Brog's Blog

November 17, 2009

Peace and Prosperity, In Palestinian Hands

Filed under: All Posts — brogsblog @ 8:02 pm

Last month brought some extremely important news from the Middle East.  The International Monetary Fund reported that the Palestinian economy in the West Bank was on track to grow at a 7% rate this year.  Other West Bank economic indicators for 2009 are also quit promising.  Daily wages are up 24%.  The Palestinian Stock Exchange is up 18% percent.  Over 2,000 new Palestinian companies have been created.  Unemployment is falling.  While most economies around the globe are suffering, the West Bank is booming.
Observers attribute this growth to two factors.  For starters, the Palestinian security forces have grown more active and effective in combating terrorism against Israel and lawlessness in general.  And, in response, Israel has quickly reciprocated by removing a series of security checkpoints and road barriers that slow the transfer of goods and services in the West Bank.  Indeed, the World Bank emphasized that the only way this economic expansion could be maintained was if Israel continued to lift these barriers to free movement.
Far from resisting these efforts to ease restrictions on Palestinian commerce, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been an active proponent thereof.  In fact, he ran for office pledging to create the conditions for an “economic peace” with the Palestinians by removing the obstacles to their growth as quickly as possible.  Since taking office, Netanyahu has dismantled 15 major West Bank checkpoints, and he’s promised that still more will go.
Despite these positive developments, many of Israel’s critics continue to complain.  They stress that the Palestinian economy declined steadily after 2000, when Israel first put most of these roadblocks in place.  Israel’s decision to finally remove some of these obstacles, they argue, is hardly a cause for gratitude or celebration.
This argument – blaming Israel as if it is operates in a vacuum — fails to acknowledge the extent to which the Palestinians truly control their own destiny.  These critics do not note, and will not admit, that Israel put up the roadblocks in 2000 for the most urgent of reasons: to stop Palestinian terrorists from continuing a wave of bloody suicide bombings that had taken hundreds of Israeli lives.  In dismantling some of these barriers, Israel is taking a very real risk that it may enable the resumption of such attacks.  The more cars that pass between Israel and the West Bank, the greater the chance that some of these cars will carry explosives, guns or terrorists on the return trip to Israel.  Whether Israel removes more roadblocks, or is forced to rebuild old ones, depends entirely on whether Palestinians use their new freedom of movement for commerce or terrorism.
Israel’s critics also note that while economic growth is good, it is no substitute for a peace agreement and an independent state.  Fair enough.  But no one in Israel is arguing that Palestinian economic growth is an end in itself.  Netanyahu and others have stressed instead that such growth is first step towards peace and an independent state, and makes both more likely.  A class of Palestinians who are building businesses and thriving economically could significantly bolster a constituency for peace that has thus far been too small and weak.  Peace, like prosperity, has been the victim of terrorism.  Peace, like prosperity, can and will emerge as soon as terror is extinguished.
Thus two paths lay before the Palestinians – one leads towards peace and continued economic growth, the other towards terror and a return to poverty.  Israel has demonstrated time after time that if the Palestinians get serious about fighting terror, it will respond with immediate concessions and take real risks for peace.  The more the Palestinians reject the gun and embrace the olive branch, the more they will progress.  If the Palestinians choose life, 7% growth rates are only the beginning of the benefits they will reap.

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