August 6, 2009
The fearless Akiva Eldar does a great critique in today's Haaretz of Netanyahu's claim that his policies have already improved the economy of the West Bank.
(The other part of Netanyahu's policy is to hope that Palestinians would be satisfied with only some degree of easing of their deep economic plight, and would therefore somehow miraculously "forget about" their even deeper political plight...)
During a sweaty and well-publicized visit he held last weekend at the Allenby Bridge crossing, Netanyahu boasted of the fact that economic growth in the West Bank had reached 7 percent.
I wish he had noted that actually, for many months now, there have been no Qassam rockets fired at Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
At the cabinet meeting on Sunday the growth rate grew to double digits: 10 percent. Thus will be done to good Arabs who maintain Israel's security and don't launch Qassam rockets at the country.
But he goes on to note that,
Without the assistance, though, of the European and American taxpayer, who are paying the salaries of the Palestinian Authority's over 100,000 policemen and officials, the economy of the West Bank would long since have collapsed along with the PA.
The fact that the vast majority of the costs involved in administering Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza have since Oslo been paid by the EU and the US is an extremely important one to underline.
The Palestinian economy is not recovering thanks to Israel, but in spite of it.
Prior to Oslo, those costs were borne mostly by the Israeli taxpayers themselves... Just as, from 2003 until now, American taxpayers have been paying nearly all the costs of administering our country's military occupation of Iraq.
Running an occupation is, it turns out, a pretty expensive business. It's expensive even when, as in the case of the OPTs, the "occupied" population can be used for decades as a captive market for the products of the economy of the occupying power. (Since it's the occupier that, surprise surprise, totally controls the terms of trade between the two... As we saw in Iraq, also.)
Prior to Oslo, the costs to Israeli society-- both financial and human-- of maintaining the occupation of the OPTs were a significant factor in motivating Israelis to find a way to end the occupation. Back then, Israeli peaceniks produced numerous studies showing the size of the burden that the occupation placed on their economy, and how Israel could win a significant "peace dividend" if only it ended the occupation.
Bus after Oslo-- poof!! Suddenly the fact of the continuing occupation became miraculously "sanitized" when Arafat shook Rabin's hand, and the Europeans and Americans lined up to pick up the burden of paying for the administration of the occupation under the rubric of support "to the PA".
As I noted in my latest article in Boston Review, the post-Oslo disappearance of the previous "economic argument for peace" was a significant factor in leading to the decline of he Israeli peace movement.
And yes, after Oslo, the occupation still continued. But the PA-- more properly known as the PISGA, Palestinian Interim Self Governing Authority-- soon enough started acting as the Israeli military's principal contractor in this venture, its Halliburton if you like, and undertaking most of the time-consuming tasks of administering the occupation on the ground.
And now, suddenly the costs were all borne not by Israel but by EU and US taxpayers! Shazam!
Akiva Eldar refers to a lot of material from the IMF that shows that the "West Bank economic miracle" that Netanyahu is currently claiming is nowhere near as impressive as the PM makes it out to be...
We can also note that in addition to paying the operating costs of the PISGA, western taxpayers have two other forms of financial entanglement with aspects of Israel's ongoing occupation of the OPTs:
1. Our governments give generous tax breaks to many supposedly "charitable" organizations that provide significant financial and other support to the ongoing project of illegally implanting settlers into the occupied lands; and
Among these latter types of organization are the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Anera, the courageous Israel organization Breaking the Silence, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, B'tselem, etc, etc.
2. Our governments give tax breaks and a certain amount of actual government funding to a range of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the OPTs (and in Israel) that do many different things on a not-for-profit basis, ranging from the provision of vital health, humanitarian, and community development services to Palestinian communities under stress to monitoring the rights situation in the OPTs and in Israel itself, and advocating and organizing to end gross rights abuses.
In Eldar's article, he notes that Netanyahu's political adviser Ron Dermer has recently talked about "the need to silence... NGOs like Breaking the Silence (an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies from soldiers)."
He adds, however, that Dermer,
forgot to do his homework. Had he checked the Knesset records, Dermer would have discovered that he is not the first right-wing politician to think of the brilliant idea of banning the transfer of money from abroad to NGOs of a political nature.
Eldar notes this:
The late MK Yuri Stern of Yisrael Beiteinu suggested an almost identical legislative initiative in the 16th Knesset. The draft bill passed in the first reading and then disappeared into oblivion. During discussions it turned out that the law would require [all] NGOs in Israel that receive donations from abroad to present the record of their economic activity to the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations.
The representatives of Shas and United Torah Judaism immediately became the leading opponents of the initiative.
the grants given by these [European] governments to the human rights organizations are nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of tax-exempt American dollars that charity organizations of American Jews and Christians pour into NGOs identified with the right.
He also quotes an un-named "leading European diplomat" as mentioning,
A legal opinion presented to the MKs anticipated that the court would find it difficult not to recognize a tax exemption on donations as de-facto government funding. That was the end of the [previous] legislative initiative.
that European assistance to human rights organizations in Israel is a drop in the bucket compared to money that Europe channels to the Palestinian Authority.
Anyway, the bottom line here. There are many very significant ways in which tax monies or tax breaks from western governments do things that support not only the continuation of Israel's occupation of the OPTs but also its illegal implantation of Jewish settlers into the West Bank. There are a few ways in which western governments send much, much smaller amounts of financial aid toNGOs that in various ways help save the resilience of the Palestinian people.
He is not aware of Israel donating 1 billion euros every year in order to assist with any conflict in Europe.
We who are citizens of these western countries are directly morally implicated in all these activities of our governments. We should take responsibility for them, and find ways to end the occupation now.
Really end it, that is. Not just put lipstick on it and throw a few sub-contracts for running it to a PISGA that has definitely, 15 years after its established, long outlived its sell-by date.