The Demise of Palestinian Productive Sectors: Internal Trade as a Microcosm of the Impact of Occupation

The Israeli occupation has consistently inflicted disastrous economic costs on the Palestinians, costs that economists have examined for decades. One dimension that has been missing in these examinations, however, relates to the distortions in the structure of the Palestinian economy, and the detrimental impacts of these distortions. The term economic structure refers to the contribution of different economic sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and trade, to the key macroeconomic variables of output (GDP) and employment. 

Whereas a comprehensive study of these structural distortions is beyond the scope of this blog post, we zoom in on one particular economic sector that has been playing an increasingly dominant role in the Palestinian economy: internal trade. Briefly, internal trade refers to the retail and wholesale buying and selling of goods, including trade with Israel. The increased relevance of the contribution of internal trade to total economic activity in Palestine is part of an ongoing shift away from productive sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, towards services, trade, and construction.

This post argues that the dominance of internal trade at the expense of productive sectors is neither a result of a conscious policy effort by the Palestinian Authority (PA) nor an outcome of “laissez faire” market governance. Rather, it is a byproduct of Israeli occupation policies, and a clear consequence of the Palestinian economy’s dependence on the Israeli economy since 1967. The post argues that internal trade is a microcosm of the Palestinian economy as a whole, highlighting the futility of international and donor support for development under occupation. Rather, what is needed involves empowering independent, transparent, accountable, and collective Palestinian policy-making, a quality of leadership and governance that the Palestinian leadership of the last 25 years cannot lead or carry out. 

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Economic development in Palestine and beyond

Palestine-blog-image-TSuccessful economic development in Palestine will require an adequate theory of development, industrial policy, and institutional reforms.

Recently, the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) published a comprehensive study on Palestinian economic development. In this report, co-authored by my colleagues Heiner Flassbeck, Michael Paetz, and I, we explore possible solutions as to how Palestine could sustainably finance its deficits. Now, after the Israeli elections, Jared Kushner, the US President’s son-in-law and senior advisor, is set to announce the details of the US Peace Plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given that the Peace Plan is expected to include a large economic component to solve the conflict, it will be interesting to see to what extent it addresses the fundamental problems we identified in our research.

Our results suggest, succinctly, that under current conditions of excessive imbalances in the external sector (trade and current account), any issuance of debt securities requires fixing these imbalances first, for which, in turn, strategic public intervention is critical. This finding may come as a surprise to most policymakers, as orthodox economic theory suggests that the most efficient ways for countries to develop is through market led (as opposed to state led) policies. Historical evidence demonstrates that none of the advanced countries followed this path in their own development, yet the idea of ‘the market’ as the most efficient development tool is still widespread. Based on this belief, Western institutions wreaked havoc in developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s, and continue to do so (although some institutions, notably the IMF, show significant progress in learning from past experiences).Read More »