By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The externally imposed reality of Palestinian agricultural economy has deprived small-scale traditional farmers from their ability not only to compete with the Israeli agricultural goods, which enjoy Israeli state protection, but also the ability to compete with large-scale Palestinian private agricultural companies. In result, traditional farming groups broke down and their members have been forcibly turned into cheap labor working for both Palestinian private agricultural projects and Israeli settlements.
The claims that local Palestinian products can “compete” in the global market and even “compete” with US and European goods in the local and global markets is an illusion far from reality and does not agree with the fact that the Palestinian production structure is uneven at all with the western and Israeli production structures in terms of capital and technological intensity. Furthermore, the ability of industrial and agricultural products processed in developed countries to compete with their counterparts in the developing world is further augmented by monopolistic prices which these countries attach to their products.
The free market and “free trade” policy in the Palestinian context does not consider the well-known basic principle of market economy, i.e., equality in exchange and competition. This policy also disregards the fact that the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967 lacks the essential and most basic and self-evident conditions for a free market, mainly sovereignty, independence and free movement of people, products and capitals, thus overlooking the fact that it is impossible to build a “free economy” when the country itself is occupied and not free.
In fact, the notion of free market and free trade has been adopted in response to demands from the United States, Europe and international development agencies, which required the “Mediterranean” states that ask for financial and economic assistance to “free their economy and open their markets to foreign products by removing protection measures”. Within this context, the PA has been compelled to enact laws and adopt decree-laws that do not necessarily respond to the genuine national interests and needs but basically respond to the demands of the globalization stakeholders, as well as to the demands of 1994 Paris economic agreement between the PLO and Israel.
Under the Israeli-Palestinian colonial economic and political agreements, Palestinian farmers have never benefited from the theoretical opportunities and promises offered by the “free trade”, which are available in practice to Israeli goods only and in one direction (from Israel and to the Palestinian market).
It is our belief that the notion of “free market” economy adopted by the official Palestinian policy, as well as the World Bank and many international development agencies, has not made any “developmental” impact other than persistently hurting the Palestinian traditional agriculture and rural life. How can a society living for decades under a military colonial occupation and experiencing huge economic and political pressures “swiftly” position itself in the “market economy” and face inexorable “free” competitions?
In western societies themselves, unemployment is a major devastating “side effect” of the “free market” economy, whereas its symptoms in many of the African, Asian and Latin-American countries of the South take the form of poverty, famine and tribal infightings.