The Palestinian economy — one big gas?

This week, a UN report suggested that “the social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unliveable by 2020, if present trends continue.”

The situation is so bad that the Palestinian economy is now officially in recession for the first time since 2006. Unemployment in Gaza itself has passed the 44% mark. By any standards, this is a recipe for social violence. It will probably not take too much for extremists to use this frustration to launch further attacks against Israel. After all, what is there to lose?

Rather predictably, Israeli propagandists have come out with a different set of stats.

  • Hamas in Gaza has been diverting building materials away form housing and towards their latest underground maze of tunnels.
  • In the West Bank, the new city of Rawabi has just been opened, close to Ramallah, seemingly for the nouveau riche
  • According to one external analysis, the third largest section of the Palestinian budget is the money given to convicted terrorists. Disappointing, especially since this is a budget sustained by the contributions from EU taxpayers and others.
  • Similarly, it is often the leaders and families of such freedom fighters/terrorists — call them what you want — that tend to receive the most wonderful medical aid. It is paid for by the Palestinian ‘state budget’, even if the service is provided by Israeli authorities.
  • And of course, there is the continuing saga of too many senior Palestinian officials being caught with their ‘hands in the till’. The latest set of leaked docs from Ramallah points to millions going astray.

There is obviously some importance to these stats. After all, the Palestinian Ministry of Finance is rumoured to have authorised the building of a new Presidential palace, which sounds pretty cool. In the words of William Booth from the Washington Post:

Media images beamed from the Gaza Strip rightly focus on the territory’s abundant miseries. But rising from the rubble of last summer’s devastating war with Israel are a handful of new luxury-car dealerships, boutiques selling designer jeans and, coming soon to a hip downtown restaurant, “Sushi Nights.”

Yet beyond the rhetoric, there is a game-changer that both sides tend to ignore. Bringing this subject to the fore would throw billions of dollars at the Palestinian Exchequer. All those never ending payments payouts to UNRWA and other political NGOS would become meaningless on the spot.

You see readers, Gaza has access to some very nice off-shore gas fields. According to Danny Rubenstein in the Calcalist newspaper, while much smaller in size than the Israeli reserves, they are far more accessible. British Gas received the exploration rights back in 2005. The annual financial flip in revenues could be worth as much as 3 billion dollars!

Very cool, indeed. So why is this wealth still stuck in the ground? Blame who you want.

  1. Israel will not allow oversees’ players to encourage the economic recovery of the Palestinians.
  2. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is pressuring the Israelis to ensure that nothing happens, so long as Hamas keeps the PA out of Gaza.
  3. The Israelis do not trust such a development.
  4. The reserves are too small to invest in such extreme capital outlay.
  5. Etc, etc, etc……

And in the meantime? First, the gas remains locked up under the sea. Second, the Palestinians break their own boycott rules by buying gas from its enemy, Israel.

To give you an idea of the significance of the US$3 billion number, UNRWA raises around US$1 billion just to keep its statutory budget ticking over. In effect, to get to this new source of greenbacks, all the Palestinians have to do is to stop attacking Israel. It is almost that simple.

The point is that the UN can write whatever report it wants. Yes, many Palestinians are gut-wrenchingly poor. However, that does not impact on 100% of the population in the West Bank and in Gaza. In fact, a more enterprising, genuine and positive approach to peace is near-guaranteed to secure Palestinians a wind full of new wealth via its offshore gas reserves.

About the Author
Michael Horesh is a recognised business coach and mentor, and has helped clients collectively to create millions in added value over the past decade. He has substantial understanding of the workings of the Israeli economy and the financial situation of the Palestinians, as well as an incisive way of looking at Middle East issues.
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