My source was right: Gaza economic growth is outstripping "Fayyadist" West Bank

Back in June, a diplomatic source very close to these matters told me the following, as I reported on this blog at the time:

World Bank figures due to be published in coming weeks are likely to show that economic growth in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2010 has exceeded that in the West Bank. While virtually all economic growth in the West Bank is a result of foreign aid, much of the growth in Gaza is attributable to a "parallel economy" that has emerged thanks to the tunnels. This has even created a small new class of nouveaux riches in Gaza.

It appears the source was completely correct. In an article headlined "IMF: Gaza's economy shoots up by 16% in 2010," Haaretz reports:

The International Monetary Fund expects the Palestinian economy to grow by 8 percent overall this year, after the West Bank economy grew by 9 percent in the first half and the Gaza Strip by a whopping 16 percent. This compares to growth of only 1 percent in Gaza for all of 2009, and of 8.5 percent in the West Bank for all of last year, according to a World Bank report published in April. 

A couple of points about this. First, as the IMF points out, the economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is growing from a very low base, having suffered a decade of severe contraction as a result of Israel's violence, repression, blockades and movement restrictions. As Haaretz points out: "Gaza's unemployment rate remains above 35 percent, and its per capita income is still only 60 percent of what it was in 1994."

To put this in perspective, U.S. unemployment peaked at 25% during the Great Depression. Unemployment in the occupied territories, especially in Gaza has been significantly above that level year after year. So by U.S. standards, Gaza remains in a deep deep depression. Second, much of the "growth," both in the West Bank and Gaza, is the result of humanitarian aid provided by the "international community" which alleviates some of the worst effects of Israeli occupation, colonization and siege, but is only treating the symptoms. Continued long-term humanitarian aid for a crisis caused deliberately by Israeli measures acts in effect as an international subsidy for Israel's occupation and other crimes. What Palestinians need in order to see real economic growth is not more aid, but an end to Israeli tyranny, occupation and apartheid and for donors to stop using aid as a guilt-easing alternative to holding Israel accountable and forcing it to end its purposeful persecution of the Palestinian people.

But the significance of these figures is that they further undercut the narrative of the so-called "Fayyadists" -- supporters of the Israeli-backed collaborationist regime of illegally-installed West Bank "prime minister" Salam Fayyad. In their narrative, Fayyad is building the institutions and economy of a Palestinian state. They constantly tout the supposedly stellar economic performance in the West Bank with such dubious achievements as a Ramallah property bubble or laud vulgar over-consumption of such commodities as luxury cars by the Ramallah-centred Palestinian bourgeoisie. But Salam Fayyad is not building any new institutions. As a collaborator with Israel, he is working (along with Palestinian Authority "president" Mahmoud Abbas) to repress any and all Palestinian resistance to the occupation and to US-Israeli efforts to liquidate Palestinian rights through rigged US-sponsored "negotiations."

As I explained in a recent LA Times op-ed, Salam Fayyad's "state building" is an illusion and the real agenda of the Zionist supporters and boosters of "Fayyadism," is clear: it is to promote the fiction of imminent Palestinian independence and prosperity under a quisling regime in order to cover-up the reality of permanent and deepening Israeli colonization and control. That is the only purpose Salam Fayyad serves and no other. His job is thus identical to that of the bantustan leaders in apartheid South Africa. The only difference is that Fayyad, unlike the bantustan leaders, has support from the so-called "international community." But never mind – all the laudatory columns by Thomas Friedman and his ilk cannot clothe this naked emperor.

Is the World Bank deliberately concealing disappointing West Bank economic "growth" figures?

An August 31 press release from the World Bank states:

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has achieved strong results in recent years, but the resurgence of growth remains dependent on donor assistance.

  • in the first half of 2010, the economy saw 7% real growth;
  • in the West Bank, unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2009 fell to 18% from 20% in the same quarter of 2008;
  • unemployment in Gaza also dropped, falling from 45% in the fourth quarter of 2008 to 39% in the last quarter of 2009;
  • the PA has unified its cash transfer programs into one consolidated program that has greatly increased the efficiency of the PA's social safety system and is one of the most advanced in the region;
  • the PA has improved its budgeting process, budget execution and financial reporting capacity; and introduced commitment controls to reduce spending.

What is very interesting is that the press release provides no breakdown for growth in the West Bank separate from the Gaza Strip. What we have instead apparently is a 7% overall growth figure.

