Israel’s new sanctions against the Palestinians’ economy is a tough challenge for peace diplomacy and ensures hardships for ordinary people living in Gaza and the West Bank.
The sanctions come in retaliation for their leaders signing international conventions. Israel viewed that as a gambit for statehood outside the framework of US-backed negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Unilateral steps by them will be answered with unilateral steps by us. We are willing to continue negotiations but not at any [unreasonable] price.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put his pen to UN human rights conventions last week, after he accused Israel of violating a commitment to release prisoners in March.
Palestinians demonstrated in protest when Israel put a pledge to free around two dozen prisoners on hold for another month.
The Arab League supported Abbas.
The latest tit-for-tat measures further disrupted talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state, although they had already stalled over Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Palestinians’ refusal to formally recognise Israel.
A senior Palestinian official said the sanctions were a weapon of collective punishment and a denial of basic people’s rights.
Israel collects revenues on goods bound for the Palestinian market on behalf of its authorities; it is now withholding the tax transfers.
These transfers come to around 80 million euros per month, providing two thirds of the Palestinians’ budget. In the West Bank alone, Israeli restrictions cost the Palestinian economy around two and a half billion euros per year, or just over a third of its GDP.
The Palestinians are also dependent on Israel for jobs, with a quarter to one third of them unemployed. Ten percent of those with work count on Israel for it.
Farmers with land on the other side of Israel’s security wall apply for access to it; around half those requests were granted in 2011, but only a fifth in 2012.
Four out of five Gazans subsist on international aid.
Frequent closure of the Gaza-Egypt crossing point also hurts the Palestinians’ economy. The Rafah gate recently re-opened for three days after 49 days of being kept closed over worsening relations between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Egypt’s military-backed government.
Since the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power in Cairo, dozens of smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza have been closed, severely impairing economic activity and pushing prices up.