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Economic peace? Not while the ice cream is melting at the checkpoint

Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ offers Palestinians financial incentives in return for giving up their dreams of sovereignty -- that’s a pipe dream
Palestinian students eating ice cream in Gaza, 2011 (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)
Palestinian students eating ice cream in Gaza, 2011 (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the envoys of American President Donald Trump, talk a great deal about the huge economic benefits that the Palestinians will receive if they will only adopt the president’s peace plan, which he calls “the deal of the century.” Both of them avoid the expression “two states for two peoples” like the plague — the reason being, according to Kushner, that it “says different things to different people.”

So what is left of Trump’s peace plan if we take out the whole matter of an independent Palestinian state? Only the “economic peace” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been talking about for so many years.

It’s supposedly a simple idea. We’ll give the Palestinians financial incentives so that they can develop their economy, create factories and jobs, and in exchange they will cease their military and political struggle and stop dreaming of freedom and sovereignty. In exchange, the economic flourishing will bring stability and quiet to the entire region.

“Economic peace” looks attractive to many Israelis, including quite a few left-wingers who have given up due to the political stagnation, and grasp at this tempting idea after reaching the conclusion that nothing can be done.

The problem is that in real life, the economic, the military, and the political cannot be separated from one another. As of today, the Palestinian Authority, which does not receive financial aid from the United States, is delaying salary payments to civil servants, and families are trying to conserve and spend less.

Israel’s ridiculous reason for blocking exports

The owners of Saraya al-Wadiya, a plant in Gaza that produces cream-filled wafers and sweets, submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice this week together with the NGO Gisha, asking to be allowed to open their plant and export goods to Gaza and abroad. The closure and the siege do not allow them to export processed food from Gaza for security reasons.

Ice cream factory in Gaza (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

The state, for its part, which has not succeeded in defending its decision to prevent the factory from exporting its products, has provided a fascinating explanation. While Israel does not oppose such exports in principle, it has not yet set up the required supervisory mechanisms.

Yes, you heard correctly. The State of Israel, which has pioneered advanced technological and human capabilities to detect whether the mother of an American Jewish tourist has friends in B’tselem, has no technological solutions to enable it to inspect goods from Gaza. Logically, in order to create “economic peace,” Israel should have gone out of its way to allow Saraya al-Wadiya to export its products and expand to markets abroad. But the reality is otherwise, and the plant is operating at about 30 percent capacity.

The owners of the Al-Araz ice cream plant in Nablus would also be happy to reap the economic benefits of peace. But ice cream is a delicate and fragile product, and long waits at the checkpoints do it no good. So Al-Araz, whose ice cream is every bit as good as its Israeli counterparts, markets to the West Bank and to Jordan, and a bit to Dubai. Its owners would like to market their ice cream to Israel’s Arab sector, which is so close by, but cannot overcome the bureaucratic obstacles.

If the plant were able to export to Israel or increase its exports abroad, that would add several dozen more jobs in the West Bank. But in a situation where Israel controls the Palestinian market with a heavy hand and does not allow Palestinian manufacturers to expand to markets abroad or market their merchandise in Israel, that will not happen.

In both of these cases and hundreds of others, it is obvious that the security and political element, and not the economic consideration, carries the day. It would be strange if that were not the case. The national, political, and security conflict cannot be resolved by economic means alone.

The idea of “economic peace” is more like a bandaid on a broken leg than a wonder cure. As long as the ice cream is stuck at the checkpoint and the chocolate-covered bonbons can’t reach their destinations in the West Bank for “lack of a supervisory mechanism,” the Palestinians will not benefit from the economic bonanza that Donald Trump’s envoys are promising.

But even if the obstacles to the export of merchandise are removed and more Palestinians are employed in Israel, any lone attacker, any security incident, will bring the situation back to its previous state — closure, curfew, and perhaps another round of fighting. There is no way out.

The ice cream will not melt and the investments will flow only when the political and security issues are dealt with, and not before. There are no magic solutions here. What is needed are exhausting negotiations and a great deal of thorough work that will create the recipe for change, of which economic peace is only one ingredient.

About the Author
Ksenia Svetlova is a Middle East affairs expert and a publicist. She was a member of Knesset for the Zionist Union and previously worked as a journalist specializing in the area of Arab affairs.
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