Had a foreigner found himself in our region, he would be convinced that the Palestinian Authority decision to ban settlement products is incredibly commensurate with the English-language dictum “cutting off the nose to spite the face.” That is, an act whose potential damage far exceeds its benefit.
After all, the leaders of the Palestinian economy, which is fully reliant on Israel, were supposed to understand that a slight economic sneeze on the part of their large neighbor on the West may cause immense damage in their territory. After all, playing the boycott game can go both ways.
One step of economic retaliation (of a long list of options) such as the banning of more than 100,000 Palestinian laborers from entering Israel can devastate the Palestinian economy, which has shown impressive signs of recovery in recent years.
“We are capable of managing this economic system,” said the PA’s Jerusalem governor, Adnan al-Husseini recently. Indeed, our partners are capable of it and even have the right to do so, just like Israel is permitted to, for example, place many obstacles on Palestinian imports and exports; or alternately, encourage its “settlement factories” to send the 25,000 Palestinians they employee back home; or to ban all Israeli employers from hiring laborers from Judea and Samaria; or to refrain from buying Palestinian goods; or to place restrictions on the endless money transfers from Gulf States to the PA.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad likely realizes that each of the abovementioned steps can prompt a major Palestinian economic retreat. In fact, Fayyad may be aware more than any other PA leadership colleague of the acute need to boost its subjects’ standard of living, mostly in order to boost the regime vis-à-vis Hamas. So what then prompts the economist Fayyad to place the notion of a boycott at the top of his agenda, despite the proximity talks and despite his awareness of the potential damage that a proper Israeli response may hold for the Palestinian economy?
Quick rehabilitation program?
This may be part of Fayyad’s response to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who in a noble and heart-warming gesture is supposed to inform George Mitchell that settler lands will be evacuated in favor of a road that will link Ramallah to the new Palestinian city, Rawabi. Moreover, the explanation may have to do with the fact that Fayyad and his gang know that anything they say or do against the settlements would elicit encouragement, support, and sympathy among certain American presidents as well as quite a few Israelis. These people seem to believe that virtually all the evil deeds and obstacles to peace in the world have to do with the settlements.
However, the essence of the explanation to the Palestinian conduct may in fact have to do with Israel’s inability to grasp the Palestinian cost-benefit analysis and the unwillingness of most Israeli governments to present a suitable price tag for every case of Palestinian provocation or rule-breaking. For example, back in 1993, when Shimon Peres was asked why he estimated that the Palestinian will adhere to the Oslo Accords, he argued that “they know well that they have something to lose.”
While the Palestinians indeed had and still have something to lose, in most cases Israel failed to grasp what would constitute an unbearable loss for them. Moreover, Peres, Beilin and their comrades were never willing to settle the score with the PA, especially as this would serve as decisive proof of the resounding failure of signed agreements.
The weak price tag which the Rabin and Peres governments exacted from the Palestinians provoked no more than a smile coupled with an understanding that Israel’s means of retaliation mostly have to do with reprimands, sometimes along with a wink.
Netanyahu’s reciprocity principle in his first term in office, and even more so the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, initiated by the Sharon government, somewhat undermined the Palestinian belief that a harsh Israeli response is not an option. However, in the Levant, as is the case in any wild location on earth, the potential painful sanctions must hang above the heads of the rogue elements at all times.
Still, as some Israeli governments since Oslo accepted the repeated Palestinian violations of agreements, we now discover that the Netanyahu government also excels in showing great helplessness in respect to putting the Palestinian economic weakling in its place. In fact, the government to a large extent makes the Palestinians feel that “they have nothing to lose.”
Hence, Netanyahu must decide whether Fayyad and al-Husseini must be put through a quick rehabilitation program in respect to the old-new feeling that Israel is again accepting their caprices, incitement, and violation of agreements, or whether Bibi and his ministers will continue to go along with the Palestinian Salami method.
Dr. Shaul Rosenfeld is a philosophy lecturer