In June a highly informed source who has since been proven correct on a number of other issues told me:

World Bank figures due to be published in coming weeks are likely to show that economic growth in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2010 has exceeded that in the West Bank. While virtually all economic growth in the West Bank is a result of foreign aid, much of the growth in Gaza is attributable to a "parallel economy" that has emerged thanks to the tunnels. This has even created a small new class of nouveaux riches in Gaza.

At the time the source told me that what we'd probably see as a result is the World Bank and PA emphasizing the overall growth figure, rather than dwelling on disappointing results in the West Bank -- where a huge politically-motivated aid effort has been aimed at shoring up the Israeli-backed collaborator regime of Mahmoud Abbas and illegally-appointed "prime minister" Salam Fayyad.

Could this be what is happening here? Perhaps the World Bank has provided a West Bank/Gaza breakdown somewhere else? (I haven't had time to conduct a thorough search yet, but a quick search didn't reveal it). But I do think its significant there is no breakdown in the press release. It's a safe assumption that if there had been stellar performance in the West Bank, the World Bank would have emphasized it.

The whole narrative of "Fayyadist" state building depends on the notion that the West Bank economy is booming. There are claims, for example, of a "property boom" in Ramallah, which as I explained tells us nothing about the true state of the West Bank economy.

Indeed a recent Save the Children study found that outside the Ramallah bubble, poverty conditions across much of the West Bank are even worse than in Gaza. My recent Los Angeles times op-ed references that and debunks more "Fayyadist" myths.

Video & Transcript: Democracy Now - Ali Abunimah on Hebron attack on settlers, resumption of "peace talks"

From Democracy Now


"Security for Everyone, Not Just Settlers and Occupiers"–Ali Abunimah on Opening of US-Brokered Mideast Peace Talks

US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority begin today in Washington. Both sides agreed to sit down last month after the US successfully pressured Palestinian leaders to drop their precondition of an Israeli settlement freeze. On the eve of the summit, Palestinian militants killed four Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. We speak with Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. [includes rush transcript]


SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: US-sponsored talks between Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders are scheduled to begin in Washington today after nearly two years of stalled negotiations. The talks are expected to be particularly tense in the aftermath of Tuesday night’s attacks near the West Bank city of Hebron that killed four Israeli settlers driving in the area of the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. The dead include two men and two women, one of whom was reportedly pregnant.

Arriving in Washington last night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to hunt down the killers and ordered Israeli forces to act, quote, "without diplomatic restraint."

SAMI ABU ZUHRI: [translated] Al Qassam’s heroic operation in Hebron is a natural reaction to the occupation’s crimes and is a continuation to the series of heroic operations to confront these crimes.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, for more on this story, I’m joined right now via Democracy Now! video stream by author and activist Ali Abunimah. He’s the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. His latest op-ed in the New York Times is titled "Hamas, the IRA and Us."

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ali Abunimah. Can you just begin by talking about these latest attacks in the West Bank and how they’ll impact these talks in Washington?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. Good morning.

Well, the attack on the settlers yesterday in the West Bank was, I think, a gruesome reminder that when there is no serious and credible political process to end Israel’s occupation and apartheid, violence of this kind will fill the void. And we should recall that since the beginning of 2008, a total of sixty Israelis, many of them soldiers, have been killed in conflict-related violence. In the same period, more than 2,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, have been killed by the Israeli army and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And every one of these deaths, Palestinian or Israeli, is one too many.

You know, when Secretary of State Clinton speaks about savage brutality, I think she should include the recent steep escalation in other forms of violence, including daily attacks by settlers on Palestinians, a sharp increase in home demolitions by Israel, especially in Jerusalem. And, you know, in July alone, according to Human Rights Watch, 146 Palestinian homes and businesses in the West Bank were destroyed by Israel, the highest level since 2005, as well as the entire Bedouin village of El-Araqib in the Negev, which is actually in Israel. So what you see is that Israel’s violence targets Palestinians everywhere, not just in the Occupied Territories.

