Israeli Generosity and the Game of Percentages

Khalil Hindi, Al-Hayat

Israeli Generosity and the Game of Percentages

Published in Arabic in Al-Hayat, London in two instalments on 5 and 6 of January 2001

Khalil Hindi[2]


Israeli propaganda and a large section of Western media have put the blame for the collapse of the Camp David negotiations and the consequent bloody struggle squarely on the Palestinians. Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, it is said, went further than any previous Israeli leader; indeed further than any Israeli leader could, when he proposed returning more than 90 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, the argument goes, the Palestinian side met this generosity with ingratitude and rejection. It is also claimed that the current struggle is particularly lamentable since the gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions has never been so close. The former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, keeps reiterating that the dispute concerns only 2 to 3 per cent of the land.


On the other side of the divide, Palestinian and Arab media often portray the struggle as if it were merely over sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Certain Palestinian circles have also started displaying some readiness to play the game of percentages. Perhaps the clearest expression of this is to be found in a column by Mr Jihad AlKhazen (Alhayat, 20th of November 2000). He tells us that he had talked by telephone to Mr Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the PLO’s second in command, in Gaza and goes on to say: “the biggest achievement of the Intifada is perhaps that it has clearly laid down some red lines. The future of the Nobel Sanctuary will not be in Israel’s hands … The withdrawal will not be from 80 or 90 per cent of the land, for the percentage that the Intifada has imposed is 95 per cent of the land in the West Bank and the two parties will exchange the remaining 5 per cent, such that Israel keeps the settlement blocks and the Palestinians get in return land to extend the Gaza Strip”.


This article argues first that the Israeli position is characterised by a great deal of strategic consistency: ever since the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967, it has been based on continued Israeli control over the land and its resources, while offering the inhabitants a measure of limited self-autonomy. It sSecondly it argues that the issue of Jerusalem is too important and complex to be a reduced to the question of sovereignty over the Nobel Sanctuary; important as this question is, in view of the unique place the Sanctuary occupies in people’s hearts and their systems of values in Palestine and elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. Thirdly, it is argued here that it is possible for Israel to ‘concede’ to the Palestinian Authority 95 per cent of the West Bank and remain in control of the land and the fate of its inhabitants. Put simply, continued existence of the settlement blocks and other Israeli control mechanisms means in reality mere self-autonomy for the inhabitants, however grand the appellation given to the emerging system.



From Camp David to Camp David


The perception of the Palestinian and Arab peace camp (to which this writer belongs) of the peace process appears, at least with the benefit of hindsight, to have been based on a good deal of misunderstanding. The peace process has been perceived as aimed at achieving a historic reconciliation, or at least a solution of the Palestine question based on a modicum of justice. Clutching at straws of hope, the terms of the discourse were transmuted by incessantly talking about ‘final solution’ negotiations, while the documents of the peace process itself always referred to ‘final-status arrangements’: a solution implies removing grievances and satisfying legitimate aspirations, whereas arrangements refer to power relations and mechanisms of control and mastery.


Israel, on the other hand, has not been after reconciliation, let alone a historic one. It has not been prepared even to countenance a solution based on admitting that a grave historic injustice has been perpetrated on the Palestinian people and attempting to ameliorate the consequences. In fact, Israel’s position has always been based on regarding the Palestinians with derision: the Palestinians excel at defeat, from 1936 to 1948 to 1967 to 1982 to the waning of the first Intifada by 1990. And since Palestinians are shortsighted, they never miss a chance to miss a chance. They refuse to acknowledge their repeated defeats and salvage what they can of the debris of their existence. The peace process from the Israeli point of view is nothing more than the framework within which the Palestinians, or at least their leadership, would be pushed slowly but surely towards acknowledging their historic defeat and paying its full price. The godfathers of Middle East policy in the American State Department (Ross, Indyk, Kurtzer, Miller) are not far removed from this point of view. They believe that a number of circumstances (consequences of the Gulf war and Arab-Arab disputes, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the weakness of the Palestine Liberation Organisation) have combined to make the time opportune for Israel to reap the political and economic rewards to which it is entitled by its repeated military victories. Their purpose has always been limited to convincing Israel that it is in its interest to cash in before circumstances change, and that it has, therefore, to show some tactical flexibility.


