The Palestinian economy’s core problem
The Palestinian economy has never been large. Advocates of the cause of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have ritually blamed Israeli occupation for the financial woes of the people of the streets of Gaza and Ramallah. The threatened sanctions of the USA this month now force us to confirm the facts hidden behind the rhetoric.
There are two issues that cannot be disputed. The Palestinian economy is tiny compared to that of Israel. Exports in July 2017 were valued at a paltry US$8.1m, primarily to Jordan. And the continuing the struggle with Israel, especially through the use of terror from Gaza, understandably enforces the government of Jerusalem to restrict movement from the Palestinian territories.
Statistically, the economy is contracting again. GDP growth in 2017 was down slightly at 3%, and a further slow down is expected in 2018. There are few positives. West Bank residents have finally been allowed to receive 3G internet services in recent weeks. And overseas aid still plays a primary role is supporting key services. To take just one instance, The British Parliament reported in October 2017 that it funds “around 25,000 young Palestinians to get an education, provides up to 3,700 immunisations for children, and around 185,000 medical consultations annually.”
Therefore, it can only be assumed that if the USA is to cut at least US$100 million of aid to the Palestinians, that will be a significant blow for its social services. What is disturbing is how you have the feeling that the Palestinian economy could be managed so much more effectively and efficiently.
The World Bank long ago confirmed that under Israeli supervision the Palestinian GDP grew annually in real terms by 5.5% even beyond the Oslo Accords. That achievement is long forgotten. And corruption has long been endemic in Palestinian politics has closely documented in previous years by the Funding for Peace Coalition.
The evidence indicates that the pattern of poor financial leadership in Palestinian society has continued up to today:
- In 2017 alone, despite their meager funds, the PA under President Abbas paid out over US$350 to Palestinians convicted of crimes of violence against Israelis. The sums vary according to the amount of death caused.
- Earlier this month, Israeli customs officials:discovered the largest ever consignment – including thousands of items – of military clothing including vests for holding military equipment. Also seized were thousands of pairs of special military boots and winter jackets in camouflage colors. The Gazan importer of the consignment, which originated in China, was due to receive it via the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Presumably, Hamas had paid for the goods.
- At the same time, we have learned that due to a power struggle between the PA and Hamas, people in Gaza are being forced to pay taxes. This will include the imposition of 17% VAT.
- And of course, there is the near-farcical news item earlier this week that “even as the Palestinian Authority faces major funding cuts from the US, it has purchased a new luxurious $50 million private jet to be used by President Mahmoud Abbas.”
I would love to read a serious analysis of how much the Palestinian economy could grow by over 10 years if (a) the struggle against Israel was political rather than a military conflict, and if (b) transparency and accountability could be truly applied.