Alshwa, a butcher in Gaza City's central market, has seen his sales
plunge by 90 percent since the intifada began in the fall of 2000.
That's because, at a time of heightened tension, hardly anyone is
being allowed to cross over into Israel to work. Israel has taken
to importing Thai and Filipino laborers to replace the Palestinians
it once hired.
get better until the borders are open so that people can earn money
again," he said on a recent Saturday.
One of his
few customers that day, Abu Ahmeed, didn't quite agree. "Why should
we work in Israel?" he asked. "The Palestinian state will be a reality
soon, and we can build factories here." Mr. Ahmeed works for the
Palestinian Authority, which explains why he can still buy meat.
Both men may
be right — Mr. Ahmeed in believing that a Palestinian state is inevitable,
and Mr. Alshwa for sensing that it may not be the answer to his
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once the idealistic
aspiration of peace-minded people on both sides, is now seen as
the lesser-evil option by mayhem-weary realists. The prevailing
Israeli sentiment runs something like this: Take your territories.
and let us wall them off so we never have to deal with each other
again. Though understandable, that sentiment could prove a dangerous
fantasy for Israelis. Despite the seeming tidiness of a two-state
solution, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to live in a shared
economy. Israel will only undermine its own security if it ignores
a cautionary tale of what a hopeless Palestinian state would be.
Sealed off, the Gaza Strip has become an increasingly radicalized
prison of 1.5 million inmates; it is run by Hamas and other terrorist
groups. The percentage of Gazans in poverty — defined as a daily
household income of less than $2.10 — has exploded to 80 percent
from 20 percent in less than four years.
is also a microcosm for everything about the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict that outside observers find maddening. Gaza is hardly in
dispute, after all. Nearly three-quarters of Israelis — including
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — are eager for Israeli troops and the
7,500 Jewish settlers there to withdraw.
But on May
2, a minute slice of Israel's electorate managed to block Mr. Sharon's
withdrawal plan in an ill-conceived Likud Party referendum. Turnout
was light, partly because many would-be "yes" voters were repulsed
by the brutal killing of a Jewish settler and her four children
in Gaza. Extremists on both sides once again hijacked the debate.
at least a dozen Israeli soldiers and close to 100 Palestinians
have died in some of the most ferocious fighting seen in recent
years. Mr. Sharon has reiterated his determination to leave Gaza,
and he is expected to have his cabinet vote on Sunday on a revised
Even if an
Israeli withdrawal does eventually take place, once-optimistic proposals
for the Israeli and Palestinian states to form a single customs
union and a common market have been shelved. Instead, Israel is
intent on erecting a massive wall that offers Palestinians an economic
future as bleak as the present. "No modern economy has ever gone
through as devastating a recession as the West Bank and Gaza have,"
said Nigel Roberts, the West Bank and Gaza director for the World
of the intifada wiped out almost 40 percent of the per-capita domestic
product. Private investment plummeted to less than $100 million
in 2002 from nearly $1.5 billion in 1999.
charity has helped avert a greater calamity. The Palestinians are
receiving more annual foreign aid than any other people, some $325
a person. But welfare is not a development strategy.
had tried to build an economy based on cheap labor for Israel. Until
waves of suicide bombers poisoned the daily migration, this was
a symbiotic relationship. The number of Palestinian migrant workers
in Israel has declined to fewer than 50,000 from some 150,000 on
the eve of the latest intifada.
also paid a price for the mayhem of recent years, but a relatively
small one against the backdrop of its prosperous economy. High-tech
venture capitalists in Tel Aviv like to say their fates are more
tied to what happens on the Nasdaq than in Nablus, and there is
much truth to that. That it was Palestinian violence that led to
their own economy's meltdown leads even the most well-meaning Israelis
to shrug helplessly at the Palestinians' plight.
Still, it is
in Israel's own security interest to foster a sense of well-being
and hope in the Palestinian territories over time.
reasonably expect Israel to open its borders to all comers, but
in the long term, Israelis and Palestinians will have to find ways
to establish an orderly flow of workers, perhaps one that would
be coordinated by unions and businesses and could entail background
policy makers need to realize that the more punitive aspects of
their occupation backfire by increasing Palestinians' desperation.
This is true of the demolitions of Palestinian dwellings, the internal
roadblocks and the ban that keeps 16- to 35-year-olds from leaving
viability of the eventual Palestinian state must also worry Israel.
It will need to accept greater Palestinian sovereignty over such
important matters as water rights unless it wants to have a homicidal,
desperate neighbor forever. That is what Gaza is becoming.