tried to halt an Israeli plan to convert an old Arab hotel into 20 Jewish apartments in Sheik Jarrah -- an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem -- Netanyahu told his Cabinet that "Jerusalem is not a settlement, and there is nothing to discuss about a freeze there." Underscoring the point, Israeli authorities expelled two Arab families in Sheik Jarrah from homes they had inhabited for 50 years. 

Then last month, an unnamed "senior U.S. official" told reporters that peace talks might resume without an agreement to halt all settlement construction, and Netanyahu reiterated that he opposed a complete freeze. A few days later, Israel authorized construction of hundreds of additional housing units in the West Bank. In response, the White House merely said that it "regretted" this action, adding that the "U.S. commitment to Israel's security is and will remain unshakeable." Three days later, the Israel Lands Administration issued tenders for 468 new apartments in East Jerusalem. And just a week ago, Netanyahu announced that a complete freeze on settlement building "will not happen" and that construction in Jerusalem "would continue as normal." 

Why is Netanyahu defying Obama so openly? Because he has long been committed to the dream of a "greater Israel," and the only Palestinian state he might accept would be an archipelago of disconnected enclaves under de facto Israeli control. His Cabinet is even more hard-line, which means his government would collapse if he made meaningful concessions. Furthermore, attempting to remove a substantial portion of the 300,000-plus settlers living in the West Bank could trigger a violent reaction within Israel, possibly even putting Netanyahu at risk of suffering the fate of former primer minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995. 

Some observers say that Netanyahu's decision to authorize new housing units is merely a sop to his right-wing colleagues and that he will eventually agree to a temporary freeze on settlements and serious negotiations with the Palestinians. But even if he does, history suggests that any pledge to stop settlement expansion would be meaningless. Previous Israeli governments also promised to halt settlement building, most recently in the 2003 "Road Map" agreement that set a formal timetable for Middle East peace. Yet despite these promises, the number of settlers has more than doubled since the early 1990s and has grown by about 5 percent annually since Israel formally accepted the "Road Map" in May 2003. 

Nor is settlement expansion the work of a handful of rebellious religious extremists. Labor and Likud governments have backed this enterprise with economic subsidies, essential infrastructure and military protection, as well as an array of roads, checkpoints and security barriers. In demanding a freeze, Obama is attempting to get Israel to halt a project that its major political parties have pursued for more than 40 years. And even though Israel receives more than $3 billion each year from the United States, his efforts to halt expansion and achieve a two-state solution will probably fail. 

Why is Obama letting Netanyahu thwart his efforts? To begin with, the president has too much on his plate -- the economic crisis, the health-care battle, Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear problem -- so the attention he can devote to Israeli-Palestinian peace is limited. 

And then there is the Israel lobby. The good news is that there is a new pro-Israel organization, J Street, which is committed to the two-state solution and firmly behind Obama. The bad news is that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other defenders of the status quo remain powerful, and they will surely oppose any attempt to pressure Netanyahu. In May, for example, AIPAC drafted a letter warning Obama to "work closely and privately" with Israel. It garnered 329 signatures in the House and 76 names in the Senate. During the August recess, 56 members of Congress visited Israel, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that it was a mistake to make settlement construction the key issue and that there was a "significant difference" between settlements in the West Bank and those in East Jerusalem. 

If Obama tries to make aid to Israel conditional on a settlement freeze, Congress will simply override him. Putting real pressure on Israel risks alienating key politicians and major Democratic fundraisers, as well as Israel's supporters in the media, imperiling the rest of Obama's agenda and conceivably his prospects for reelection. Moreover, several of Obama's top advisers, such as Dennis Ross, are enthusiastic supporters of America's "special relationship" with Israel and would almost certainly oppose using U.S. leverage to force Israeli concessions. Obama and special envoy George Mitchell are negotiating with one hand tied behind their backs, and Netanyahu knows it. 