In fact, the Israeli position (supported by United States) has been characterised by a great deal of strategic coherence and consistency. Ever since it occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel has been adamant first that the future of the West Bank and Gaza shall be on the basis of autonomy to the inhabitants, while Israel retains control over the land and its resources, and secondly that Jerusalem shall remain the eternal united capital of Israel, with none other than Israel having sovereignty over any part of it.


Israel achieved what it wanted in the first Camp David agreements. The ‘Framework for Peace in the Middle East’, signed by Egypt and Israel on 17 September 1978, had the following to say regarding the West Bank and Gaza:


1. Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the representatives of the Palestinian people should participate in negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects. To achieve that objective, negotiations relating to the West Bank and Gaza should proceed in three stages:

a.       … there should be transitional arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza for a period not exceeding five years. In order to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants, under these arrangements the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas to replace the existing military government … These new arrangements should give due consideration both to the principle of self-government by the inhabitants of these territories and to the legitimate security concerns of the parties involved.

b.      … A withdrawal of Israeli armed forces will take place and there will be a redeployment of the remaining Israeli forces into specified security locations. The agreement will also include arrangements for assuring internal and external security and public order. …

                                                                                 i.            When the self-governing authority (administrative council) in the West Bank and Gaza is established and inaugurated, the transitional period of five years will begin. As soon as possible, but not later than the third year after the beginning of the transitional period, negotiations will take place to determine the final status of the West Bank and Gaza …

2.      All necessary measures will be taken and provisions made to assure the security of Israel and its neighbors during the transitional period and beyond. To assist in providing such security, a strong local police force will be constituted by the self-governing authority. It will be composed of inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. …

3.      During the transitional period, representatives of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the self-governing authority will constitute a continuing committee to decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967…

4.      Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt, just and permanent implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem.

The Peace Treaty Between Israel and Egypt, signed on the 26th of March 1979, did not refer in its body to the West Bank and Gaza. However, an appended joint letter from Menachem Begin, for the Government of Israel, and Anwar Sadat, for the Government of Egypt, to the American President Carter recalled the Camp David Agreements and pledged that Israel and Egypt would enter into negotiations aimed at ‘the establishment of the self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza in order to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants.’ The letter added that ‘the Israel military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn, to be replaced by the self-governing authority … A withdrawal of Israeli armed forces will then take place and there will be a redeployment of the remaining Israeli forces into specified security locations’.

Do these texts remind us of something more recent? Indeed! The arrangements and procedures specified therein are almost identical to those that were agreed upon in the first and second Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO: the five-year transitional period, the pledge to enter into negotiations to determine that final-status not later than the third year of the transitional period, the necessity of establishing a strong police force to assist in providing for Israel’s security, the permanent committee to decide on the modalities of admission of persons displaced in 1967!


More importantly, there is a commonality of strategic purpose between the first Camp David Accords and the two Oslo Agreements. Clearly, the intent in both cases was not full Israeli withdrawal, but only the withdrawal of the Israeli military government and its civil administration and a redeployment of Israeli military forces from populated centres to specific security locations that would ensure their effective control of the whole area. While the Camp David accords clearly set the final goal as self-government to the inhabitants, the two Oslo agreements imposed on the Palestinians arrangements and relationships designed to ensure that the Palestinian Authority would not develop beyond self-government.


