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Palestinian-Israeli economic war
Published in Ahram Online on 18 - 02 - 2020

The situation economically has become intense in the occupied Palestinian Territories. This week, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights revealed a list of 112 companies that are involved in building settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Some 94 of them are based in Israel and 18 others are foreign entities, including American, British, French, Dutch, Luxembourgian and Thai companies.
“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN rights commissioner. “However, after an extensive and meticulous review process, we are satisfied this fact-based report reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate, and that it responds appropriately to the Human Rights Council's request contained in Resolution 31/36.”
Companies such as Airbnb, Motorola, Expedia and Booking.com are included in the list.
Pro-Palestinian rights groups, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, celebrated this development in the wake of the Trump administration's announced “Deal of the Century”, while Israel described it as “unimportant”. Trump's plan, which the Palestinians have already rejected, involves recognising Jerusalem as “Israel's undivided capital” and no promises for dividing the West Bank for the purpose of achieving the two-state solution.
The UN list came in light of the Palestinian Authority's (PA) policy of gradual economic disengagement from Israel, Abdel-Mahdi Metawei, a Palestinian political analyst who is close to the PA, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Metawei explained that the UN rights body has had the report ready for more than a year and a half, but Israeli and American pressures postponed its release. He added that, in addition to a political nature, Israeli settlements have an “economic one” as they represent a source of income for Israel.
“Part of fighting the construction of settlements is turning them into a burden and boycotting them until the situation reaches a stage in which the Israeli citizens question the benefit of spending too much to build and protect them,” he argued. Metawei added that, through this list, the international community is showing dissatisfaction towards the US peace plan that it developed in cooperation with Israel to “kill the two-state solution” and allow the latter to annex the West Bank.
The economic war between the PA and Israel started in July 2019. The PA then announced that it would take measures as “part of a national strategy to disengage from Israel”. The PA, for instance, said it was working on signing agreements with Jordan and Iraq on energy and fuel.
Such Palestinian economic escalation against Israel came amid Israel's decision to deduct the allowance paid to families of Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs” from tax and tariff revenues that are collected and transferred to the PA. At this stage, the PA officially said that its government employees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will get only 60 per cent of their salaries, and called on Palestinian universities to make a 50 per cent reduction in tuition fees. It also paid NIS 110 million to Palestinian families, allocating NIS 90 million to Gazans.
The PA also stopped its agreements with Israel. For instance, the PA decided last September to halt the import of Israeli calves — a $290-million business. In October, it denied a report by Israel's Channel 11 that an official Palestinian-Israeli agreement was reached to end this crisis, describing the decision as “irreversible”.
“The issue of the calves is a strategic decision,” PA Spokesperson Ibrahim Melhem said, adding that “at its meeting yesterday, the [PA] government affirmed its determination to keep the ban. We will continue this policy of gradual disengagement [from Israel] in several areas such as the economy and industry.”
Israel, in response, stopped receiving agricultural imports from the PA earlier this month. Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that the Palestinian boycott of Israel's calves “severely harmed hundreds of Israeli farmers. If the boycott stops, we will start receiving imports again.”
Metawei believes that the PA's disengagement policy aims to negatively affect Israeli businessmen, of which many are affiliated to extreme right-wing parties that back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to persuade Israeli society that it is responsible for the ongoing economic deterioration.
PA pressures have apparently started to pay off. In January, Israel's state-owned Electric Corp (IEC) Company ended power cuts to the occupied West Bank after the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) paid 740 million shekels ($214.21 million), a part of debt accumulated by the PA since 2016.
Some 95 per cent of the power supplies that go to the Palestinians in the West Bank comes from the IEC. The cuts affected roughly 130,000 Palestinians in Ramallah and Bethlehem, according to JDECO figures.
But little to be expected out of these efforts, said Daniel Serwer, a Middle East Institute (MEI) scholar. “Trump is committed to the settlements and doesn't care about human rights except in countries who are adversaries, like Iran and China,” asserted the former US State Department official.
Serwer argued that the Palestinian push for statehood has lost a lot of international support, especially amid Arab preoccupation with other ongoing conflicts in the Arab world.
“Israel has befriended a number of Arab governments by providing security assistance and technology, and some of those countries no longer express much concern about the Palestinians. I'd call that a transactional deal, not normalisation. In any event, Arabs have a lot of other concerns these days: Syria, Yemen and Libya are all torn by civil war; Iraq and Lebanon are having internal difficulties; and Iran is projecting power via proxies as far as the Mediterranean,” he noted.
Some of the international companies named seem to be marginally affected by the UN list. Airbnb continues to rent rooms and vacation houses in Israel's settlements for those not of Palestinian origin.
Amazon also offers free shipping to Israeli settlements. Palestinians are not included in this offer. Customers who chose the “Palestinian Territories” as their address have to pay fees that start at $24. Many human rights organisations criticised the policy of the US e-commerce company.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.


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