Israel’s restrictive policies are stifling economic growth in the Palestinian territories, leaving more and more people without enough money and food, UN development experts said Wednesday in Geneva.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in a report that the economy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could only be revived if Israel stopped blocking financial transactions and the movement of people and goods.
Israel’s government has argued that such measures are necessary to protect its security.
UNCTAD said that “even before the latest military operations, Gaza’s local economy was in a state of total collapse, chiefly because of the accumulated impact of a tightly maintained seven-year blockade and two previous devastating Israeli military operations in November 2012 and December 2008.”
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the Palestinian territories slowed from 5.9 per cent in 2012 to 1.5 per cent last year, according to the report. The economy grew more slowly than the population last year, resulting in declining per capita income.
Unemployment has risen to 36 per cent in Gaza and 22 per cent in the West Bank, while only a quarter of households in both territories have reliable access to food.
UNCTAD criticized Israel’s policy of denying Palestinians access to natural resources in the West Bank, more than 60 per cent of which is under the full control of Israel under the 1995 Oslo Agreement.
The expansion of Israeli settlements “smother economic viability of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the two-State solution,” UNCTAD said.
The restrictions in the West Bank amount to a cost of more than a third of Palestinian GDP, as they block access to farmland, irrigation water, stone quarries and minerals from the Dead Sea, while also hampering business development, the UN said.
In addition, Israel has been destroying hundreds of Palestinian buildings and displacing hundreds of people each year in this zone, UNCTAD said.
The recent Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have exacerbated the region’s problems by destroying water and power infrastructure, as well as 71,000 housing units, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Israel’s offensive against Gaza militants began July 8 with the aim of destroying their network of attack tunnels and put an end to Hamas rocket fire.
The current truce saw Israel agreeing to reopen blocked border crossings into the Gaza Strip, which will facilitate the import of materials for reconstruction.