Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It's Not Just The Economy, Stupid

My friend Sam Bahour, one of Ramallah's grittiest entrepreneurs and consultants, a Palestinian-American man-of-the-world (who got his Kellogg School MBA at Tel-Aviv University), knows more than most how important economic reciprocity and development will be to building peace. But he also knows their limitations.  Israelis or Americans who think economic advance will be a substitute for a political process that changes borders and governance and makes room for refugees--that Palestinians will be silenced by the hope of material gain--do not understand their future.

On the economic front, they point to grand plans to establish a handful of industrial mega-zones, the majority being located on the unilaterally-defined (illegal) Israeli border between the West Bank and Israel.  These industrial zones are meant to absorb the over 150,000 Palestinian laborers that Israel has prohibited from working in Israel. Moreover, as I was recently told by an Israeli promoting these industrial zones, for every job created in such a zone, three will be created for Palestinians outside the industrial zones -- thus, in essence, creating an entire artificial economy built around Palestinian and foreign-owned, but Israeli-controlled economic bubbles.

What the international community fails to mention is that the dynamic on the ground is explosive. The Israeli military occupation is alive and well and causing structural, possibly irrevocable damage to Palestinian lands and persons. The Jewish-only Israeli settlement enterprise is off the leash and building more and more illegal settlements as if there were no tomorrow, not to mention the increasing tides of settler violence which remains unpunished.  All this settlement activity is happening with full approval of the Israeli government and in full view of the international community. The failing (or failed) health care and education systems in Palestine are producing a generation of Palestinians with much less to lose and little hope for the future.

Read Sam's entire argument here.