The strangest thing happened today when I read a story by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner. It was originally titled In West Bank: Glimmers of an Economic Revival. It could’ve been written by Bibi Netanyahu’s campaign staff since it follows his narrative, which assumes that barring the creation of the Palestinian state (impossible as far as Bibi is concerned), the best that the new prime minister can hope for is to improve economic life in the Territories. Presumably, this would make for shiny happy Palestinians since they’d be able to put food in their bellies and keep a roof over their heads. They’d forget all this nonsense of national rights and a state of their own.
Bronner’s article opens in Bethlehem in Manger Square and notes that the town expects the largest influx of tourists in ten years, which will also have a concomitant beneficial impact on the local economy:
…There are more tourists in Bethlehem this year than at any time in a decade, and their presence signals something beyond the Christmas spirit: life for West Bank Palestinians, oppressive and challenging though it remains, seems to be making substantial, if fragile, improvement.
Both Israeli and Palestinian officials report economic growth for the occupied areas of 4 to 5 percent and a drop in the unemployment rate of at least three percentage points. The Israelis report that in 2008, wages here are up more than 20 percent and trade by 35 percent. The improved climate has nearly doubled the number of tourists in Bethlehem and increased them by half in Jericho.
…And all this in a year when the global economy has been sinking at an alarming rate.
Curious that Bronner doesn’t compare rates of growth, unemployment, wages and trade to a more representative period before the first Intifada so we could see what the economic situation was then. In other words, if there is hardly any trade and wages are pitiful then 20% and 35% growth will seem extraordinary, but not be. Similarly, comparing the economy of the Territories to the global economy is an absolute red herring since there is nothing normal about the former that would make such a comparison apt.
To be clear, I don’t make a claim to be an expert on the economy of the Territories. But based on my reading of Bronner’s previous work, I’d say he has an axe to grind that should make us wary of the narrative he’s peddling, which is that the Occupation, though unpleasant, can be made livable and manageable.
Bronner does throw a few sops to those who hold to my perspective as I outlined it above. He acknowledges no political progress on issues of major concern to Palestinians:
The Palestinians say that a sound economy alone will not bring peace, that the conflict requires a political solution.
But he quickly reverts back to Pollyanna-form talking about the virtual economic-political-security “miracle” happening right under our noses:
Still, Palestinian forces are guarding major cities, Israeli troops have stepped back — although they continue nighttime raids on people suspected of being militants — and Israel says it is about to significantly ease some restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank, a prerequisite for further economic growth.
A senior Israeli official in the northern West Bank said that 4,000 Israeli Arab citizens were driving in to shop in the area every weekend and that 115 new stores had opened in the city of Tulkarm in the past four months.
Even in Nablus, a volatile city of 200,000 that has been subject to a particularly suffocating Israeli security operation, the atmosphere is beginning to change. A gleaming mall owned by the municipality, under construction since 1999, finally opened earlier this year.
And the IDF, don’t ya know, is prepared to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem as they’ve been in the past:
…Prosperity, business people there say, depends on Israel’s removing the major checkpoints it erected in 2002…
For six years, Palestinians have not been able to drive private cars in or out of Nablus without special permission. The Israeli military says that is about to change. Within a few weeks the army is planning to allow Palestinians from the northern West Bank districts of Nablus and Jenin to drive to the south in their own cars, without special permits and with only random inspections.
“We as a command are willing to take more risks as hostile terrorist activity goes down,” said Col. Benny Shik, a senior Israeli military official in the West Bank.
Those of us who follow the pronouncements of the IDF prefer to wait until they act before we believe their words. “Out of many words, many lies and few good deeds”–is the motto I associate with the IDF and the Occupation. Indeed, they have given themselves a perfect out:
The Israeli military emphasizes that all changes can be reversed…
Especially if you consider that the IDF hasn’t yet instituted any of the changes they’ve touted. In effect, they’re almost promising to reverse at the drop of a hat changes they haven’t even made. Nice work if you can get it.
At least Bronner has the guts and honesty to end his article with a passage that should’ve told him to begin with that his story idea was much ado about almost nothing:
The governor of Bethlehem, Salah Tamari [said,]“Israelis are paranoid because of their past, while Palestinians are paranoid because of their present,” Mr. Tamari said. “But we are doomed to live together or blessed to live together, depending on your point of view. It is true that the economy is improving slightly. But beyond that, I’m afraid very little is getting easier.“
Returning to that first headline I mentioned above, I noticed that since I first read the article the headline had been altered substantially in tone to this: Palestinians Work to Jolt West Bank Back to Life. A N.Y. Times editor with some awareness of nuance realized that the original headline constituted a little too much cheer-leading and not enough awareness of the cold hard facts on the ground.
All of which goes to show, that Ethan Bronner’s reports need to be taken with quite a grain of salt.