New York Times
November 22, 2013
Plan B for Palestine: Zone C
RAMALLAH, West Bank — In light of the Obama administration’s failures in Egypt and Syria, the revival of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is one potentially positive achievement that the administration is trying to focus on in an attempt to win back some of its lost regional stature.
The United States seems to have reached a tacit understanding with both parties: that the Israelis will not lose anything fundamental during the negotiations, and that the Palestinians will appear to make a few gains but not on any fundamental issues. For now, this seems enough of an incentive to keep both sides negotiating.
Israel’s aggressive settlement expansion into occupied territories, especially in East Jerusalem, is continuing — a policy that allows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retain his far-right coalition government.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians have seen long-held prisoners released on the condition that the Palestinian Authority refrain from applying for membership in international organizations. They have also received American promises to help muster financial support for their economy, a move that is necessary for the survival of the Palestinian Authority.
This economic enticement offensive has two parts. The first is direct, and involves finding means to pump approximately $600 million into the Palestinian Authority’s budget this fiscal year to balance its books and decrease debts. The second part is indirect, and involves a project to revive the Palestinian economy, through the launch of what has come to be known as the “Kerry plan.” The American secretary of state has described it as “the biggest, boldest and most ambitious plan that has been proposed since Oslo.”
From the information that has trickled down so far, its aim appears to be finding $4 billion of external investment in the Palestinian Authority over the next three years through partnerships with the private sector in such crucial areas as agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, information technology, housing, energy and water. Mr. Kerry expects that these investments will lead to 50 percent growth over the next three years, and will raise salaries by 40 percent and reduce unemployment from 28 to 8 percent. If it were to succeed, it would radically alter the Palestinian economic landscape.
But how will such a plan succeed? And how can it ever be more than a stopgap injection of cash into an economy hobbled by the shackles of occupation?
Since 1967, Israeli policies have aimed at isolating the Palestinians in narrow cantons while controlling, exploiting and settling the majority of the land. In 1993, the year that the Oslo Accords were signed, Palestinians were forbidden to cross between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip without Israeli pre-authorization, despite Oslo’s stipulation that there be a secure land corridor between the two areas. With time, such preauthorization has become rarer and harder to obtain, resulting in a complete severing of life in the Gaza Strip from life in the West Bank.
During the 1990s, the West Bank, with a total area of 5,500 square kilometers, was divided (apart from East Jerusalem) into three zones, named A, B and C, all of which were meant to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority’s full control by 1998. The Palestinians received control of Zone A, the population centers in the major cities, and later of Zone B, the smaller towns and villages.
But Zone C, which constitutes more than 61 percent of the area of the West Bank and contains most of the natural resources (most crucially water aquifers) still remains under full Israeli control, prone to exploitation and settlement. This region is the only contiguous part of the West Bank, and hundreds of isolated residential areas that make up Zones A and B are embedded within it.
Any development work inside Zone C needs Israeli authorization, whether it is paving roads and setting up wastewater treatment plants, or building schools, hospitals and housing. Israeli permission to proceed is rare and usually requires pressure from foreign governments or international organizations. Even then obtaining authorization can take up to a decade or more.
The World Bank has long supported development projects in Palestine. In October 2013, it published a report entitled “Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy.” It showed that Israeli-imposed limits on Palestinian activities in this area cost the Palestinian economy about $3.4 billion a year, or one-third of total economic output.
The report concluded that the Palestinian Authority’s economic situation would improve only if economic activity in Zone C grew, since that would increase government revenue, halve the budget deficit and wean the government off international aid. If Israeli sanctions in the area were lifted, the report estimated, 130,000 jobs could be created.
Zone C is the key to developing the Palestinian economy. And if Palestinians were able to use all of their land and natural resources, they would be able to raise their G.D.P. and reduce their reliance on international aid.
If Mr. Kerry is serious about revitalizing the Palestinian economy, he needs to open up Zone C to Palestinian development, and add this to the list of incentives offered to the Palestinians in the negotiations. All external investment should be directly tied to an effort to secure Palestinian control over Zone C.
If this doesn’t happen, Kerry’s economic plan will be nothing but a palliative for a dangerous disease: the continuation of the occupation.
Ali Jarbawi is a former minister in the Palestinian Authority government and a professor of political science at Birzeit University. This essay was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.