For years, the conversation on Palestine and its territories has almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Palestine, Israel and Egypt. For the 1.1 million Palestinians that live in poverty as a result of high unemployment, lagging wages and harmful inflation rates, Israel’s recent military actions in the Gaza strip have hardly encapsulated the extent of Israel’s effect on Palestinians.
Official statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reveal the poverty rates to be 25.8 percent in the Palestinian
Territory, 17.8 percent in the West Bank and a staggering 38.8 percent in the Gaza Strip for 2011, the last year for which statistics are available.
While these rates sound high, there’s more to the story than the statistics suggest.
In a sobering July 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, it was reported that “the Palestinian Authority suffered its most serious fiscal crisis since 2006” because of less foreign aid and “Israel’s withholding of Palestinian revenue.” In 2012, Palestine’s growth was halved from the previous two years to just six percent due to structural barriers imposed by Israel and the international market.
Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, for example, meant less money returned to the pockets of Palestinians, severely reducing growth and worsening already high rates of poverty. Furthermore, the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank left Palestinians with fewer options to physically export their goods, and many were simply incapable of accessing the same productive resources because of aggressive Israeli settlement expansion.
In the Jordan Valley, Palestinian workers are forced to take longer roads and go through checkpoints. These actions imposed by Israeli officials increase costs and decrease Palestinian competitiveness in the international market, ultimately reducing employment opportunities and deepening levels of extreme poverty.
Of course, not all of Palestine’s economic woes can be ameliorated with less aggressive Israeli policies. Low labor productivity contributes to poor Palestinian economic performance and leaves less money in the coffers of government officials, who spend large portions of the government’s budget on social spending. Illegal smuggling of economic goods is also a major drain to the taxable actions of Palestinian officials.
Overall, those living in poverty in Palestine make up a significant portion of the population, which consists of about nine million citizens.
While no World Bank data exists to detail the number of individuals living on two dollars a day or less in Palestinian-controlled territories, the research conducted by the United Nations and the statistics compiled by the Palestinian government provide a distressing picture of the state of the poor in Palestine. These poor are large in number, and if international donors do not pledge aid to assist Palestinians or if Israel adopts less-aggressive economic policies in the West Bank, the number of impoverished living in Palestine will surely increase.
– Joseph McAdams