Nor was the choice of camp David as a venue for the final-status negotiations, and adopting logistical arrangements for the negotiation processes similar to a great extent to the arrangements of the first camp David, a mere coincidence. The proposals that where put forward for discussion were clearly aimed at directing the second Camp David negotiations towards achieving the strategic goal of the first Camp David: Israeli effective control of the land and its resources, while giving the inhabitants limited self-government. However, in the period between the first Camp David and the second Camp David, the attachment of the Palestinian people to the dream of independence on the one hand and the infatuation of the Palestinian leadership with the trappings of state power on the other had become factors to be reckoned with. Acknowledging this, Israel and the United states offered the Palestinians a ‘concession’ that would allow them to call the limited self-government a ‘state’, if they so wished!


The tenacity of Israel’s strategic purpose is also all too evident in the fact that all the talks and negotiations since the first Camp David notwithstanding, it did not budge regarding three very important issues: Jerusalem, cessation of settlement activity, and the extent of the applicability of Security Council resolution 242. During the first Camp David negotiations, it was agreed that each of the Egyptian and Israeli sides would retain its position vis-à-vis Jerusalem. President Sadat sent a letter to President Carter saying that ‘Arab Jerusalem is an integral part of the West Bank. Legal and historical Arab rights in the city must be respected and restored. Arab Jerusalem should be under Arab Sovereignty’. Similarly, Prime Minister Begin sent a letter saying that ‘the government of Israel decreed in July 1967 that Jerusalem is one city indivisible, the capital of the state of Israel’. Naturally, this agreement to disagree left the holy city under complete Israeli control indefinitely. The Oslo Agreements did likewise by leaving the issue of Jerusalem aside until the final-status negotiations. During the second Camp David negotiations, an effort was made to make Israeli control a final arrangement accepted by both sides. When the negotiations collapsed due to differences over this issue in particular, some Israeli and American circles started counselling the wisdom of reaching an agreement over other issues, leaving the issue of Jerusalem aside for another long period!

Israel refused to agree to the Camp David accords with Egypt stipulating the cessation of settlement activity during the transitional talks. As a result, an understanding was reached that Begin would send a letter to Carter pledging to freeze settlement activity. However, after the agreements were signed, Carter failed to obtain such a letter, even though he tried several times! Israel also adopted the same position in the talks leading to the two Oslo agreements. As a result, they did not contain any articles that would specifically fetter settlement activity. Article XXXI (7) of the second Oslo agreement, which stipulated that ‘Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations’, was interpreted by Israel as merely prohibiting changing the legal status, not settlement activity.

Israel also insisted during the first Camp David talks that the accords be so formulated as not to infringe its claim that Security Council resolution 242 does not apply to the West Bank and Gaza. Once again it achieved what it wanted; the American draft was amended according to its wishes. Israel has since persisted in the same position and reiterated it on the eve of the second camp David talks when The Israeli Attorney General issued a ‘legal opinion’ that 242 does not apply to the West Bank and Gaza since it applies only to states!


Negotiate and preempt


Israel was not merely content to impose its will on the agreements, understandings and protocols. More importantly, it imposed its will through continually creating fait accomplis since the occupation in 1967. The first Intifada impeded to a certain extent the process of imposing facts on the ground. However, the ‘truce’ that followed the first Oslo Accord enabled Israel to accelerate this process several fold. It has since September 1993 carried out the following, among other measures:


·          Built 30 new settlements, including complete cities like Kiryat Sefer and Tell Zion and built 90,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the settlements. Most importantly, it consolidated several small colonies into settlement blocks, each with more than 50,000 inhabitants. These control the strategic corridors in the West Bank, atomise Palestinian areas and disrupt their geographic contiguity.


·          Doubled the number of colonists in the West Bank to more than 400,000; about 200,000 in the Jerusalem area and about 200,000 in the rest of the area (when Israeli sources cite the number of colonists as around 180,000, they deliberately discount the colonists in the Jerusalem area, on the basis that its future is not under discussion!). In addition, there are around 6000 colonists in the Gaza Strip, controlling 25 per cent of its land, including most of the coast.


·          Started building around 480 kilometres of major and bypass roads that join the colonies together with Israel, while dividing Palestinian areas into small, unconnected plots.


