FMEP: There is always a great deal of talk about improving the Palestinian economy, sometimes as a substitute for a political resolution to the Israeli occupation, sometimes as a precursor to it. How do you see your work with Palestinian entrepreneurs in the context of the occupation and building a better Palestinian future?
Sam Bahour: My understanding of the role of business and economic development, where possible under continued and prolonged Israeli military occupation, is one of non-violent resistance. The ultimate aim is creating employment for Palestinians under occupation so Palestinians who are here stay here. I see the private sector’s role in this effort as one of leadership, which is a big ask given that the private sector typically needs a stable ecosystem to operate in. Israeli occupation and a still nascent Palestinian government does not provide this stability just yet. Our case is one where the extra responsibility the private sector has toward society is more acute than elsewhere. I articulated this approach in an Al-Shabaka Policy Brief titled,Defeating Dependency, Creating a Resistance Economy and the article Palestine’s Private Sector: Two Decades of Disappointment.
This approach should not be underestimated given that the agenda of our occupier, since the founding of Israel and more so after the occupation began in 1967, has been to take as much Palestinian geography as possible with the least amount of Palestinian demography on it. So in my view economic activity serves a very political goal of keeping our young in Palestine and engaged with livelihoods so when they resist the occupation, which they will naturally do, they have the means to do it non-violently. Our occupier makes the effort to create jobs a Herculean feat. They have total control over all of our strategic economic assets, like land, water, movement, energy, frequencies, etc. The alternative to acting in the economic sphere is to surrender to total Israeli dominance over every aspect of our life. This we can never accept.
FMEP: The idea that the occupation stifles Palestinian economic growth is often brought up. Crucially, it is often used to rebut the notion that economic growth is already happening, when much of that is due to outside aid. How, specifically, does the occupation stifle Palestinian economic growth? What are the dynamics on the ground that cause that stifling and is there any way to combat them while the occupation still exists?
SB: I will one day write a book about how comprehensive this occupation has been by way of blocking our ability to have an economic life and how resilient Palestinians have been throughout history in addressing this horrific reality. Israel acts in total and blatant violation of the international laws governing military occupations. They also act in broad daylight, while the international community watches on and, many times, underwrites Israel’s efforts to destroy our economic ability. That noted, I take issue with the entire concept of “growth” under occupation. We are not now, and have never been, in a growth mode. We are in a survival mode. Anyone who misses this point will be lost in academic discussions of global economic indicators that apply to sovereign states (i.e. GDP, GNP) and lose focus on the source of our economic suppression, which is the boot of Israeli military occupation on our necks. This was the colossal mistake that former Palestinian prime minister Salaam Fayyad made and which ultimately saw him walk away from office in defeat.