Prof. calls for opening of Palestinian borders
By Christina Wray
Published on Thursday, May 21, 2009
Stabilizing Palestine's economy and political system is the only way to halt the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and save the Palestinian people from poverty, Amaney Jamal, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University, said in her lecture "The Gaza Crisis: How we got here and where do we go next?" held in the Rockefeller Center on Wednesday.
Because Palestine's economy is irreversibly linked to Isreal's, peace can only be achieved through the opening of Palestinian borders and subsequent growth of the country's economy, Jamal said.
Jamal pointed to the precarious economic situation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a prime source of instability in the region.
"Any peace process needs to address the ability of the Palestinian entity to support itself economically," she said.
There has been a rapid expansion of poverty in the region since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Jamal said. The Oslo Accords authorized the creation of the Palestinian Authority to govern Palestinian territories and mandated the withdrawal of Israeli Defense Forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Under the Accords, Israel maintained control of the land borders, air space and territorial waters of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Between 1993 and 1996, unemployment in Palestine rose from 5 percent to 28 percent, Jamal said. She added that in 2006, 80 percent of the Gaza population depended on humanitarian aid for daily sustenance.
"Youth turn to radicalism in dire economic situations," she said. "Palestine needs foreign economic investment, which remains impossible with the current instability in the region."
Israel has also instituted an economic blockade on the Palestinian region, hindering the import of goods ranging from pasta to diapers, Jamal said. Israel's control of the borders and roads has allowed the country to institute a series of checkpoints that impede travel, even within the borders of the Palestinian territories, she said.
"All social development is being impeded by the system of checkpoints across the West Bank," Jamal said.
These checkpoints often prevent Palestinians from accessing education or adequate health care in cities only minutes away from their rural homes, Jamal said. It is not uncommon for women to give birth at these checkpoints as they wait hours for permission to continue on to the nearest hospital, Jamal said.
According to Jamal, since the signing of the Oslo Accords, 50 percent of the land granted to Palestinians has been appropriated by Israel for buffer zones, checkpoints and Israeli settlements. She added that the remainder of the land controlled by Palestinians consists of fragmented enclaves separated by multiple Israeli checkpoints. This fragmentation has damaged Palestinian unity, Jamal said.
In November 2008, Jamal said, violence in the Gaza Strip flared up as Israel launched an offensive in response to rockets fired by the Hamas government, which controls Gaza. Over a four-month period, 60 percent of the Gaza Strip's agricultural land was damaged, several towns and factories were destroyed, and 67 schools were demolished, according to Jamal.
"Dropping continuous bombs on civilian populations when citizens are not even allowed to leave the region will only lead to humanitarian destruction," Jamal said.
Jamal suggested an agreement that would open the borders surrounding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and allow Palestine to interact with foreign economies to attract investment and trade.
"There will be no military solution to this conflict," Jamal said. "I believe there can only be a political solution."
Jamal's lecture was part of a series titled "Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis" sponsored by groups including The Dickey Center for International Understanding and The Rockefeller Center.