·          Expropriated around 200 square kilometres of agricultural and grazing land to expand settlements and construct roads, in addition to large areas of state and collectively owned land.


·          Uprooted around 100,000 olive and fruit trees using various pretexts.


·          Demolished more than 1200 Palestinian homes.


Mechanisms of control


Crucially, these measures have already created a qualitatively different situation that allows Israel to concede the majority of West Bank land, without practically relinquishing control and giving the Palestinians true independence.


Clearly, Israel does not wish to have to integrate 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and grant them nationality. On the other hand, through direct experience, particularly with the first Intifada, it has concluded that occupation of population centres and direct subjugation of the inhabitants are costly. It has, therefore, developed in practice a network of control that allows it to leave the inhabitants to administer their own affairs, while retaining hegemony over their fate and dominating the country and its resources. Moreover, handling this network of control is not contingent upon direct occupation of the whole land, nor even the majority of the land; controlling the strategic nodes and operating certain mechanisms would suffice.


The network of control is configured on a number of levels that overlap to constitute a hierarchical structure. However, the crucial level is that of physical control, which is in turn configured on three sub levels: territory; the roads, boundaries and crossings; and infrastructure.


Colonial settlements play the crucial role at the territorial level. It is conceivable that, as part of an overall settlement, some of the small colonies dotting the West Bank would be evacuated. However, Israel is adamant that it will not relinquish the large settlement blocks under any circumstances. Discussion here will, therefore, be limited to these.


The Jerusalem region is pivotally important in this context. Before 1967, the area of East Jerusalem was 6.5 square kilometres. In July 1967, Israel annexed this area and expanded the boundaries of the ‘united’ municipality to 108 square kilometres, 38 kilometres of which constitute the area of west Jerusalem and the remainder (70 square kilometres) cover occupied territory, the majority of which (63.5 square kilometres) belong to 28 Palestinian villages. Thus the municipality came to encompass, among other villages and locales, Walaja, Sharafat, Beit Safafa, Sour Baher, Sawahrah Asharkieh, Al-Mukabber mount, Silwan, Attour, Wadi Al-Jouz, Shiekh Jarrah and Shoufat, in addition to what has become known as the Jerusalem finger, which extends north to encompass Kalandia (excluding the refugee camp) up to the outskirts of Kufr Aqab and Ramallah/Albireh. Clearly, the boundaries of the municipality were drawn in such a way as to annex the largest possible area with the least number of population. Since 1967, Israel has built an inner ring of settlements, the most important of which are Gilo, Givat Hamtos, Har Homa, East Talpiot, Givat Shapira, Givat Hamiftar, Ramat Eshkol, Rekhes Shoufat, Ramot, Pisgat Ofer, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neveh Yakouv and Attarot, in addition to small settlements in the heart of Arab quarters (Ras Al-Amoud, Shiekh Jarah, Silwan). As a result of this colonial expansion, the number of Jewish inhabitants in expanded East Jerusalem has exceeded the number of Arab inhabitants by more than 200,000 (around 430,000 Jews versus 200,000 Arabs).


In 1995, two years after Oslo, Israel adopted a master plan for Greater Jerusalem, which incorporates East Jerusalem in addition to an outer ring of colonies that includes Beit Horon, Givat Ze’ev, Almon, Kfar Adumim, Alon, Mitspe Jericho, Maaleh Adumim, Kidar, Bitar, and the Gush Etzion block. Israel plans to increase the number of inhabitants of this outer ring to 250,000 by the end of the decade.


Greater Jerusalem itself is incorporated within Metropolitan Jerusalem, which extends from Beit Shemesh (inside the green line) through Kiryat Sefer to include the two Palestinian villages of Biet Our and Ein Areek and the Palestinian city of Ramallah/AlBireh and the colonies of Beit Eil, Psagot, Kochacv Yakov, the Palestinian village of Dir Dibwan, the colonies of Maaleh Mikhmas and Adam before proceeding south east through Maaleh Adumim and Mitspe Jericho then south west to include the Palestinian villages of Ubadiyah, Shawawreh, Za’atreh, Beit Shaur and Biet Jala and the city of Bethlehem and then west to the colonies of Bitar and Sour Hadasa and thereafter back to Beit Shemesh.


