Palestinian economy stagnant under Israeli occupation: UNCTAD

Salma El-Saeed, Wednesday 3 Sep 2014

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development explains the severity of Palestine's economic situation prior to the most recent assault on Gaza

West Bank Wall
A section of the controversial Israeli barrier is seen between the Shuafat refugee camp (right) in the West Bank near Jerusalem and Pisgat Zeev (rear), in an area of Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war, Jan. 27, 2012 (Photo: Retuers)

Palestine's current economic situation is bleak and needs significant policy change from Israel and financial assistance from the international community to begin improving, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced at the launch of its annual report on its assistance to the Palestinian People on Wednesday.

UNCTAD's report, which does not encompass the damage sustained as a result of Israel's most recent assault on Gaza, focuses on the deceleration of growth and development due to Israeli military operations, the fragile financial situation, the prevalence of unemployment, the widespread lack of food security, the strict limitations imposed on Area C and the struggles of Palestinian women in particular.

The report shows that services in Palestine comprise two-thirds of its GDP, whereas agriculture and production each only account for 4 percent of the GDP.

Although these two sectors of the economy have the potential to create a large number of direly needed job opportunities, they are paralysed due to the lack of resources reaching the occupied territory as a result of the Israeli blockade.

Israel eased restrictions on imports of food and construction materials to Gaza in 2010 following an international outcry over an Israeli raid on a flotilla attempting to break the blockade from Turkey. The raid killed ten Turks.

Additional restrictions were eased after the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza in 2012.

According to the report, Palestinian women shoulder a greater burden than their male counterparts, particularly due to the significant harassment they face at Israeli military checkpoints.

This harassment limits their ability to move around, which forces them into low-paying jobs closer to their homes.

Area C, which accounts for 61 percent of the West Bank and includes some of Palestine's most fertile land, is entirely under Israeli control, the report highlighted.

"The current geographical situation in Area C has created islands isolated from each other, making communication and future unification impossible," said Mutasim Elagraa, Economic Affairs Officer of UNCTAD's Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit.  

These issues have caused most Palestinian citizens to live without food security and rely heavily on humanitarian aid to survive.

Elagraa stressed that completely lifting the Israeli blockade on Palestine, in addition to building an airport and a sea port are integral steps to allow the Palestinian economy to begin growing.

Back in 2012, a World Bank report mentioned that Israeli security restrictions are among the reasons why the Palestinian economy was unsustainable and not strong enough for sovereignty, AFP reported.

AFP also reported that the PA said it was facing its worst financial crisis since it was founded in 1994, with debts of LE10.5 billion ($1.5 billion) and an immediate cash shortfall of LE3.5 billion ($500 million).

As AFP reported Israel's most recent assault on Gaza, which started on 8 July, killed at least 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000.

On the Israeli side, 68 people were killed, all but four of them soldiers.

In the wake of the seven-week Israeli assault on Gaza, 1.5 million Palestinians have no or limited access to water, while 44 thousand housing units and 141 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed, and 29 hospitals have been closed.

Shelter Cluster, an international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction says it will take 20 years under current levels of restrictions to rebuild the Gaza Strip's battered and neglected housing stock following the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

Most of the new building would be to make up for the current housing deficit, rather than to address damage from the Israeli assault.

Some Palestinian officials have estimated the overall reconstruction program for the Gaza strip could cost in excess of LE42 billion ($6 billion).

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