So this reality of systematic violence, I think, can only breed more of the same, until there is an end to Israeli occupation and the human and political rights of all the people in the country are respected. So, when we talk about security and saving lives, we have to talk about security for everyone, not just for the settlers and occupiers. And we have to have a real political process aimed at ending Israel’s occupation and colonization, not simply creating a fictional Palestinian state in order to disguise them, as the current US-sponsored peace process seems designed to do.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Ali Abunimah, your piece in the New York Times is called "Hamas, the IRA and Us,” and in that you draw a parallel between the peace talks that George Mitchell helped broker that eventually brought an end to what’s been called the "troubles” in Ireland. Could you lay out that argument in this last minute that you have and how it—how it paints a picture of what’s not happening right now in these peace talks?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, it’s very apt. You know, between Sinn Fein and the IRA, there were some people who supported a ceasefire and entering a political process and others who opposed it. And the same is very much true with Hamas. The military and political leaderships are separate. We don’t know yet enough about who ordered this attack. But it’s very clear that in the case of the IRA, George Mitchell and the United States understood that they had to respond to political overtures from Sinn Fein and the IRA in order to bring them into an inclusive political process. We’ve seen over the past few years many political initiatives from Hamas, including offers of long-term ceasefires to Israel and willingness to take part in a peace process. And the door has been slammed in the face of all those overtures. And what we may be seeing now is the assertion by those who believe in a more violent course. And it will be a tragedy if we see this sort of bloodshed escalate. You know, more than 2,000 Palestinians killed and sixty Israelis in the past three years is enough violence. And I think as long as these one-sided policies continue, it’s going to be very difficult to break this pattern.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re going to have to leave it there. Ali Abunimah is the co-founder of The Electronic Infitada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

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Zionist Dossier Exposed: 'How to expose Ali Abunimah when he comes to your campus'

In advance of my speech tomorrow in Port Townsend, Washington, anti-Palestinian activists have been privately circulating a 12-page dossier on me, and on how to "counter" and "expose" me.

The document is being circulated by Rob Jacobs, Northwest Regional Director of StandWithUs. StandWithUs is an extreme pro-Israel hasbara group supported by funders with a clear anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim agenda.

The StandWithUs dossier (attached below as a PDF) is a mishmash of biographical information about me, much of it taken from my own writing, but wildly distorted and wrapped in hostility. Its main purpose it to advise anti-Palestinian activists how to "expose" me. Parts of it are quite complimentary though: "When Ali Abunimah comes to your campus, be prepared for a sophisticated, smooth advocate of radical Palestinian positions." It warns that my "calmness, highbrow style and constant references to international law and human rights cannot conceal [my] intense hostility about the very founding of Israel... ."

The most interesting part is the advice on what questions to ask to confound me:

Though Abunimah seems calm and even reasonable, he is extremely radical. When countering him, maintain your own composure and be as rational as he is. He has written many article [sic] and made many public statements. Use his own words to expose and challenge him.

But none of the questions designed to "expose" me are particularly difficult to answer -- I answer them at almost every lecture I give and I am more than happy to do so again. Mr. Jacobs is welcome to come and ask them in person and need not circulate them secretly to encourage others to do so as if they were spontaneous and not part of a well-funded and planned hasbara operation.

It's worth recalling that StandWithUs has worked closely with the Israeli government and acted as a public relations arm for the Israeli army to help prettify it following the war crimes and crimes against humanity it committed in the Gaza Strip in early 2009 and thoroughly documented by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict chaired by Judge Richard Goldstone.

Activists at a recent StandWithUS sponsored rally in San Francisco also shouted ugly anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian slogans and threats at members of the peace and justice groups Bay Area Women in Black and Jewish Voice for Peace.

What the StandWithUs dossier reveals is that in the absence of any credible arguments to defend Israel's occupation, violent ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestinian land, war crimes and crimes against humanity, its rank racism and apartheid, and the growing religious extremism motivating its politics, Israel's defenders must rely on a strategy of ad hominem attacks.

Many of StandWithUs's tactics would appear to come straight from the "sabotage" and "attack" playbook of Israel's Reut Institute. These include a StandWithUs produced video that personally targets me and other advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel in an attempt to discredit BDS.

The video and the dossier also fit the strategy advocated by several anti-Palestinian outfits of "naming and shaming" so-called "delegitimizers" of Israel.

But here is the problem. There is no shame in standing up for universal human rights for everyone in historic Palestine, international law, equality and peace. It is those who deny the Nakba, defend colonization, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and offer apologias and lies to justify war crimes and crimes against humanity who should be ashamed.

"Dear Mr. Williams" - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign replies to my letter

Last week I wrote an email to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to protest his fueling anti-Muslim bigotry by wading into the "debate" over the Park51 Islamic center in NY. Here is the lame boilerplate reply I got, addressed to someone called "Mr. Williams."

