Participants in a round table debate here recommended greater links between the Palestinian economy and Arab countries and steps to reduce the impact of the measures imposed by the occupation and the forced Palestinian dependence on the Israeli economy. They also said greater “policy space” for the Palestinian government is needed so that it can take steps to encourage growth that creates jobs and raises living standards in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
The discussion, titled “Sustaining the Palestinian economy under occupation: the role of Arab cooperation,” took place just before the 21 April opening of the UNCTAD XIII quadrennial conference, which will continue through 26 April in Doha. The theme of the conference is “development-centred globalization.” The round table was organized by UNCTAD’s Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit (APPU).
Speakers noted that economic growth in the occupied territory has been hindered by the imposed segmentation and separation of the various Palestinian communities from each other. As a result the economy has been operating much below its potential with a chronic bilateral trade deficit with Israel. Concerns also were expressed about a loss of “productive base.” Speakers said that revitalizing and expanding this eroded productive capacity is vital for sustained, healthy economic growth in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Taher Kannan, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, focused on the integration of the Palestinian Occupied Territory (OPT) into the global economy and the role of Arab-Palestinian cooperation, saying “There is a role indeed for concerted Arab action on the issues of Palestinian survival. All that is needed is to set the right national priorities”
Samia Al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University of the oPt, discussed the erosion and destruction of the Palestinian economy’s productive capacity and further dependence on external resources for growth and development. She focused on the economic difficulties facing the Palestinian population living in Area C, in addition to the impact of illegal settlements and settlers’ violence on the Palestinian economy. “It is important to support and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people to attain their legitimate economic and political rights as stipulated under international law,” she noted.
The moderator, Nada Al-Nashif, Regional Director for Arab States of the International Labour Office, commented on the data in the presentations regarding standards of living and the rising trends in poverty and unemployment by emphasizing the implications for human development of jobs — “not just in terms of the quantity, but also the quality of jobs associated with the occupation and further erosion of human dignity.”
On the economy of East Jerusalem, a PowerPoint presentation was used that had been prepared by Kamel Husseini, co-founder and managing Partner of Ellam Tam PR Company. Using his findings, Randa Jamal, an Economic Affairs Officer of UNCTAD, provided a historical overview and the background that led to the disconnection of the city from the Palestinian economy and population of the occupied territory, who, prior to the Oslo accords of 1993, considered the city to be their economic center.
On the role of civil society in the Arab region and its role in sustaining the Palestinian economy, Ziad Abdel-Samad, Director of the Arab non-governmental organization Network for Development, elaborated on the “Arab Uprisings” and the role of campaigning and advocating to end the occupation, on support for building an independent Palestinian state, and on policy changes that governments need to adopt to re-integrate the Palestinian economy into the regional Arab economy. He also cited instances where civil society in the Arab region succeeded in exerting positive influence on issues related to the welfare of the Palestinian people. He stressed “the role of civil society in promoting the BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign) to end the violations of human rights against the Palestinian people.”
Hazem Shunnar, the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of National Economy of the Palestinian Authority, said, “The Palestinian National Authority must do everything in its power to ensure the competitiveness and productivity of the national economy and increase the share of Palestinian products in the local markets and should explore new markets.” He added, “An independent and sovereign Palestine is the only way forward to achieve sustainable economic development.”
In concluding the event, Mahmoud Elkhafif, Coordinator of UNCTAD’s Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, stressed that UNCTAD will continue to provide capacity-building projects, research, and policy recommendations on what is needed for building a sound economic base capable of underpinning a viable Palestinian state, as called for by relevant UN resolutions. “The way forward will include a new economic trade orientation with greater Arab cooperation for the Palestinian people to achieve their aspirations,” he said.