Incorporating populated Palestinian areas within Metropolitan Jerusalem may have been perceived by Israel as a stratagem to facilitate ‘solving’ the Jerusalem problem by imposing on the Palestinian their Jerusalem (Ramallah/AlBireh, Beit Shaur/Biet Jala/Bethlehem). More probably, the aim is perhaps to ensure that these areas would not enjoy anything other than self-government, whatever the appellation. Even if borders were to be drawn to separate Ramallah/AlBireh and Beit Shaur/Biet Jala/Bethlehem from Israeli controlled areas, the former areas would practically remain part of Metropolitan Jerusalem, economically dependent on the more dynamic and prosperous Jewish areas, with their development determined by what the Israeli authorities plan for Metropolitan Jerusalem as a whole. For example, an Israeli industrial area is being billed south-east of

Ramallah to integrate the Beit Eil, Ofra, Psagot, Kochacv Yakov, Maaleh Mikhmas and Adam colonies into the economy of Jerusalem, but also clearly to limit the prospects of Ramallah/AlBireh developing economically independently.


Continued Israeli control of Metropolitan Jerusalem would ensure for Israel domination over the whole of the middle sector of the West Bank, while separating the north of the West Bank from the South. During the Camp David talks, the United States proposed building a corridor to connect Ramallah with Bethlehem. However, in addition to being under Israel’s mercy, such a corridor would not change the fact of geographic separation, but merely serve to accentuate it.


It is worth reiterating here that for Israel to achieve this hegemony, it needs not annex more than a small percentage of the West Bank. Accurate figures are lacking. Nevertheless, the West Bank area incorporated within the master plan of Metropolitan Jerusalem is estimated at 660 square kilometres. This is equivalent to 11 percent of the combined area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (about 6000 square kilometres). It is perhaps sufficient for Israel to annex less than half this area, i.e., around five per cent, to ensure the domination it seeks.


The Samaria colonies occupy the second most important place in the Israeli network of control. These colonies, which include Alfe Menasheh, Yizhar, Brasha, Elkana, Ariel, Atamar, Shilo, and Maaleh Efraem, extend west east to the Jordan river, south of Qaliqilyeh and Nablus and north of Salfit, thereby separating the north of the West Bank (Qaliqilyeh, Nablus, Tulkarm, Jenin) from the north of its centre (Ramallah). Once again, Israel needs not annex more than a small percentage of land in this area to ensure hegemony.


However, for the importance of the Israeli colonies within the network of Israeli control to be fully appreciated, they have to be considered in relation to the grid of highways and major and bypass roads. This grid is designed to integrate the colonies into the Israeli interior, while disrupting the geographic contiguity of the areas inhabited by the Arab population, rendering the latter areas islands that are isolated from one another, as well as from the outside world.


Undoubtedly, the most important highway will be the Trans-Israel (highway 6), which will extend along the green line. Plans are in hand to relocate hundreds of thousands of Israelis alongside this highway to make it the ‘backbone’ of Israel, with cities, villages and colonies along both sides integrated in such a way as to fuse the Metropolitan areas of Jerusalem, Modi’in and Tel-Aviv and the colonial settlements housing some 70 per cent of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank into a megalopolitan area. In this way, an area of 4000 square kilometres extending from Ashdod northward to Netanya, then eastward to Nablus, then southward to Bethlehem, then westward across to Ashdod again will be fully integrated and will incorporate the Palestinian cities and villages in the area, whether these are self governed or not.