If tangible progress toward a viable Palestinian state does not happen soon, however, Abbas and other moderate Palestinians will only be weakened and radical groups such as Hamas only strengthened. Obama's commitment to two states for two peoples, and his declaration in Cairo that "it is time for these settlements to stop," will sound hollow. Israel will be stuck repressing millions of angry Palestinians and will increasingly resemble an apartheid state. As former prime minister Ehud Olmert put it in 2007, failure to achieve a two-state solution will force Israel into a "South-African style struggle." And if that happens, he warned, "Israel is finished." 

Obama said in Cairo that a two-state solution is "in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest and the world's interest." He's right, but it's not the rest of the world that needs to get behind this vision. It is the Israelis who have to be convinced, and that will take sustained U.S. pressure. To succeed, Obama must use his bully pulpit to explain to the American people that the two-state solution is by far the best outcome for Israel and that time is running out. If he does not get that message across, he will become the latest in a long line of U.S. presidents who tried to end this conflict -- and failed. 

Stephen M. Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University, is co-author of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" and a contributing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. 


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Friday, September 18, 2009

[ePalestine] NYT: Justice in Gaza (By RICHARD GOLDSTONE)

Dear friends,

A significant op-edtoday  by the head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.  If you are so inclined, the full report may be found here  (575 pgs).  The mission's website can be found here .

The world must now choose:  INTERNATIONAL LAW or the LAW of the JUNGLE!

In memory of all civilians, especially the children, who lost their life to this nonsense,


The New York Times 

September 17, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Justice in Gaza

I ACCEPTED with hesitation my United Nations mandate to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights during Israel's three-week war in Gaza last winter. The issue is deeply charged and politically loaded. I accepted because the mandate of the mission was to look at all parties: Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; and other armed Palestinian groups. I accepted because my fellow commissioners are professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation. 

But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm. 

In the fighting in Gaza, all sides flouted that fundamental principle. Many civilians unnecessarily died and even more were seriously hurt. In Israel, three civilians were killed and hundreds wounded by rockets from Gaza fired by Hamas and other groups. Two Palestinian girls also lost their lives when these rockets misfired. 

In Gaza, hundreds of civilians died. They died from disproportionate attacks on legitimate military targets and from attacks on hospitals and other civilian structures. They died from precision weapons like missiles from aerial drones as well as from heavy artillery. Repeatedly, the Israel Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require. 

Israel is correct that identifying combatants in a heavily populated area is difficult, and that Hamas fighters at times mixed and mingled with civilians. But that reality did not lift Israel's obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians. 

Our fact-finding team found that in many cases Israel could have done much more to spare civilians without sacrificing its stated and legitimate military aims. It should have refrained from attacking clearly civilian buildings, and from actions that might have resulted in a military advantage but at the cost of too many civilian lives. In these cases, Israel must investigate, and Hamas is obliged to do the same. They must examine what happened and appropriately punish any soldier or commander found to have violated the law. 

Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. I am unaware of any case where a Hamas fighter was punished for deliberately shooting a rocket into a civilian area in Israel — on the contrary, Hamas leaders repeatedly praise such acts. While Israel has begun investigations into alleged violations by its forces in the Gaza conflict, they are unlikely to be serious and objective. 

Absent credible local investigations, the international community has a role to play. If justice for civilian victims cannot be obtained through local authorities, then foreign governments must act. There are various mechanisms through which to pursue international justice. The International Criminal Court and the exercise of universal jurisdiction by other countries against violators of the Geneva Conventions are among them. But they all share one overarching aim: to hold accountable those who violate the laws of war. They are built on the premise that abusive fighters and their commanders can face justice, even if their government or ruling authority is not willing to take that step. 

Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel, an ally and a democratic state. 

Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during the fighting will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy. As a service to the hundreds of civilians who needlessly died and for the equal application of international justice, the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account. 

Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor for war-crime tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, is the head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

[ePalestine] NYT: Photo

Dear friends,

It is true that, at times, a picture is worth more than a thousand words.  The attached photo is from the slideshow entitled Fervent Believers which accompanies this New York Times article: 

Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits 

The captions reads: 

A settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street in Hebron. The approach of some settlers towards neighboring Palestinians, especially around Nablus in the north and Hebron in the south, has often been one of contempt and violence.   Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

Strength to every Hebron mother -- Palestinian ones to remain sane and steadfast, and Israeli ones to wake up and get themselves and their children out of a war crime situation,


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Monday, September 14, 2009

[ePalestine] The Sacramento Bee: The Elders' next move (By SAM BAHOUR)

The Sacramento Bee 

The Elders' next move 

Common Ground News Service 

Published Friday, Sep. 11, 2009 

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- At long last, a spotlight is shining on Palestinian nonviolent efforts to throw off the Israeli occupation. A visit by a group of high profile "Elders" last month to the Palestinian village of Bil'in in the West Bank, and the barrier running through it, bathed our landscape in a moral clarity that is too rarely seen by the outside world. Each of the Elders is a powerful moral authority and includes figures like former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Mary Robinson of Ireland. 

One after another, they reiterated that our destiny as Palestinians and Israelis is to live together in mutual respect, as equals. The Elders' online forum, via satellite, with Palestinians and Israelis from Jerusalem, Gaza, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, was a sign of their determination to build bridges between people - despite the walls, checkpoints and laws that Israel has deployed to separate Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps the time has come for the Elders to take the next step and endorse a measure that might just bring an end to the 42 years of Israeli occupation. It is one of the most powerful measures in the arsenal of nonviolent weapons: the boycott. 

The boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign is a global movement calling on international civil society organizations and individuals all over the world to impose boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel as long as it refuses to remove the boot of military occupation from the necks of Palestinians. 

It is clear that Palestinians cannot come to the negotiating table as fully empowered equals to discuss their future while their present is being stripped out from under them by settlement building. I am encouraged by President Obama's insistence that Israel freeze settlement activity, but nevertheless remain concerned that he will cave in to pressure to relax his position. Without support from the Obama administration, Palestinians will need a massive international movement on their behalf. 

An international boycott could provide just that. It has been used effectively by nonviolent movements across the world. Similar campaigns have worked, from the beaches of India to the buses of Montgomery to the vineyards of California. 

Palestinians, in fact, have a history of nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. Mubarak Awad led the way with his Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence until Israel deported him. In the last few years, villagers in Bil'in and Ni'ilin have been holding weekly protests of Israel's separation wall. In fact, the latter campaign has been a source of encouragement not only because of the villagers' perseverance, but because they have been joined by Israeli Jews who take a central role in the protest activities. 

These nonviolent activists are not alone. The dual system of law imposed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza is generating the same sort of moral outrage that led millions to support a boycott against the apartheid government in South Africa. Crucially, courageous Israeli journalists are speaking out along with Professor Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University, who recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times that "(p)utting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians - my two boys included - does not grow up in an apartheid regime." 

I know many Palestinian parents who would like nothing more than for their children to be able to play with the Gordon children as equals. 

The Elders could do enormous good by speaking with the governments that supply Israel with armaments used to batter Palestinians in violation of international law. They have the moral integrity to remind politicians in Israel, and across the globe, of their obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. An endorsement by the Elders could also give impetus to the Palestinian leadership to embrace a full-fledged commitment to a sustained nonviolent strategy. 

There is nothing inactive about nonviolence. It takes physical, mental and spiritual courage. An endorsement by the Elders might just jolt the world and highlight already existing nonviolent actions against the occupation. 


Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio, who lives in the West Bank and met the Elders during their August trip to the Middle East. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service. Readers may send him e-mail at 

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors. 


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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

[ePalestine] NYT: The West Bank's Deceptive Growth (By ZAHI KHOURI)

The New York Times 

September 9, 2009 

Op-Ed Contributor 

The West Bank's Deceptive Growth 


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long tried to substitute the slogan of “economic peace” for genuine progress with the Palestinians on the political front. 

