Palestinians standing tall

A presentation on the Palestinian economy hosted by the Chamber of Commerce in Ramallah. The speakers were Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh (middle), Director General of PICDAR (The Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction) and Dr. Ahmad Majdalani (left), President of Board of Directors-Palestinian Economist Association. (Rima Merriman)

Palestinians of all factions have so far, to their credit, withstood Israeli oppression. They have not given in, nor have they accepted to negotiate Palestinian rights away (“sumood” in Arabic), including the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Their violent outbursts, even those against one another other, have managed to make clear to both the US and Israel that basic Palestinian rights and basic territorial needs will not be cavalierly waived away.

Before the January 2006 elections of Hamas as the majority party in the Palestinian Legislative Council, before the concerted international campaign to discredit the democratic process by not recognizing the claims of the new government, by allowing Israel to withhold Palestinian revenues from it and to kidnap and imprison elected officials, before Fateh’s failure to capitalize on this turn of events in Palestinian history by standing firm in solidarity with the Hamas government and acknowledging the bankruptcy of the Oslo Accords and Israel’s trampling on them, before all that, Israel and the US had been managing and constraining the supposedly emerging Palestinian state at will.

The second Palestinian uprising is meant to put a stop to such absolute control of Palestinian affairs and destiny; it is meant to signal to the US, Israel and the international community at large that the Palestinians will not be forced to accept the massive Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem, the lack of control over borders with the outside world, the segmentation or the economic exploitation.

The uprising is meant to stand up to the power of Israel to dictate to the Palestinians. It is meant to push the Israelis to move towards a more realistic peace deal, more realistic than what they have been willing to consider at Camp David. Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children are dead or in prison for this cause.

Although it may seem otherwise at this critical juncture of the second uprising, the Palestinians have achieved some gains by staying the course of their intifada. For one thing, they have broken the back of the Greater Israel movement. No matter what happens to the Hamas government, the Palestinians will never concede peace now on Israel’s terms.

Israel’s wall will have to come down, their Jewish colonies in Palestinian territories must pack up and go back home. By developing a liberation military option, no matter how limited and functionally impotent in the face of Israeli power, the Palestinians are insisting that Israel recognize their rights in the only language that Israel understands - the language of violence.

Israel’s game, on the other hand, is not to offer the Palestinians real peace based on the justice of their historic claims and on international law. It has chosen, instead, to contain Palestinian anger and violence in A- Zoned, walled ghettos, to isolate them by denying the outside world access to them, to control them demographically through their population registry and herd them through especially designated roads, to raid the occupied territories regularly in order to hunt and shoot “targeted” Palestinians dead with total impunity, to raze Palestinian homes to the ground and confiscate their lands, and to turn them one against the other. Israel is betting that it can control the pressure cooker it has created indefinitely. The Palestinians are betting that the pressure cooker will eventually explode in Israel’s face.

What is currently confusing the issue and causing acute stress in the Palestinian arena itself is the most recent assault on Palestinian survival and dignity - the economic side of things. There is lack of clarity, because economic issues tend to be complicated and many people don’t understand them. Palestinian economic reality is totally driven by politics and not the other way around.

The bottom line for Palestinians economically is that going back to the status quo as it was before the second intifada means the acceptance of complete economic dependence on Israel, which is hardly a sound basis for a viable and independent Palestinian state.

Since the second Intifada, most of the 150,000 Palestinian workers in Israel have been unceremoniously expelled and cheated out of income taxes that should have been returned to them, of severance pay, and social insurance. By withholding Palestinian revenues, Israel was also able to put another 160,000 employees out of jobs in one stroke. Palestinians are dependent on Israel in terms of their electricity, their fuel, their construction materials and their food.

Does this mean that the Palestinians have no choice except to go hungry or return to the economic servitude made possible by the rules of occupation and Oslo? Should they sell their soul again in order to eat?

The international community in its wisdom will not let the Palestinians starve, nor will it let the Israeli water, electric, fuel and food companies that supply them with the means of survival go bankrupt. They will be providing Palestinians with coupons to pay the Israelis. Having determined that “poverty rates [in the oPt] stand at 65.8% and continue to rise; food insecurity has risen by 13% during 2006. Restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, workers, businessmen, officials and public service providers have intensified dramatically,” The UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs is fixing to collect 453.6 Million in humanitarian emergency aid for the Palestinians in 2007. Not a penny of these millions will go to developing a future independent Palestinian state.

The two choices currently open to the Palestinians economically are to go back to their economic dependence on the Israelis through embracing the defunct Oslo Accords and submitting to Israel’s grand plans to contain them, or to let the international community feed them. Neither the choice of an independent and viable Palestinian state nor obliging the occupier to feed the occupied is on the table.

Palestinians are much better off continuing to hold on and to resist and to let the international community foot the bill for feeding them, until the international community makes a viable and independent Palestinian state a real choice.

Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

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