A network of major roads complements the Trans-Israel highway. These consist of north-south axes and west-east axes. Route 60, which extends from Beer Shiva (B’ir Assabe’) in the South to Nazareth in the North, passing by Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin splits the West Bank in half. Route 80, which runs parallel to Route 60, extends from Arad to Jerusalem, skirting Bethlehem and separating Abu Dis from Jerusalem. Route 90 extends from Mettula in the north to Eilat in the south, crossing the Jordan Valley and passing by Beisan and Jericho and then along the Dead Sea. Roads extending west east complete the grid. The trans-Samaria road (route 5) extends from the coast to the Jordan Valley through Ariel. Route 45 runs from Modi’in to Maaleh Adumim, through the northern part of Jerusalem. Route number 1 runs from Tel-Aviv to the middle of Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim and thereafter to the Abdullah Bridge on the Jordan River. Finally the Ashdod-Amman road (Route 7) extends from the coast through the Bitar and Gush Etzion colonies south of Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim and thereafter to the Jordan River on the way to Amman. In addition, there are around 30 bypass roads connecting the colonies with each other and with Israel.


The road grid over which Israel insists on maintaining control in any settlement ensures on its own incorporating the West Bank into Israel, while isolating Arab population centres from each other and from the outside world. Palestinian ‘independence’ under such conditions would be merely nominal and in effect mere self-government.


Israeli control at the physical level is completed by control over borders, crossings, the airport, and the future seaport, in addition to control over the components of the infrastructure: the telecommunications network, the electricity network, water resources and the water network.


Control over infrastructure constitutes also part of the Israeli network of control at the equally important economic level. Some believe that the purpose of Israeli economic domination is to exploit the occupied territories economically. More probably, this domination is first and foremost one of the mechanisms of political subordination, in the time-honoured Zionist tradition of subjugating economics to politics. Two factors play an important role in this context: Palestinian employment in Israel, the colonies and the industrial areas built on both sides of the green line, and the customs union imposed on the occupied territories.


Palestinian employment is used by Israel as a stick and a carrot. If the Palestinians misbehave, closure is imposed and the workers are deprived of work. Subsequently, the prospect of allowing them to go back to work is raised, provided that Palestinians accept what Israel wants. This weapon is undoubtedly most effective. During the first half of 2000, the average number Palestinians working officially in Israel, the colonies and industrial areas was around 125 thousand, in addition to between 30 and 60 thousands working unofficially. Since the average daily wage is around 27 American dollars, the official workers as a group gain around 3.4 million dollars daily. Depriving these workers of work increases the rate of basic unemployment from the 11 percent to around 30 per cent overnight. Moreover, the decrease in family incomes causes the secondary effect of decreasing purchases of goods and services, which, through the reverse multiplier effect, exacerbates the decrease in incomes and the increase in unemployment. In this way, rates of poverty are raised, requiring the Palestinian Authority to increase its expenditure on social welfare, exactly at a time when its revenues are diminishing.


Moreover, Palestinian employment in Israel has structural consequences that reinforce dependence and subordination. The relatively high levels of wages distort the labour market, since they do not reflect gains in domestic productivity. This, in turn, affects the economy in two mutually enhancing ways. On the supply side, production costs increase, profitability decreases and ability to compete in foreign markets diminishes; all of which serve to weaken both industrial and agricultural production. On the demand side, the increases in income lead to increases in total demand in the domestic economy without parallel increases in domestic production, with the result that imports, from and through Israel, increase and prices in general escalate, which in turn stimulates more demand for work in Israel and the colonies.


