By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz – 10 May 2010
Suppose some Palestinian group managed to set up a new settlement on land abandoned by refugees of the 1967 war in the Jordan Valley. What would your average Israeli patriot have to say about an Israeli contractor who agreed to build it, or about Jewish workers clambering on Palestinian scaffolds? What an outcry we’d hear from the Israeli right about such traitors! Never fear, our forces would never allow the uncircumcised to fix even a peg in the occupied territory under absolute Israeli control (some 60 percent of the West Bank ). The imagined scenario of Jews building homes for Palestinians was created only for the sake of discussion – specifically of the protests in Israel against the ban recently imposed by the Palestinian Authority against Arabs working in the settlements.
It takes no small amount of audacity to threaten the Palestinians with harm to their economy if they refuse to continue building Israeli settlements on their own land. Only we are allowed to threaten boycotts every Monday and Thursday against countries that dare to criticize us. After all, we, as is well known, have the monopoly on patriotism. Remember the treatment the Etzel and Lehi underground militias meted out to Jewish girls who went to bed with British soldiers?
“Buy Israeli goods” is an important ethos – with emphasis on the word “Israeli.” Many Israelis, including this writer, and peace-seekers all over the world boycott products made in the settlements. But if Palestinian factory workers dare leave their jobs in the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank, the president of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh, says he’ll make sure that the government closes off the Haifa Port to Palestinian goods.
The entire world, with our American friends at the forefront, insists that the beefing up of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem cannot be reconciled with the “two states for two peoples” solution. How can the Palestinian leadership be expected to stand by idly while 25,000 Palestinian workers put a stamp of approval on the occupation through their own labor and the sweat of their own brows? Just as the Paris Protocol – the economic agreement between Israel and the PA – does not obligate Israel to employ Palestinian workers in Kfar Sava, neither does it prohibit the Palestinians from imposing restrictions on Arabs working in Ariel.
The commotion over the PA’s economic campaign against the settlements indicates, more than anything else, how the colonialist mindset has been branded into Israeli consciousness. The protests over the threatened loss of the hewers of wood and drawers of water shows how hard it is to shake off the master-servant attitudes that have taken root over the last 43 years. The gap between the economies of Israel and the occupied territories, the security restrictions on entering Israel and movement within the territories, and the discrimination in favor of Israeli goods, have all forced the West Bank’s labor force into the settlements. The settlers have also become dependent upon this asymmetrical relationship between themselves and the natives: Why should they accommodate Chinese workers on their holy land if they can get cheap Palestinian laborers who go home at the end of the day.
If the government of Israel were genuinely interested in the partition of the land, it would follow in the PA’s footsteps and cut itself off from the settlers. In addition to freezing construction in the settlements, it would cancel the special benefits enjoyed by the industrial zones in the territories, which attract greedy entrepreneurs. Instead of encouraging settlement beyond the Green Line, the Israeli government would promote legislation for compensating those settlers willing to come home. Instead of hiding behind the self-righteous claim that it is providing livelihoods for thousands of indigent laborers, let the government open the Israeli markets to more goods and workers from the territories.
Meanwhile, what will happen to the workers who the Palestinian Authority will compel to leave the building sites, fields and factories that the settlers have established on the Palestinians’ land? Who is going to feed the tens of thousands of families whose breadwinners will lose their jobs? The Palestinian economics minister, Hassan Abu Libdeh, has promised that before the boycott regulations go into effect, the government of Salam Fayyad will help those who work in the settlements to find jobs within the PA. The boycott of settlement produce, he says, has already increased the consumption of goods manufactured by Palestinian plants as well as the demand for local labor.
The economic divorce of Palestinians from the Jewish settlements is an important step toward divorce from Israel’s occupation policies. Buy Palestinian.