Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat- Like most Palestinians, 37 year-old Adnan from Gaza frequently discusses with friends and family, investment opportunities to which he intends on devoting his life savings. The fact of the matter remains that this young Palestinian who lives in ”Al-Maghazi” refugee camp realizes that he will no longer be able to work inside Israel, especially after the disengagement plan has been implemented. Therefore, to establish a project that will support his family and keep him occupied would be the most sensible and productive option.
Adnan is one of many who have arrived at such a conclusion, as most Palestinians believe that the Israeli decision to sever ties with Gaza after the destruction of the settlements will mean that Palestinians will no longer be permitted to work in Israel. In accordance with the provisions of the disengagement plan, Israel will deny Palestinians work permits by 2006. Therefore, the disengagement plan will lead to higher rates of unemployment in Gaza and other Palestinian territories, which stands at a minimum of 40%. Some figures indicate, however, that the rate has reached as high as 60%.
Essam Younis, the director of Al-Mizan Center for Human Rights based in Gaza told Asharq al-Awsat that Gaza needs to create 250,000 jobs before 2010 just to maintain the present level of unemployment rates. At the same time, Younis expressed his concern that the Palestinian Authority would not be able to create such a large number of job opportunities considering economic hardship, the lack of input, the mismanagement of authority and the corruption that dominates its performance. The director of the center carried out research on the impact that the disengagement plan will have saying that Israel has deliberately tied the Palestinian economy in such a way to maintain its dependency upon the Israeli economy since 1967. He added that Israel has crippled the Palestinian industry by restricting imports and exports, and has severely damaged the agriculture industry by confiscating land and by limiting the export of Palestinian crops abroad. Such limitations have left Palestinians to resort to the only option of employment within the Israeli labor market.
Younis further highlighted that the potential increase in unemployment rates will inevitably lead to a rise in poverty. Poverty is defined by the amount of the population under Palestinian Authority, who live on an income of less than $2 US per day, the current rate of which is 60%.
According to a report by the American research firm RAND, approximately $33 US billion is required in investment to cover education, health, security and economic development for the Palestinian state in its first decade. As reported, the sum is required for implementing a series of projects to improve the standard of living for Palestinians by raising the per-capita income to $750 US per annum to which recent efforts have been aimed at.
Dr Mohamed Al-Sab”awy, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Al-Itihad Investments and Constructions, told Asharq al-Awsat that the recovery of the Palestinian economy demands promoting foreign investment and the set up of the appropriate environment for their flow. Al-Sab”awy commented that the disengagement plan might contribute to Arab investments in Gaza specifically. He further stated that if the borders between Gaza and Egypt came under the control of Palestinians, then this might encourage Arab investors to visit Gaza and the Palestinian Authority to invest in them. He also highlighted the importance of the availability of a legal infrastructure that is conducive to investments.
Economist Fadl Al-Naqib also stressed the importance of the Palestinian economy into that of the Arab economy in order to promote Arab investment. Furthermore, he emphasized the role of regional economic blocs in the development of the member states. One of the most important outcomes for such integration would be to break away from the dependency on the Israeli economy.
Mohamed Al-Samhouri also an economist stressed that it is imperative for Palestinians to negotiate with Israel to realize the economic dimensions. He states, "Unless the Palestinian negotiator becomes aware of the economic consequences of Israeli policies, he may end up having a negative impact upon the Palestinian economy. Everyday, Israel”s moves played a strong part in crippling the capability of the Palestinian private sector in its struggle in continuous development.
The director of Mass Institute for economic research, Dr Samir Abdullah said that the establishment of an economic base for Palestinians that will protect their social cohesion is necessary for development and for raising the standard of living. With regards to efficient expenditure of foreign aid, Dr Nasr Abdel Karim, professor of economics at the National Nagah University in Nablus proposed that they should be coordinated between the Palestinian Authority and civil society. He reinforced, however, that Palestinians must realize that such aid is not always guaranteed and is only a temporary procedure. Therefore, it should be spent proficiently and effectively.
The desperate reality of unemployment causes many young Palestinians to consider immigration particularly to Europe. What has precluded many of them so far has been Israeli restrictions on travel. Many of the youth frequently discuss the success stories of other Palestinians who have immigrated to Europe and in particular to the Scandinavian countries. However, there are also numerous stories of those who have been arrested or deported. Many Palestinians dream of a liberal Arab labor market especially in the Gulf States. After the implementation of the disengagement plan, there have been several rumors circulating Gaza in particular, concerning the intention of some Gulf States to accept a large number of Palestinian employees.