Yet, experts employed by the international economic organisations persist in advocating a close relationship between the small, poor Palestinian economy and the big, strong, rich Israeli economy. They maintain that such a relationship should benefit the Palestinian economy through increasing demand for the products of the smaller economy and transfer of technology and knowledge to it, in addition to the advantages of the ‘dispersion’ that result from opportunities for subcontracting, joint ventures, and co-ordination of tourism and other services. However, in practice, the close relationship has made it impossible for small Palestinian industry to compete with the efficient, advanced Israeli industry. The most that the Palestinian economy can aspire to from such a relationship would be to produce goods with low skills content and continue to export labour to Israel. In this context, the customs union imposed on the occupied territories, which Israel insists should be the framework for its future relationship with the Palestinian state, plays a decisive role. Under this union, tariffs are imposed in order to protect Israeli industry, even while implementing the gradual trade liberalisation programme that Israel has adopted. These tariffs increase the prices of the capital and intermediate goods imported by the Palestinian economy, which leads to an increase in Palestinian production costs. The overall result has been the loss to the Palestinian economy of any comparative advantage; the economic relationship has become firmly based on absolute advantage for the Israeli economy.


The customs union has also an important political role. Under such an arrangement, the Palestinian ‘state’ would not economically need to control borders and crossings, since the Israeli customs authorities collect tariffs and duties on behalf of both parties. Moreover, since Israel gives the Palestinian Authority its share of dues monthly, it has within its grasp yet another mechanism of domination.


Another consequence of the customs union has been the fiscal leakage suffered by the Palestinian Authority. Israel transfers to the Authority customs on the shipments addressed to the West Bank and Gaza. However, the majority of Palestinian imports are imported, through Israeli intermediaries, as part of shipments destined to Israeli companies. The Authority, therefore, does not receive any customs duties on such imports. In an attempt to deal with this situation, the Authority imposed an import-licensing regime. However, the result has been merely to exacerbate the tendency of the Authority to enforce monopolies and constrain economic activity to pass through the intermediacy of the Authority and the political class, without actually solving the problem, for the Authority is still unable to impose customs duties on non-Israeli inputs into the goods imported directly from Israel.


It is perhaps worth noting here the World Bank seems to have finally recognised the facts of the case. It recently (November 2000) recommended that the Palestinian Authority abrogate its customs agreement with Israel, constitute itself as an independent trading unit, impose lower tariffs, and reach a new trading agreement with Israel based on parity with Israel’s other trading partners; all of which would mean imposing customs duties on trade in goods between Israel and the Authority.


A future Palestine will not be able to escape the clutches of Israeli economic domination, except by re-engaging with the Arab interior, through Jordan and Egypt. However, this is contingent upon developing regional infrastructures. There should be equitable regional arrangements for distributing water and conserving and expanding water resources. It is also necessary to develop a unified Palestinian electricity grid that would work as part of a regional grid joining Egypt’s on the one hand and the grids of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, which are currently interconnected, on the other, rather than relying on electricity supplies from Israel, which are costly and unlikely to meet future demand. It is also important to expand land transport links with Jordan, which would entail adding new bridges and rehabilitating old ones to make them suitable for land transport, as well as with Egypt.


Economic control mechanisms lead naturally to mechanisms of a qualitatively different nature that may be termed co-option mechanisms. Due to the intensity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such mechanisms have not met with a great deal of success so far. Nevertheless, they are likely to play a vitally important role if and when relationships between the two parties become relaxed. However, each such mechanism carries within it the seeds of its antithesis. For example, Israel must have expected that the employment of more than 125 thousand Palestinians in Israel and the colonies would lead to a measure of support for the domination – dependence relationship, or at least that these workers and their families would feel friendly towards Israel, since it is providing their very livelihood. But, in addition to the problematic nature of the relationship between labour and capital, there is the atrociously miserable treatment meted out at the crossings and the workplace, the excessive length of the workday including the hours of travel, and the feeling of national indignity; all of which fill these workers with  rage and alienation.


However, if, in order to eke out a living, a number of Palestinian workers have to work in building the colonies, no such excuse could possibly be found for some Palestinian contractors, owners of heavy construction equipment and trucks, and building material (bricks, gravel and stone) suppliers who do the same. A report in one of the Israeli newspapers even names two very senior Palestinian Authority figures, claiming that their commercial interests have a connection to building work in the colonies (Haaretz 25 September 2000). Such a claim is not necessarily true. Yet making it sheds some light on Israeli thinking: seeking to tie some small and medium-size businessmen and Palestinian Authority figures not only to the Israeli economy but also to building the colonies.