Yet the International Monetary Fund’s projected growth of 7 percent in the West Bank for 2009 is largely the result of Palestinian reforms undertaken in spite of the obstacles Israel continues to place in the way of Palestinian development. 

Too many in the West remain unaware of the impediments to economic development — not to mention political freedom — we Palestinians continue to face. 

Some Israeli checkpoints have been dismantled, but any Palestinian businessman will tell you that with over 600 checkpoints and roadblocks still scattered across the West Bank, we remain in a tenuous economic position. 

Few domestic or foreign investors are willing to invest in the Palestinian economy, and many Palestinian businessmen holding passports of friendly countries, even the United States, are being denied passage through Israel. 

The economy of the West Bank has deteriorated over the past decade as a result of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, which severely hamper trade and labor mobility. 

These restrictions, combined with Israel’s fragmentation of the West Bank, remain the greatest impediment to economic development in Palestine. This includes Israel’s forced isolation of occupied East Jerusalem, long the economic heart of Palestine, from the rest of the West Bank. 

According to a June 2009 World Bank report, real G.D.P. in the occupied Palestinian territory has declined by a “cumulative 34 percent in real per capita terms” since September 2000. Given this, even the most minimal Israeli gestures cannot help but bring improvement. 

The I.M.F.’s projected growth, however, will be a one-off (as was growth in 2006) if Israel fails to improve the prospects for Palestinian trade and development. 

As Oussama Kanaan, the I.M.F. chief of mission in the West Bank and Gaza, stated, “If the relaxation of Israeli restrictions does not continue in the remainder of the year, real G.D.P. per capita would decline further in 2009, along the same trend started in 2006.” 

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad made a similar point when he asserted, “The Israeli restrictions still pose obstacles to the improvement of the economy.” In other words, 7 percent growth is no sure thing. 

In any case, Palestinian economic growth is not a substitute for serious and meaningful negotiations aimed at ending Israel’s occupation and establishing an independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state. 

I am all for economic improvement, but not as a substitute for peace — nor its manipulation by Mr. Netanyahu to manage and normalize the occupation while trying to sell Israel’s benevolence to the rest of the globe. Self-determination and statehood alone hold the keys to unlocking Palestine’s economic potential. 

I monitor Mr. Netanyahu’s economic and political intentions closely because in 1995 I left a comfortable life on Park Avenue in Manhattan to become the founder and chief executive of the Palestinian National Beverage Co. 

Initially, the undertaking thrived. We continue to employ over 300 Palestinians, but we have struggled in recent years as a consequence of Israeli restrictions. Mr. Netanyahu’s economic and political dictums determine whether we grow or contract. He wields this immense power over us, although Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had no role in his election. 

The foundation upon which our economy rests is dangerously rotten. Israeli spreading settlements, checkpoints and roadblocks that fragment the occupied Palestinian territory; Israel’s illegal Wall and its permit system that severely restrict where Palestinians can live and work; and Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza all not only threaten our nascent economic recovery, but threaten the very possibility of a two-state solution. 

The alternatives to a two-state solution are either an apartheid state, which is unacceptable to Palestinians, or one binational state, which Israeli Jews reject. 

Mr. Netanyahu is selling us a bill of goods with the claim he can manage the situation with economic improvement. He is wrong. Without a political outcome that secures Palestinian territorial rights, including East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and a just outcome for refugees, more conflict lies ahead. 

President Obama recognizes this. President Mahmoud Abbas recognizes this. Yet Mr. Netanyahu somehow thinks he can charm Palestinians, who are daily reminded of the occupation under which they suffer, with a 7-percent growth bubble. 

If President Obama wants to be a real friend to Israelis and Palestinians, he must insist that Israel stop settling Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and abide by international law. 

A settlement freeze is a crucial first step to salvaging the two-state solution, as well as Israel’s credentials as a genuine partner for peace. Seven-percent growth and an illusionary calm are no substitute for this. 

Zahi Khouri is the chief executive of the Palestinian National Beverage Co.


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