World Bank report says settlements crush Palestinian economy

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Demolition orders for Palestinian village in Area C, photo by ISM

Israeli demolition orders for Palestinian village bordered by settlement in Area C, photo by ISM

There are more signs that Europe is trying to bring heavy pressure on the Israeli occupation, with the silent support of the Obama administration.

Here are two recent developments. First, an important new World Bank report on the Palestinian economy under siege by settlements, which now control 2/3 of the West Bank lands Oslo was supposed to hand over to Palestinians. Second, evidence that the EU’s prospective settlement guidelines are biting the Israeli establishment over the possibility that the country will be excluded from a major European research initiative unless it declares that the settlements are not Israel.

First, this has been all over the Israeli press and in the Wall Street Journal too, though I have not seen it in the New York Times: The World Bank has issued an important report saying that the Palestinian economy is stymied by the fact that Palestinians can’t even get to most of their lands in Area C, the largest portion of the West Bank under the Oslo accords, and lands Palestinians were supposed to control.

More than half the land in the West Bank, much of it agricultural and resource rich, is inaccessible to Palestinians. The first comprehensive study of the potential impact of this ‘restricted land,’ released by the World Bank today, sets the current loss to the Palestinian economy at about US$3.4 billion.

Here’s the pdf. The report repeatedly refers to settlements as a big part of the problem, and notes Palestinians’ lack of access to minerals from the Dead Sea (which Ahava is stealing) and stone and construction materials that would “unleash” the Palestinian economy. Some of the slams of settlements:

The proportion of Area C available for Palestinian economic development is being constricted by the expansion of Israeli settlements.

The Israeli settler population in the West Bank grew from 111,600 in 1993 to 328,423 by 2011, and the proportion of Area C devoted to their settlements has expanded rapidly.

…Settlement areas grew by 35 percent between 2000 and 2011 and now cover almost 3.25 percent of the West Bank.

The territory actually controlled by settlements far exceeds this, and according to Israeli sources amounts to fully 68 percent of Area C.

In addition to built-up areas, this includes the settlements’ municipal boundaries, development master plan areas and road networks, all of which are usually off limits to Palestinians.

Ilene Cohen says that the report has the potential to sway middle-of-the-road types because it exposes the Israeli government’s policies of creating subservience, as well as the unfair premises of the peace process.

Netanyahu (who puts verbal quotation marks around the word “occupation” when he uses it) used to tout a plan for “economic peace” as a substitute for peace based on political independence. That was a few years back; you don’t hear much about it anymore, for obvious reasons; so read the World Bank report. There is neither economic peace nor political independence for Palestinians, with none of either on the horizon.

Really, how can Palestinian “economic potential” possibly be “unleashed” so long as the colonial occupation continues and the natural resources of Palestine are being stolen and exploited by the illegal Israeli settlers in their illegal settlements?

And political independence is not part of the Israeli plan either, as Netanyahu and his coalition members have made clear in speech after speech and interview after interview. As I like to ask proponents of the 2-State solution, “Can you name just one of your illegal settlements that would have to be decolonized. Just one.” I’m still waiting to read the article that provides the answer to the question.

Here’s the second item. A Swedish political scientist, Anders Persson, writes at Ma’an news that the EU anti-settlement guidelines, issued last July, set to kick in next year, are the equivalent of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in that they delegitimize the settlements by jeopardizing Israel’s ability to participate as a world economic player.

The new guidelines prohibit grants, prizes or funding from the EU to the settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

Most significantly, however, they also include a clause stipulating that these areas are not part of the State of Israel. In other words, in future agreements between the EU and Israel, the new guidelines will actually force the Israeli government to admit that the occupation is illegal under international law — something no Israeli government, least of all the incumbent — will ever do….

Only on the far left in Israel were the new guidelines welcomed as an ever-more tangible sign of the costs of continued occupation. Palestinian commentators, for their part, were generally supportive of the guidelines, although many saw them as too little, too late.

The Israeli government has responded that it will be unable to sign the upcoming 80 billion euro Horizon 2020 research project, set to begin in January 2014, if the guidelines remain in place. Israel is the only non-European country offered to participate fully in Horizon 2020, expected to contribute about 600 million euros to the project and receiving more than 1 billion euros in return.

But this is not about money, neither for Israel, nor for the EU. For Israel, this is about legitimizing its hold over the territories it captured in the 1967 war. For EU, it is about delegitimizing the occupation of what it perceives to be Palestinian and Syrian lands.

…It is also clear that the guidelines represent a new policy tool for the EU, potentially very effective, as it is hard for a small post-industrialized, high-tech oriented country like Israel to flourish in the 21th century if it is excluded from major international research projects.

…Perhaps more than anything else, the guidelines show the potential for the EU to exercise its normative and legitimizing power in the conflict – as an example that others will follow….

Resembling a 21st century Balfour Declaration, [the guidelines] are the first detailed declaration ever by a major international actor on the settlements. This is why Benjamin Netanyahu has been quoted as saying that Israel’s failure to stop them represents his country’s biggest diplomatic failure since he entered politics three decades ago. (For anyone familiar with Israeli politics, that says a lot).

It may well be that Jan. 1, 2014, when the guidelines go into effect, will be remembered as the day when the settlements began to be delegitimized on a large scale.

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