Fayyad plans for economic prison zones
There are those who argue, probably with the best intentions, that Palestinians need their own economy: in a single state, the argument goes, they would be swamped by the economic imbalance between themselves and the economically stronger Israelis.
The plans being made for a future Palestine economy are actually intended to function much the same whether Palestine is nominally independent or still occupied.
These plans are to downgrade agriculture and tourism, and build instead a small number of concentrated Industrial Free Trade Zones. These are being touted by both the Palestinian Authority and their foreign sponsor governments to give the impression of jobs, hi-tech gadgetry and strong economic development.
The cooperation of Israel in this project is no surprise. It all fits with their concerted efforts to drive farmers from their lands and destroy old-established commerce and access to tourist sites, the biggest of which, East Jerusalem, was once a busy commercial hub and mainstay of the West Bank econmy. It also fits with worldwide neo-colonial patterns.
The Free Trade Zones will exist in their own separate legal and commercial framework, islands within even a nominally sovereign economy, with their own tax and labour laws and working practices. Where such zones operate (e.g. Mexico, Jamaica, Jordan) they are notorious for sweatshop conditions and are often heavily polluting.
This will not only affect the workers concentrated into them: it’s estimated that a third of any Palestinian economy in the surrounding lands will be dependent on them as outlets for raw materials. The combination of having a monopoly employer (there’s talk of a possible capacity for half a million jobs) and monopoly buyer in its midst would place a stranglehold of dependency on the Palestinian economy.
So far three massive sites are envisaged: at Bethlehem, Jenin and Jericho. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad sees it as the foundation stone of his state.
Israel for its part has been playing this game since 1967. Sam Bahour (“Economic Prison Zones”, MERIP http://www.merip.org/mero/mero111910.html”), recalls that “When the Israeli military took control of the West Bank and Gaza, it altered Palestinian agriculture by controlling the types of crops that could be planted to prevent competition with Israeli produce, seizing land to reduce the agricultural sector and taxing Palestinian exports while allowing Israeli products to enter the territories duty-free. The requirement that all industries obtain an Israeli license limited industrial development, as did higher taxes on Palestinian industries than on their Israeli counterparts. As a result, industries that developed tended to be those that provided Israeli industry with labor-intensive, low-cost products. Palestinian industry, agriculture and labour were therefore developed to suit the needs of Israel’s economy.”
He further warns that these Free Trade Zones could provide a cover to “relocate the scores of Israeli settlement enterprises, which depend on Palestinian cheap labor, to these newly created “Palestinian” zones, thus ‘legalising’ their existence.”
Before the second Intifada, thousands of Palestinians travelled into Israel to make a living, mostly in low-paid menial jobs. Israel then banned them and replaced them with foreign workers, who are now seen as another demographic threat because they want to settle down and make it their home. What better trick than to relocate the factories into Palestinian areas, in autonomous zones where Israel controls the supply of power, water and access for goods and workers. Bahur writes: “By incorporating Israel’s infrastructure of control within the plans, these projects serve to normalize an illegal occupation and undermine Palestinian political aspirations.”
Following Israel’s practices in the early days of occupation of protecting its own agriculture at the expense of the occupied lands, these zones and their foreign investors will be privileged and protected, to the disadvantage of any indigenous industries. As they dwindle, the Zones will become ever more powerful.
Bahur insists that there are many better ways to develop the Palestinian economy: e.g. re-furbishing the dis-used Qalandiya airport for tourist use, or bringing investment into the universities and creating nearby high-tech industries. And he concludes: “the planned economic zones cannot benefit Palestinian strategic interests. The notion that political differences can be solved through job creation is fundamentally flawed and will not change the reality: 60 percent of Palestinians are internally displaced or dwell in refugee camps just hours from their homes and properties; 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza survive under siege conditions; hundreds of thousands have been illegally detained by Israel; and the economy is micro-managed by a foreign military. The development projects proposed by the international community only normalize the illegal occupation, by working in partnership with Israel to fine-tune its mechanisms of control.”
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