By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The economic policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) revolve around adopting and exercising the concept of free market, which means promoting the capitalist agricultural production paradigm that links local production to the global market and focuses the agricultural production on export based on the principle of supply and demand in the external market. This also requires compliance with compulsory international specifications designed by international agencies that work towards stifling local and traditional farming patterns and transforming traditional farmers to agents working for private companies that receive support from the western “development” agencies. This paradigm is governed by the logic of capital accumulation and profit as per se, irrespective of the needs of the local market and the notion of national food self-sufficiency for a society living under occupation, which should be guided by the principle of equitable distribution.
The majority of Palestinian export products are luxury agricultural products, such as strawberries and flowers of different types, in addition to medical herbs. Surprisingly, this focus on export occurs despite the failure of attempts to focus on export-oriented production among many Palestinian farmers under precarious and unstable political and security conditions, which has been clearly evident since long time ago, especially since Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-2004).
Currently, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are suffering from the chaos of “free market” and the Palestinian private capital prefers to play the role of a dealer and intermediary affiliated with foreign capital instead of playing the role of a producer and investor in natural resources, primarily land.
Lacking political and economic sovereignty, the PA adoption of the principles of free market economy has paralysed its ability to protect local agricultural and food products, at a time when such protection in the Palestinian context (as a people under occupation) is simply a necessity to support the steadfastness of Palestinian farmers on their lands. In the absence of this protection, farmers, and small-scale farmers in particular, have been forced to abandon the agricultural sector following the destruction of the traditional agricultural production pattern that has historically served as a shield protecting large numbers of Palestinian families.
Ultimately, the self-sufficient traditional household-based agricultural structure mainly consisting of small holdings and reliant on local marketing mechanisms has deteriorated. In fact, the “free market” has allowed the Israeli agricultural products to overwhelm and strengthen their grip over the Palestinian market. Thus the Israeli occupation has been and is imposing forced, absolutely uneven “competition” between its protected and subsidized agricultural exports and the vulnerable Palestinian products that are deprived of national protection and attention and are not granted Palestinian official and popular priority in the local market.
The origin of the idea of Palestinian luxury agricultural exports, such as flowers, strawberries and others has been advanced by the occupation, which has encouraged Gaza farmers since the 1980s to plant flowers as part of an attempt to gear the Palestinian agriculture towards producing crops that respond to the needs of the Israeli economy both for direct consumption and for closing some export gaps in the Israeli economy. Palestinian agricultural export in fact takes place through Israeli exporters. Since its establishment in 1994, the PA has maintained the same Israeli policy with regard to Palestinian export, with a handful of large-scale agents and brokers being the main beneficiaries.
The Israeli “Civil Administration” then has lured Gaza farmers by providing them with some “financial support,” “loans” and “technical assistance,” in addition to assurance of purchasing their products of flowers. The occupation has succeeded in “convincing” some Palestinian farmers to uproot citrus trees in their grooves in order to plant flowers instead of citruses and vegetables, although Gaza citruses have traditionally been an exceptional agricultural heritage and a national pride for Palestinians. Once Israel has managed to harness the Palestinian agricultural production in favor of its economy, the Israeli “incentives” to the Palestinian farmers stopped and the Palestinian production became subject to market fluctuations. In other words, the occupation has devastated the basic Palestinian products by depriving them from protection against Israeli and foreign competition and encouraging Palestinian farmers to shift to luxury farming which profits a small number of large-scale landholders and merchants.