Subservience of the Palestinian economy to the Israeli economy facilitates promoting joint ventures in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The main purpose of such activity is perhaps to foster links between business people and Israel. However, since the manner in which the Palestinian Authority manages the economy, particularly its promotion and protection of monopolies linked to its leading figures, leads to a great deal of networking between business people and politicians, it may be said that joint ventures constitute a mechanism for co-opting the Palestinian political class. Notably, some of the Israelis active in promoting joint ventures are ex-intelligence (Shen Beth) officers who have committed serious crimes against the Palestinian people. The most notorious is Yossi Ginossar who was responsible in 1984 for killing two Palestinian guerrillas after they were captured (the Bus 300 Affair) and who nine years later was debarred by the Israeli High Court from assuming the post of director general of the Housing Ministry, because those who fill public office ‘ought to maintain an appropriate level of moral behaviour’!


Israeli conduct is based, it seems, on promoting individual prosperity and national poverty in the occupied territories. Israel is interested in promoting individual prosperity in an effort to induce stability promoting general relaxation, while at the same time working relentlessly to prevent the development of a prosperous national economy. An Israeli commentator says in an article designed to show that the Palestinian Authority could not have possibly anticipated, let alone planned, the eruption of the second Intifada: ‘Palestinian Authority officials were constantly working to promote major economic investments … They invested a great deal of their own money … They would not have done so, had they expected bloody incidents’. He adds: ‘Palestinian authority leaders built for themselves elegant houses, offices and headquarters that cost a great deal of money’ (Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, 6th November, 2000).


The complex extensive system of pass laws for is yet another effective mechanism of co-option. There are VIP passes, and these in turn are of several classes, passes given to business people to allow them to get supplies from Israeli wholesalers, passes to allow use of the so-called safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (the magnetic card), passes to allow reaching Tel-Aviv airport to travel abroad, etc. A pass gives its owner an advantage that can easily be translated into economic and social benefits. The most pernicious effect of the system, however, is that it perpetuates in the perception of the public the idea that Authority figures, who have VIP passes, have a relationship with Israel that is qualitatively different from that endured by the rest of the people. It also gives a somewhat correct impression that the Authority plays  the role of the intermediary between the people and Israel. All of this in turn, creates an environment conducive to other processes of co-option.




This article has sought to show that true Palestinian independence, worthy of being called a ‘state’, requires complete dismantling of the Israeli colonial settlements, in particular the major settlement blocks, as well as breaking various Israeli control mechanisms, which, in turn, is predicated upon controlling borders, border crossings, internal roads and achieving economic independence that allows reintegrating Palestine into the Arab interior through Jordan and Egypt. Should the continued existence of the settlement blocks be accepted on the basis that this gives the Palestinians back some 95 per cent of the land and should this be done without breaking Israeli domination, the resulting solution would inexorably lead to mere self-autonomy to the inhabitants, whether this regime were called a state or not and whether it had a ‘capital’ in Jerusalem or not. Should this indeed turn out to be the sad conclusion of Palestinian suffering and perseverance, one can imagine Hertzle, Jabotinsky and other founding fathers of Zionism sneaking out of their graves to dance noisily, celebrating the control of their successors over the whole of Eretz Israel. They may even do so at night surreptitiously, lest the Arabs realise!




Information on colonies and roads was gleaned from the following sources:


1.      Jeff Halper, The 94 Per Cent Solution, MERIP Report 216, Washington DC, 2000.


2.      Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories, published bi-monthly by the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), Washington DC.


3.      An Atlas of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), Applied Research Institute

(ARIJ), Bethlehem, Palestine, 2000. Particularly, the report of Halper, which in turn relies heavily on the excellent work of the Dutch geographer Jan de Jong.



[2] Khalil Hindi is Professor of Systems Engineering at Brunel University, London. He writes occasionally on Palestinian affairs.

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