Fifty-two years of occupation have dismantled the very essence of economic independence for the Palestinian Territories (i.e., the Gaza Strip and West Bank). The struggle of regaining economic stability and traction under the state of occupation from 1967 until today has proved to be continuously more strenuous as Israel imposes arbitrarily-defined laws and regulations on Palestinians. Exploitative measures such as drawing from the distraught labor pool of Palestinian citizens and seizing natural resources have catalyzed an oppressive process of “de-development” for the West Bank and Gaza territories.
The current national gross domestic product (GDP) of the Palestinian Territories is $14.498 billion with a population of 4,684,777 people (2018). The per capita GDP in Palestine comes out as $3,094.73. In contrast, the Israeli national GDP totals a whopping $353.268 billion with a population of 8,713,000 (2018) and a per capita GDP of $40,270.25. These numbers, given the proximity of these two economies, do not abide by contemporary-mainstream macroeconomic theory that would claim “the integration or proximity between two economies will eventually lead to dispersion of positive effects on the smaller economy and ultimately to a convergence in economic levels.” Rather, they’re hinged on the trends of dependent theory. This model, as explained by the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), is when “the stronger economy continues to exploit the natural and human resources of the weaker economy, while at the same time using the latter’s economy as a market to sell its goods, ultimately locking weaker economies in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment.” Israel has imposed a systematic method of control, consisting of a of a mixture of legislation and military oversight, that limits almost every aspect of economic mobility for the Palestinian people.
Employment for Palestinians has proved to be continuously more difficult to secure since the occupation of 1967. With a vast portion of the population being within the ages of 15-29 (30%), potential for mobilizing a large workforce is feasible. However, with Israeli imposed restrictions on people and product movement (both domestically and internationally), construction, and manufacturing, the economy is struggling to prosper. Limitations on these realms of employment have affected Palestinians from pursuing opportunities that would otherwise be available. Current rates of unemployment for labor force participants in the Palestinian territories are some of the worst in the world. In 2016, Gaza’s total rate of unemployment amongst its labor force (15+ years of age) totaled 41.7% and in the West Bank fared better at 18.2%. These economic challenges are forcing more and more Palestinians to resort to working for Israeli companies (usually in illegal construction jobs) or to immigrate out of their homelands. The employment crisis will only catalyze the cyclical poverty for groups made of 1948 and 1967 refugees, current families and communities, and emerging working-class-family-bearers.
The agricultural sector, for example, on which many Palestinians have relied for centuries, faces unprecedented limitations and domestic sanctions. As of now, 35% of agricultural land and 85% of fishing waters are not accessible to farmers and fishers in the Gaza Strip. Likewise, in the West Bank, the majority of highly arable land (i.e., Jordan Valley) and private Palestinian orchards and farms were seized by Israel. In addition, over 80% of groundwater in the West Bank is controlled by Israeli authorities. All these factors have played into Palestinian economic stagnation. The accompanying map depicts the percentage of Israeli controlled land (red) in comparison to Palestinian control (striped-white). The disproportionate distribution of land shown in the map impels the process of “[d]e-industrialization and de-agriculturalization” that “stifle economic and technological progress and leave the Palestinian economy further behind in the global supply chain.” As of 2016—49 years since the 1967 occupation—agriculture, commerce and other industries went from contributing upwards of 40% to production to only 14%.
Agricultural exports have virtually diminished over the years and farmers can no longer compete with the influx of imports from neighboring countries that persistently stifle their competitiveness in the regional agricultural trading market. This situation has forced the Palestinians to a trade deficit or, in other words, their imports are substantially larger than their exports. What was once a bustling and diverse economy that encompassed agriculture and industry is now in utter shambles as Palestinians rely more and more on service-based endeavors.
The agricultural component of the Palestinian economy is just one of many sectors that is heavily regulated by Israeli forces. The water supply, real estate, domestic transportation services, international travel, energy, medical care, construction, manufacturing, infrastructure, trade, internet, telephone frequencies, technology, and even accessibility to donated humanitarian aid are all domains that are subjugated to radical supervision, constraints, and control by Israeli-based companies and forces. A released report from United Nations Conference on Trade and Development states that the “occupation imposes a heavy cost on the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which might otherwise reach twice its current size.”
The consequences of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinians have been vastly detrimental in virtually all aspects of their lives. Recent Trump Administration foreign initiatives such as the “Peace to Prosperity workshop” in Manama, Bahrain have sought to mend the economic situation in the Palestinian territories. World leaders and business leaders met on June 25th and 26th to discuss possible solutions; however, Palestinian officials have rejected their invitation from the U.S government. Globally, Palestinians have resented this newfound plan because it fails to address the root of the problem that has plagued the economy and society in the first place—occupation.
Improving economic conditions under occupation and learning to live with such dire straits does not fix the issue—eliminating occupation does. Global leaders fail to realize that flocking in to play the global-savior role in negotiations without understanding the root issue of occupation only stagnates accomplishing peace-relations with the Palestinians and Israelis. Sustaining Israel’s 52-year temporary solution for Palestinians will only last so long before it comes crumbling down. The global community must realize that Palestinians, much like any people, simply desire the basic tenets of liberty, justice, and the ability to see their children flourish in a nurturing environment that is not infested with conflict and despair. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a simple demand—one that should be deemed as a necessity for all of humanity.
To our land,
and it is the one near the word of God,
a ceiling of clouds
To our land,
and it is the one far from the adjectives of nouns,
the map of absence
To our land,
and it is the one tiny as a sesame seed,
a heavenly horizon … and a hidden chasm
To our land,
and it is the one poor as a grouse’s wings,
holy books … and an identity wound
To our land,
and it is the one surrounded with torn hills,
the ambush of a new past
To our land, and it is a prize of war,
the freedom to die from longing and burning
and our land, in its bloodied night,
is a jewel that glimmers for the far upon the far
and illuminates what’s outside it …
As for us, inside,
we suffocate more!
Mahmoud Darwish – “To Our Land”