Monday, January 24, 2011

Envisioning Palestinian economic policy

There were three papers presented at the MAS conference on Sunday. Two were general, one by Samir Abdullah that examined the development gap and internal distortions between the West Bank and Gaza and the other by Numan Kanafani, which proposed some models to achieve economic integration between the two areas. A final one, by Abd Al Fatah Abu Shokor, dealt with the Jerusalem economy. Of the three, this was perhaps the least useful, since while it useful on the analysis (as many Palestinian papers are), it wasn’t so good on envisaging a future vision for Jerusalem. He provided very general recommendations, including a structural plan (which according to some of the commentators speaking after him, already appears to be in place, the President’s Office having set up a Jerusalem Unit in 2007 with EU money to complete one and which will be launched next month) and promoting religious tourism around the Haram Al Sharif and supporting ‘steadfastness’( i.e. resistance movements).

There’s no need to detail Abdullah’s or Kanafani’s papers, other than to pick up on some thoughts and tensions that I had during the presentations (besides the details of the papers are listed here on the MAS website).

One thing that struck me during Abdullah’s presentation was his point that compared to after 2000, between 1994 and 2000 the Palestinian economy grew. He also said that the economic situation today may well be poorer today than if Palestine was independent. This got me thinking: 1994-2000 was the Oslo period when talks were ongoing but there was no clear end in sight. The Second Intifada and the Hamas takeover of Gaza coincided with greater Israeli repression and consequent economic deterioration. Is it therefore preferable for the Palestinians to go back to the endless jaw-jaw with the Israelis and improve their economic situation? The main opposition to this will be that it disregards Palestinians’ right to self-determination (political rights), but given the context in which the PA seems to now be operating (Mandy Turner’s suggestion that statehood has become a notion that is earned through good governance rather than as a right last month), might this not be a seen as a more favourable state of affairs? At the very least, it would reduce the prospect of direct and destructive repression visited on most Palestinians in the West Bank.

Of course, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here and no one would seriously suggest (at least in the West Bank) that the Palestinians should give up dreams of political independence in exchange for material wealth.

Other points that were raised over the Abdullah paper included a comment about how to link human capital with the education system and Palestinians’ economic needs? Personally I have yet to see a sufficiently adequate attempt at achieving this; one of my early thoughts of a PhD topic was just such a study. The situation is made more complicated these days by the fact that liberal economies make planning more difficult while previous attempts in more state-controlled environments (e.g. the Brazilian military regime) have proved incapable and inefficient at doing so.

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