That is, certainly, an interesting question. So interesting, indeed, that the governments of Israel and the United States, in close cooperation with Europe, are now engaged in a rigorous scientific experiment in order to obtain a definitive answer.
The laboratory for the experiment is the Gaza Strip, and the guinea pigs are the million and a quarter Palestinians living there.
IN ORDER to meet the required scientific standards, it was necessary first of all to prepare the laboratory.
With the laboratory cleaned, the next phase could begin: all entrances and exits were hermetically sealed, in order to eliminate disturbing influences from the world outside. That was done without difficulty. Successive Israeli governments have prevented the building of a harbor in Gaza, and the Israeli navy sees to it that no ship approaches the shore. The splendid international airport, built during the Oslo days, was bombed and shut down. The entire Strip was closed off by a highly effective fence, and only a few crossings remained, all but one controlled by the Israeli army.
There remained a sole connection with the outside world: the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. It could not just be sealed off, because that would have exposed the Egyptian regime as a collaborator with Israel. A sophisticated solution was found: to all appearances the Israeli army left the crossing and turned it over to an international supervision team. Its members are nice guys, full of good intentions, but in practice they are totally dependent on the Israeli army, which oversees the crossing from a nearby control room. The international supervisors live in an Israeli kibbutz and can reach the crossing only with Israeli consent.
THE SIGNAL for its beginning was given after the Palestinians had held spotlessly democratic elections, under the supervision of former President Jimmy Carter. George Bush was enthusiastic: his vision of bringing democracy to the Middle East was coming true.
But the Palestinians flunked the test. Instead of electing "good Arabs", devotees of the United States, they voted for very bad Arabs, devotees of Allah. Bush felt insulted. But the Israeli government was ecstatic: after the Hamas victory, the Americans and Europeans were ready to take part in the experiment. It could start:
The United States and the European Union announced the stoppage of all donations to the Palestinian Authority, since it was "controlled by terrorists". Simultaneously, the Israeli government cut off the flow of money.
To understand the significance of this: according to the "Paris Protocol" (the economic annex of the Oslo agreement) the Palestinian economy is part of the Israeli customs system. This means that Israel collects the duties for all the goods that pass through Israel to the Palestinian territories - actually, there is no other route. After deducting a fat commission, Israel is obligated to turn the money over to the Palestinian Authority.
When the Israeli government refuses to pass on this money, which belongs to the Palestinians, it is, simply put, robbery in broad daylight. But when one robs "terrorists", who is going to complain?
The Palestinian Authority - both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - needs this money like air for breathing. This fact also requires some explanation: in the 19 years when Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip, from 1948 to 1967, not a single important factory was built there. The Jordanians wanted all economic activity to take place in Jordan proper, east of the river, and the Egyptians neglected the strip altogether.
Then came the Israeli occupation, and the situation became even worse. The occupied territories became a captive market for Israeli industry, and the military government prevented the establishment of any enterprise that could conceivably compete with an Israeli one.
The Palestinian workers were compelled to work in Israel for hunger wages (by Israeli standards). From these, the Israeli government deducted all the social payments levied on Israeli workers, without the Palestinian workers enjoying any social benefits. This way the government robbed these exploited workers of tens of billions of dollars, which disappeared somehow in the bottomless barrel of the government.
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