The notion that equal rights for all Americans is now a matter of "individual conscience" -- like say, views on abortion or the death penalty -- only adds to my concern. To be clear, I do not care about the Park51 center. What I care about is the high levels of bigotry being expressed in the so-called "debate" and the fact that politicians rather than defending the victims of bigotry are feeding the atmosphere of anti-Muslim incitement with their statements.

I fear this atmosphere may lead to violence directed against Muslims. That may already have happened. According to police, a NY cab driver was allegedly stabbed last night by a passenger after being asked "Are you Muslim?"

I hope this misdirected note means they got a lot of complaints and had to send out a lot of replies, hence the mix-up.

Dear Mr. Williams,Thank you for contacting the Quinn for Illinois campaign. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts regarding this sensitive issue. We understand your concerns regarding Governor Quinn's remarks.

This is a complicated issue that Governor Quinn believes must be dealt with in a sensitive manner according to each individual's conscience.

Governor Quinn has a long record of working with individuals in the Islamic community and is a strong believer in inclusion and freedom of religion.

Thank you again for contacting Quinn for Illinois. Please feel free to contact us with additional questions and concerns.


Quinn for Illinois 

676 N. LaSalle Suite 300 

Chicago, IL 60654 


Racist newspaper cartoon slurs Port Townsend Co-op initiative to boycott Israeli goods

Following the historic decision of the food co-op in Olympia, WA to boycott Israeli goods, a similar effort is underway at the food co-op in Port Townsend, WA, near Seattle. Like all campaigns answering the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel, part of the goal is to generate local awareness of subjects that are politically taboo -- Israel's systematic violations -- with full US complicity -- of Palestinian human rights, and what citizens everywhere can do to help end them.

The Port Townsend co-op effort has certainly done that, as stories in the Port Townsend Leader and the Pensinsula Daily News show. The Port Townsend Leader also carried opinion pieces -- one by Daniel Bugel-Shunra, supporting the Port Townsend boycott initiative, and one by Henry Werch opposing it.

But the print edition of the newspaper carried this disturbing cartoon on the same page as the two opinion pieces. It was sent to me by Dena Bugel-Shunra, a Hebrew translator who lives in Port Townsend and is on the local team that originally proposed the boycott. The cartoon is a nasty effort to portray the proposed boycott -- and by implication any other BDS effort -- as targeting any and all things "Jewish" and thus implying that BDS and its proponents are anti-Semitic.

Dena Bugel-Shunra, who grew up in Israel, adds:

The insidious thing about this cartoon is that it normalizes the notion that only Arabs (and presumably Jews) care about the situation in Palestine (and Israel). It seems to me that U.S. foreign policy and the effect it has on the world is the business of all of us. The cartoon also makes the nasty equation of ethnic minorities with clothing & food (hijab for Arab Muslims, bagels & lox for Jews) - although not all Muslims are Arab, not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslim women wear hijab, and bagels and lox are AMERICAN foods, not Jewish or Israeli ones (they weren't even available in Israel until the mid-80s).

While many people may indeed associate bagels with the Jewish immigrants who brought them to the United States, they clearly have nothing to do with either the Port Townsend boycott effort, or BDS in general.

Perhaps the cartoon was innocent, perhaps malicious. But it's precisely because of this sort of ignorance that BDS efforts are needed: to educate the public that the situation in Palestine/Israel is not about "Arab or Muslim vs. Jew" nor even about "Palestinians vs. Israelis." It is a struggle against a system of oppression and apartheid that privileges Israeli Jews at the expense of Palestinians, violating Palestinians' most fundamental rights. The premise of the BDS movement is that the key to ending the conflict is for Israel to respect the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and comply with international law. BDS is a tactic, not an end in itself. The goal is to get to justice, human rights, and equality for all.

Indeed, the Palestinian civil society's BDS call makes clear this is a universalist movement that sees anyone who supports universal human rights as a potential ally. Thus it explicitly invites "conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace." And some courageous Israelis, have already done so, launching Boycott From Within.

Dear Gov. Quinn, with your bigotry you just forfeited my vote in November

Dear Governor Pat Quinn,

At a time when there is unprecedented anti-Muslim incitement and vilification in this country, one of the few comforting things is living in Chicago, a cosmopolitan city that feels like a safe haven. Illinois too has no history of the political extremism that has gripped many parts of the country.

I am therefore utterly revolted by your bigoted, ignorant and offensive statements likening American Muslims -- your fellow citizens -- to people who would desecrate Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor, by building a community center on their own property in Manhattan.

