Many Americans and Israelis believe that economic improvements will reduce Palestinian motivation to carry out terror attacks. However, history shows that the Palestinians have another set of priorities.
The ostensible connection between the Palestinian economy and terrorism is now taking center stage in discussions about the Palestinians. American spokesmen, led by Presidential advisor Jared Kushner, emphasize the huge economic benefits awaiting the Palestinians if they adopt the new – and as yet unpublished – U.S. peace plan.
In the context of Gaza, the United States and Israel are trying to promote investment in the Gaza Strip, not only out of real concern for its residents’ quality of life, but also based on the assumption that improving the economic situation will restrain terrorism in the short term and the threat of a broader war in the future caused by despondency and despair.
Many in Israel expressed surprise, anxiety, and frustration in the face of the destructive urges of the Gazans (many affiliated with Hamas) who set fire to the transfer facility at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, while Israel is making efforts to ensure the flow of goods into Gaza. Israel is even considering opening its border to Gazan workers and exploring the possibilities of opening a port for Gaza.
In the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli-controlled east Jerusalem, there is an assumption that the economic situation is affecting the level of terror. In a study recently published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the authors – who are Palestinians and Israelis – sharply criticize the struggle of the Palestinian Authority and the boycott movement against the normalization of economic ties between the Israelis and Palestinians in shared workplaces.
They claim specifically that shared economic activities, primarily in Area C, could become a way to create a basis for promoting peace through shared economic interests in future growth. Prime Minister Netanyahu already raised in the past the idea of “economic peace” in this context
A Complex Equation
However, the connection between economics and peace is extremely complicated and unconvincing. The Palestinians carry out terror attacks out of ideological motives, and most of them see terror as a justified and effective way to act to advance their objectives in the conflict with Israel.
The terrorists and their families are eligible for significant economic benefits in the form of the salaries that the Palestinian Authority pays them. The commitment of the Palestinian leadership to the struggle against Zionism is greater than the consideration of economic gain, even though the PA is aware that it needs to provide an answer for the Palestinians’ economic needs. As proof, the second intifada erupted during a period of impressive growth.
Deciding on the appropriate scope of terrorism reflects the perception of different elements within the Palestinian political system regarding the cost vs. benefit of different kinds of terror activities at any point in time. When assessing this comparison, various considerations need to be taken into account.
Economics is seen as a restraining element, especially in the circumstances of a severe crisis. For example, the economic crisis in 2005, is seen as one of the reasons that brought the Palestinians to a decision to end the second intifada.
The discrepancy between commitment to ideological considerations and the importance of economic considerations is small among the Palestinian commercial sector. It grows among a comparatively pragmatic movement such as Fatah, broadened even more among a religious, ideological movement such as Hamas, which also has a commitment to govern Gaza, and has become even stronger among more extreme movements, such as the Islamic Jihad, that are not committed to dealing with the hardships of the population.
In any case, the chance that economic temptations will lead to a change in Palestinian national goals is very slight as long as the Palestinian system is not led by a political movement that gives priority to the welfare of its citizens.
That movement must recognize that to provide for their economic needs, it must end its commitment to the struggle against Zionism, which is translated as yielding the “Right of Return” and deciding to forego the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of mandatory Palestine.
The approach of the U.S. administration criticizes the Palestinians and Hamas, in particular, for “not acting according to the needs of the Palestinian people.” This reaction indicates a lack of understanding for Palestinian priorities and superimposes upon them a Western order of priorities, which sees in the pursuit of happiness and prosperity as all people’s solitary goal.
The Palestinians explain to the world that they have a different order of priorities, including paying salaries to terrorists, “Return Marches,” the destruction of a critical truck crossing for goods, and the right to forgo both human life and prosperity.
However, it appears that the Americans, Europeans, and many Israelis are not getting these messages. They continue to believe that economic considerations can lead the Palestinians to change their anti-peace policies.
We must not diminish the importance of investing in the advancement of the Palestinian economy and economic cooperation with them. These are based on ethical motives – from the desire to bring economic prosperity to our neighbors to advancing familiarity between both peoples. We must hope that in the end this will motivate the Palestinian to change their order of priorities.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.