You will hear Israel’s boosters brag about the Mediterranean Miracle that is the Israeli economy. ‘Start-Up Nation’ and the like. But you’ll hear virtually nothing similarly-claimed regarding the settlements. Over the decades, the State has invested roughly $20-billion into the settlement enterprise (including military spending to defend them). You’d think it would’ve invested similarly in creating a viable economy there. It hasn’t. Or if it has, it simply hasn’t worked.
Tucked into Jodi Rudoren’s latest NY Times article, which highlights (naturally) a settler website meant to generate economic activity and oppose BDS, is an eye-opening, even shocking fact. If you didn’t read it carefully, it might’ve zipped right by you:
A recent Israeli government report estimated there are…$250 million in annual exports — 0.55 percent of the national total — from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, territories the international community generally considers illegally occupied.
Consider this, there are roughly 500,000 Jews living in the same Occupied Territories (note how Rudoren concedes they’re considered “illegally occupied,” but refuses to call them by their commonly-accepted term, ‘Occupied Territories’), which is roughly 8% of the overall Israeli Jewish population. Yet, they produce only “0.55%” of the overall nation’s export product. In other words, there is a mismatch by a factor of more than ten between the expected and actual export product of the settlements. Which means that the settlements produce almost nothing of economic value.
What do they produce? Ideology. And you can export ideology. But it has no monetary or economic value. In fact, BDS makes a very good argument that ideology, in that sense, actually suppresses economic output (since BDS is harming Israel’s overall economic activity).
So what do they do in the settlements? Most of the working residents are employed by government or local/municipal services. In other words, the government pays these people to serve others like them. There are also many settlers who work at actual productive jobs within the Green Line. Their homes are not where they work. So their economic output drives the economic engine within the Green Line, not outside it.
Which brings us to this basic truth: while the settlements make an ideological statement, they have no actual economic foundation. This is the case despite fifty years of effort and massive expense on the part of the Israeli government, which offered the settlement enterprise every opportunity to establish itself. So settlements offer almost no contribution to the nation’s overall GDP. They are not viable from any realistic measure. So the question arises: how long can Israel afford to carry this albatross around its neck before it realizes the huge bird will cause it to drown like shipwrecked sailors of old.