You are the governor of Illinois, not the governor of Lower Manhattan. You have hundreds of thousands of Muslim citizens of Illinois whose safety, well-being and human rights are threatened by the atmosphere of vilification that is being incited against them by politicians and the yellow media. You should be protecting them and speaking out against bigotry instead of adding your own ignorant comments to further legitimize this hate campaign.

Governor Quinn, if we must make comparisons to Nazi Germany, this is the one I would make: the collective vilification of Muslims, the conspiracy theories that they are planning to take over the country, the racist portrayals of them and their faith, the anger directed at a small minority that is reviled and misunderstood, recall the escalating campaign of organized hate against Jews in 1930s Europe and the casual, accepted anti-Semitism against them in the United States. As a descendant of Irish immigrants you should also be aware of what your ancestors went through in this country as Catholics and immigrants.

Governor Quinn, you have failed to protect and uphold my civil rights and those of the people of Illinois. I will not consider voting for you in November unless you make a full apology. I will not be complicit by endorsing your demagoguery with my vote.

Yours sincerely,

Ali Abunimah
Registered Voter
Chicago, IL

Sent to and via

Why I think Obama is already retreating from his White House iftar speech

Thanks to all who engaged with me via Twitter regarding President Obama's speech at the White House iftar last night. Many have welcomed this as the president at long last doing the "right thing." I am less than persuaded, and I do believe we are already seeing the president on the defensive and on the retreat. This should worry us.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:
Aides to Mr. Obama say privately that he has always felt strongly about the proposed community center and mosque, but the White House did not want to weigh in until local authorities made a decision on the proposal, planned for two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Today the New York Times reports:

White House officials said earlier in the day that Mr. Obama was not trying to promote the project, but rather sought more broadly to make a statement about freedom of religion and American values. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Mr. Obama said at the Coast Guard station. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.

So what is it exactly that President Obama felt "strongly" about? I am confused. Did he feel "strongly" that the mosque and community center should be built, or did he feel "strongly" that they should not be built? Or does he just feel "strongly" that the project planners have the right to build the center on property they lawfully own in accordance with the First Amendment?

The first excerpt from the NY Times clearly suggests that Obama strongly supported the actual "proposed community center and mosque" in lower Manhattan but did not want to influence a local planning decision. Fair enough. The second excerpt however, says he's only supporting the First Amendment. Well if that is all he is saying, he did not need to remain silent. Surely local authorities never have the right to overturn the First Amendment regardless of local ordinances and regulations. So simply supporting the First Amendment -- something he swore an oath to do -- could never be construed as interference in a local zoning decision.

If that is all Mr. Obama was saying, he could have stepped in weeks ago. What I think is really going on is that at first Mr. Obama did want to say that he supported the Cordoba House project in lower Manhattan, but is retreating -- as I expected he would. Or perhaps he wants some people to think he is supporting the initiative, while being able to tell others that he isn't.

If Obama is just upholding the First Amendment, that is certainly commendable, but let us not pretend he is adding very much to the debate or taking a particularly courageous stand. Has it really come to this that we stand in awe when the President of the United States says he supports the most basic tenets of the Bill of Rights? (I guess so since so many others are flouted). But in fact very few people have challenged the right of the Cordoba Initiative to build its community center on the property it owns in lower Manhattan. The ADL's Abe Foxman acknowledged that right and even Sarah Palin did not challenge the right. 

What the critics are engaged in is collective vilification, delegitimization and incitement against Muslims in the United States and they are doing it  deliberately and for political purposes. This is what needs to be recognized and confronted and sadly I do not see the president or any other senior politicians in the United States doing that. As midterm elections approach this November, I predict the level of anti-Muslim incitement is going to increase even beyond what we already see. Who is going to stand up to it? 

Given that it has apparently taken Obama less than 24 hours to retreat from his relatively mild and obvious statements last night, forgive me if I am underwhelmed by what came out of the president's mouth after weeks as a bystander to very ugly, escalating and spreading racism. It's even worse than that -- just a few days ago, the  White House actually said that the anti-Muslim incitement in this country is within the bounds of reasonable discourse and was not "dangerous." I beg to differ. It is dangerous and if people do not stand up to it I fear that there will be more violence targeting Muslims, such as the bombing of a mosque in Florida a few months ago.

Muslims may have the legal freedom to exercise their religion in the US -- and they do despite increasing efforts to use laws and regulations to prevent the building of mosques -- but what is that freedom worth if they live in a climate of increasing fear, vilification and hatred?

UPDATE: Obama's retreat in his own words via CNN