"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Friday, January 14, 2011

What the Poll on East Jerusalem Palestinians Really Means

As a November study by Petcher Polls (slideshow here) elucidating the opinions of Palestinian East Jerusalemites makes its rounds on the internet, many hasbarists have used its conclusions to justify Israel’s illegal annexation of the city.

Indeed, the fact that 35% of Palestinians would prefer Israeli citizenship, and that 40% would relocate to Israel should their residence come to be located within a Palestinian state seems quite damning. Yet upon further inspection, the poll does less to justify Israel’s illegitimate actions than superficial conclusions claim, instead working to elucidate the impact of Israel’s occupation on “facts on the ground.”

According to the poll’s executive summary, “Those who chose Israeli citizenship most often mentioned freedom of movement in Israel, higher income and better job opportunities, and Israeli health insurance.” Palestinians were also particularly concerned with losing access to Al-Aqsa mosque, which Israeli authorities have routinely restricted.

Clearly there is a perceived disparity between Israeli and Palestinian public services, so much so that 35% of Palestinians would prefer Israeli citizenship. However, simple statistics provide an incomplete picture of reality as they do not speak to the cause of this inequality. In reality Israel’s policies of occupation have induced economic crisis within the territories, while the Palestinian governments do all they can to keep their citizens provided for.

A New York Times article focusing on the International Monetary Fund’s study of the Palestinian economy explains, “Following the violent uprising of late 2000 and fierce Israeli countermeasures, an economic crisis began that lasted until 2007 when mild growth began.” Oussama Kanaan, head of the IMF’s mission to the Palestinian territories, attributes growth in the West Bank to “improved security, institution building and transparency from the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an Israeli easing of restrictions on movement and access and substantial donations from foreign governments.” The article goes on to explain that “all three needed to continue in a predictable way in 2010, Mr. Kanaan said, but so far the Palestinian Authority was the only player clearly living up to its promises.” In this way, as Fayyad continues to build institutions as laid out in his roadmap entitled Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State (full text here), the most severe obstacle standing in the way is Israel’s continued and unrelenting stranglehold on the Palestinian economy.

After the final report was issued in September of 2010, Kanaan again reiterated the study’s finding that “growth isn't sustainable without progress in the peace process and the lifting of further Israeli restrictions.” This of course includes Israel’s illegal siege on Gaza, which despite claims to the contrary remains in place as it continues to wreak havoc on the Palestinian population.

Israeli economist Shir Hever comes to the same conclusion in The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation. One reviewer summarizes Hever’s conclusions, saying, “The Palestinian economy as a whole is prevented from developing, as part of a broader process of exploitation and subjugation.” He goes on to say:
‘As local sources of income were suppressed by Israeli authorities, the main source of income to the Palestinians became remittances from Palestinian workers living in Israel, in the Jewish settlements in OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], and in the Gulf states.’

The 1980s saw a change for the worse. Falling oil prices led to falling demand for Palestinian migrant workers in the Gulf States. A collapse in the Israeli stock market led to problems for Palestinian workers in Israel: a fall in income combined with the tightening of work opportunities for Palestinians, accompanied by discrimination and abuse. The growth of Jewish settlements inside the Occupied Territories involved the theft of Palestinian land, damaging the local economy. And Israeli policy became more belligerent, shifting away from seeking consent and accommodation. All these factors influenced the emergence of the first intifada, the militant rebellion by Palestinians against oppression, which started in 1987.

Fast forward to the Oslo process, which began in 1993. This did nothing for the Palestinian economy; indeed there was a fall in living standards, which was (again) one factor behind the eruption of resistance in the start of the second intifada in 2000. A major problem in these years was the increasing curtailment of employment opportunities for Palestinians seeking work inside Israel. Growing poverty and discrimination fed bitterness and disillusionment.

A gulf opened up during the Oslo years (1993-2000): while the Israeli economy boomed, the Palestinian economy contracted. For Palestinians, poverty and unemployment grew. Living standards fell still further after 2000, when Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank became increasingly reliant on overseas aid to avoid humanitarian disaster.
East Jerusalemites also fear restrictions on movement in both Israel and Palestine should they gain Palestinian citizenship, and rightfully so. As B’Tselem explains:
The restrictions on movement that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories over the past five years are unprecedented in the history of the Israeli occupation in their scope, duration, and in the severity of damage that they cause to the three and a half million Palestinians who reside there. In the past, Israel has imposed either a comprehensive closure on the Occupied Territories or a curfew on a specific town or village to restrict Palestinian freedom of movement, but never has Israel imposed restrictions as sweeping and as prolonged as those currently in place.
The continued construction of Israel’s annexation barrier in contravention of international law only adds to the issue. Placing Palestine population centers on the “Israeli side” of the green line, sometimes encapsulating entire villages ,cutting off farmers’ from their private lands, bisecting various areas of the West Bank, the annexation wall is a serious impediment to the freedom of movement, an essential component for a thriving economy which includes job opportunities and quality public services.

In these ways, Israel’s behavior directly causes the disparity in living conditions that East Jerusalem Palestinians would like to avoid by becoming full Israeli citizens. Should Israeli policy reverse, the number of residents wishing to obtain Israeli citizenship would likely drop precipitously.

At  the same time, regardless of the poll’s conclusions, the acquisition of territory by war is still inadmissible, Israel’s application of domestic law to occupied territory is still illegitimate, the forcible transfer of East Jerusalem Palestinians is still illegal, and evictions and demolitions of Palestinian property (almost always through the pretext of the repugnant Absentee Property Law) are still unlawful, as is the city’s forced Judiazation.  The fact of the matter is simple: Israel-apologists have attempted to co-opt Petcher’s work to whitewash Israel’s illegal annexation in the name of self-determination, a principle the Israeli government cares nothing for when applied to any group other than Jews. The Israeli government has no regard for Palestinian desires, and will not defer to any kind of referendum on the matter should one ever take place (which it won’t).

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