Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
“An intifada of the wealthy”
Living conditions seem to be improving in the West Bank. Thanks to a recently gained sense of security and availability of funding, Palestinian farmers are diversifying their crop portfolio away from staples like tomatoes, for a competitive edge. Palestinians have announced the launch of one of their most ambitious real estate projects to date in the central West Bank. Nablus, long the industrial hub of the West Bank, the city’s once ubiquitous soapmakers who have survived a sharp decline in sales are eyeing new markets abroad for their all-natural product. A recent International Monetary Fund report projects real GDP in the West Bank to rise by about 7 percent this year, provided that remaining Israeli military restrictions are lifted. This growth will mark “the first substantial increase in living standards since 2005″, the IMF says. Cafes in Ramallah are bustling with business, and unemployment is down.
Five years ago, such positive economic climate could not have been imagined. The West Bank’s economy had been weak and dwindling under checkpoints and roadblocks imposed by Israel following the Palestinian uprising of 2000. Things started changing this summer, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easing travel within the West Bank as part of an “economic peace” that he described as a prelude to a fuller accord with the Palestinians. Consolidating that vision despite his own reservations about Israel’s long-term intentions, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a 65-page plan for building the institutions and infrastructure of the future state of Palestine.
Many Palestinians, like Nimmer Nazal, acknowledge the economic improvements but are still wary of how long this trend might last. Israel has ultimate control of roads, energy, water, telecommunications and air space, and “there were checkpoints on the roads everywhere,” he said.
“They stopped us going to market. We could take all day just getting into Jenin, which is only a few minutes away now,” Nazal told Reuters. “But everything still depends on the security situation. If the atmosphere goes sour, everything will collapse overnight.”
There has been no major violence and Palestinians are enjoying an economic recovery, but some Israeli pundits say this is too reminiscent of the fleeting stability enjoyed just before past outbreaks of violence. A columnist for the leading Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth wrote: ”The statistics are clear and frightening: Every time the standard of living in the Palestinian parts of the West Bank reaches a new zenith, an Intifada (revolt) breaks out and turns back the wheel. This was the case in 1987, this is what happened in 2000, and this may be happen now.”
“Again, just like 22 years ago and nine years ago, the Palestinian economy is completing a period of impressive growth… What else can the Palestinians aspire for when they have advanced autonomy and when their standard of living skyrockets?
“The economic normalization threatens the revolutionary and radical elements within Palestinian society, and they swore not to allow this normalization to take root. It’s perceived by them as indirect reconciliation with the occupation… The reinforcement of a Palestinian middle class, which may fall in love with a routine life, reject the ongoing struggle, and enjoy its proximity to the large Israeli market is anathema in the view of the militant leadership, and not only there…
“The next Intifada, should it break out, may focus on Temple Mount, yet its logic will not really be related to religious feelings. Just like in previous times, its origin will be the volatile cocktail of a diplomatic dead-end coupled with an economic tie. As it turns out, the two don’t go well together.”
A commentary in the Israeli daily Haaretz analyzing the turnout at recent Palestinian protests in Jerusalem argued against the likelihood of another full-scale uprising erupting. (Read more about the recent clashes here.)
Noting the improving living conditions of West Bank residents, Avi Issacharoff wrote: “Desperation has been made more comfortable.” Coupled with the lack of a strong leadership to rally the masses and organize effective demonstrations at more than one place at the same time, and the suppression of political Islamists in the West Bank, there is not a strong chance for a third uprising breaking out soon, concluded Issacharoff his commentary titled “An intifada of the wealthy”.
Click below to watch Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad celebrating the National Olive Day on October 11th, by helping farmers pick olives:
PHOTO: A Palestinian soapmaker counts the stock in a workshop in the West Bank city of Nablus September 28, 2009. Picture taken September 28, 2009. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (WEST BANK)