Monday, 24 January 2011

Outsourcing the occupation: why the Palestinian Authority is so weak

I recommend reading Jamie Stern-Weiner's New Left Project commentary on the leaked 'Palestine Papers', which includes this:

'The PA is a product of the Oslo process, which was designed, as former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami put it, to groom a Palestinian leadership class to act as “Israel’s collaborator in the task of stifling the [first] intifada and… [cut] short what was clearly an authentically democratic struggle for Palestinian independence”. The aim, another Israeli minister explained, “was to find a strong dictator to ... keep the Palestinians under control.”

The PA is “almost wholly dependent upon American, European and Arab political and financial support, as well as security and economic cooperation with Israel” and so can only operate within limits dictated by Israel and its international backers. This was dramatically illustrated when Palestinians elected a government that didn’t enjoy the backing of their occupiers in 2006. The US, Europe and Israel responded by starving it of funds, isolating it diplomatically, kidnapping a third of the cabinet, killing hundreds of Palestinians, destroying Gaza’s only power station, and training and arming Fatah militias to overthrow it.

It is a mistake, then, to focus overly on the corruption and venality of Abbas, Erekat, et al. The more important point is that the PA is structurally incapable of serving as an instrument of Palestinian liberation. Our takeaway lesson from the documents should be the need to end our government’s support for Israel’s occupation and Abbas’s quasi-police state in the West Bank.'

In my own recent review of Shir Hever's book 'The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation', I gave some historical background:

'After 1967 there was a period of relative prosperity, influenced by Israel’s preference for cultivating Palestinian co-operation rather than seeking to subjugate them violently. At that stage, consent was more important than coercion. Nonetheless, Israel prevented the development of a viable independent Palestinian economy, ensuring the occupied population was heavily dependent upon Israeli imports, Israeli financial institutions and employment by Israeli companies. Hever writes:

‘As local sources of income were suppressed by Israeli authorities, the main source of income to the Palestinians became remittances from Palestinian workers living in Israel, in the Jewish settlements in OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], and in the Gulf states.’

The 1980s saw a change for the worse. Falling oil prices led to falling demand for Palestinian migrant workers in the Gulf states. A collapse in the Israeli stock market led to problems for Palestinian workers in Israel: a fall in income combined with the tightening of work opportunities for Palestinians, accompanied by discrimination and abuse. The growth of Jewish settlements inside the Occupied Territories involved the theft of Palestinian land, damaging the local economy. And Israeli policy became more belligerent, shifting away from seeking consent and accommodation. All these factors influenced the emergence of the first intifada, the militant rebellion by Palestinians against oppression which started in 1987.

Fast forward to the Oslo process, which began in 1993. This did nothing for the Palestinian economy; indeed there was a fall in living standards, which was (again) one factor behind the eruption of resistance in the start of the second intifada in 2000. A major problem in these years was the increasing curtailment of employment opportunities for Palestinians seeking work inside Israel. Growing poverty and discrimination fed bitterness and disillusionment.

A gulf opened up during the Oslo years (1993-2000): while the Israeli economy boomed, the Palestinian economy contracted. For Palestinians, poverty and unemployment grew. Living standards fell still further after 2000, when Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank became increasingly reliant on overseas aid to avoid humanitarian disaster. In the West Bank the Palestinian Authority (PA) has failed to even marginally improve conditions for the local population, but has often colluded with Israeli occupation policies. Neve Gordon has referred to this, in an evocative turn of phrase, as Israel ‘outsourcing the occupation’ to the PA.'


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