A Gaza Development Corporation

The World Bank stated the obvious but which no one else did as clearly: the Palestinian economy will continue to contract unless Israel eases its blockage of the Gaza strip and removes the multiple internal check points to allow Palestinians to move freely in the West Bank.  The World Bank also stressed the need to integrate an economically-vigorous Palestine into the wider geographic context.  Such a wider economic zone would include Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.  Prosperity depends on liberating the economic potential of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The return of a large number of the Palestinian refugees to Israel from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan is impossible for political reasons, and the return or settlement in Gaza is impractical for ecological reasons, population density being already very high. Palestinians have been prevented from playing an active and positive political and economic role in Lebanon.  Given the fractured nature of Lebanese politics, it is unlikely that Lebanese leadership will help integrate Palestinians into Lebanese society now, if they have not done it during the last 60 years. Thus, it is basically the Palestinians living in Lebanon who are likely to integrate the West Bank. Palestinians living in Jordan are likely to continue living there, and Palestine-Jordan economic ties are likely to grow. 

The current plan of the Palestinian Authority is to use 70% of the new revenue for budget support and debt repayment and 30% on development.  One can question this ratio in principle, but we do not have unpaid Palestinian civil servants knocking at the door. 30% of new funds for expansion and creation of new industries seems low to spark continuing economic growth.

There are two political issues that take the creation of an economically-strong Palestinian state out of the framework of economic planning and require social and peace-building measures. The first is the continuing poor relations between Palestinians and Israelis (at least with the majority Jewish segment of the Israeli population) and the second is the separation between Gaza and the West Bank – a political, economic as well as a physical separation. 

Thus, there is a need to earmark funding for Palestinian-Israeli peace-building activities.  Economic support for peace-building activities, especially those carried out by non-governmental organizations played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process.  The European Union created a Peace and Reconciliation Fund followed by the International Fund for Ireland which emphasized the linkages between economic aid, conflict resolution, and peace-building.  Some $393 million were spent for the period 1995-1998 and this was increased in the year 2000.  Much of the money was administered by non-governmental organizations and local authorities in some 5000 projects.  The peace-building efforts in Northern Ireland were coordinated with efforts in the Republic of Ireland whose economic growth was also helped by grants from the European Union.

While no two situations are alike, political violence had broken out in Northern Ireland in 1968 and was based on a long history of Protestant/Catholic tensions.  It was largely the humanistic vision of Jacques Delors, then President of the European Commission, who saw the need for such peace-building financing.  We have to hope that the follow up to the Paris Conference will find its Delors. The European Union is the largest aid donor to the Palestinians and pledged $650 million for 2008. In addition, individual European states pledged funds, in particular France, Germany and the UK. The European Union has a good record of working with non-governmental organizations, but procedures can be slow. NGOs will have to make peace-building proposals soon if one is to build on the momentum. 

The divisions between Gaza and the West Bank are real and need to be overcome.  Hamas, in control of the Gaza strip, was not part of the Palestinian delegation to Annapolis nor among the Palestinian negotiators in Paris.  The recreation of a Palestinian unity government, while necessary, is not likely in the short run.  However, a rise in the welfare of the population in Gaza is necessary immediately. Economic hardship and massive unemployment are unlikely to lead to more liberal attitudes and a will to compromise.

As a unity, Palestinian Authority is not possible for the moment. Alternative structures based on continued Hamas control of Gaza need to be put into place. One possibility would be a Gaza Development Corporation, an independent socio-economic body devoted to planning and administration and funded by part of the new revenue arising from the Paris conference.  Such a Gaza Development Corporation would obviously have Hamas members, but also persons chosen for their expertise as well as persons from community organizations.  Such a mixed body would be an innovative structure and could be in a cooperative but independent relation with the Palestinian Authority. 

On the eve of the Paris conference, Hamas celebrated its 20th anniversary with a massive outpouring of people in Gaza.  The speakers attacked the Palestinian Authority and were skeptical of the value of the Paris funding conference fearing that little of the money would find its way to Gaza.  Creating a framework and institutions to help the people of Gaza will not be easy. Difficult times call for political creativity.

Rene Wadlow is the Representative to the United Nations, Geneva of the Association of World Citizens and the editor of the journal of world politics www.transnational-perspectives.org  

Also see this related TF article by Rene Wadlow: Post Annapolis: A Road Ahead?

Photo from Indymedia