What Palestinians Want
May 14, 1999
Two-thirds of Palestinians think of themselves as middle-class, says sociologist Bernard Sabila of Bethlehem University; but the actual middle class is much smaller and shrinking. "Give them a decent standard of living," says Sabila, "and a political solution is possible in the long run."
Sabila says his polls show 78 percent of Palestinians want closer economic ties with Israel, and, 50 percent to 31 percent, they think economic issues are more important than political ones.
Economic indicators are not good for the Palestinians. Standards of living have dropped sharply since the 1993 Oslo Accords, due to the partial re-establishment of economic borders between Israel and the Gaza Strip-West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
- In 1991, 150,000 Palestinians, a third of the work force, were employed in Israel -- where average wages are double those on the West Bank -- whereas today the number is 90,000.
- Between 1992 and 1998, the Palestinian Gross National Product fell 30 percent while the population grew 25 percent, and unemployment now stands at 20 percent.
- Eighteen percent of the West Bank's and 30 percent of Gaza's population live below a poverty line set at two dollars per family member per day.
Economist Samir Abdullah says, "We are totally dependent on the Israeli economy and foreign aid." Some 90 percent of the Palestinian territories' trade is with Israel. They import $2.5 billion worth of Israeli goods annually, but export only $300 million.
Abdullah recommends cutting taxes and reducing the Authority's bloated public sector, which employs 20 percent of the labor force. However, observers say economic reform depends on political reform -- such as the creation of political parties instead of factions; establishment of an independent legislature and judiciary; and an end to widespread corruption.
Source: Hillel Halkin, "The State of the Palestinians," New Republic, May 17, 1999.
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