The Israeli-Hamas War is a logical result of 50 years of failed military policies. Assertive pledges of “national security” will not achieve peace in the Middle East. That requires inclusive economic development.
On Saturday, Palestinian militant groups, reportedly led by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups, launched a coordinated offensive against nearby Israeli cities, Gaza border crossings, adjacent military installations, and civilian settlements.
Hostilities were initiated by a rocket barrage – literally thousands of rockets – against Israel and vehicle-transported incursions into Israeli territory. The offensive has already caused hundreds of Israeli casualties, up to 2,000 injured and dozens of captured, leading Israel to declare a state of emergency and war.
This is the first major direct conflict within widely recognized Israeli territory since the country’s founding. It is a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
The war is also manna for heaven for Netanyahu’s far-right government, which has escalated the suppression of Palestinians as international attention has focused on the proxy war in Ukraine. And it certainly did not come out of the blue.
The 50-year time bomb
In the early hours of the offensive, Hamas spokesperson Khaled Qadomi said that the group’s military operation is in response to all the atrocities the Palestinians have faced over the decades, and in response to the recent “desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque” by the Israeli far-right. The offensive took place during the Jewish holiday and a day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath when the first Jewish settlements were established in Occupied Territories.
Half a decade ago, I wrote a commentary for Robert Parry’s investigative Consortium News on “Israel’s 50-Year Time Bomb” (Oct. 16, 2018), arguing that the status quo was untenable and another war just a matter of time. At the time, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had warned that “deepening rifts between key stakeholders and surging violence in Gaza further imperil prospects for peace.”
As the Trump “peace initiatives” pushed the region closer to an abyss, I warned that the situation was even worse. Under Netanyahu, Israel was morphing into an apartheid state. Those South African blacks, who lived under apartheid, had more to hope for than Palestinians.
That should no longer come as a surprise. Last year, Israel’s former attorney general, Michael Ben-Yair, said that “my country has sunk to such political and moral depths that it is now an apartheid regime.” Recently, the former speaker of the Israeli parliament, Avraham Burg, and the renowned Israeli historian, Benny Morris, were among more than 2,000 Israeli and American public figures who signed a public statement declaring that “Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid”.
And more recently, Tamir Pardo, the former chief of Mossad (2011-16), stated that Israel’s mechanisms for controlling the Palestinians, from restrictions on movement to placing them under military law while Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are governed by civilian courts, matched the old South Africa. “There is an apartheid state here,” Tamir said. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”
Yet, the Democratic Biden administration has continued Trump’s Middle East policies, which effectively ignore the Palestinian nightmare. Washington’s bipartisan consensus is driven by the priorities of the Pentagon and the Big Defense. In the past 5 years that has pushed Israel’s democracy at the edge of autocracy fostering an apartheid state, as I warned in 2018.
Dangerous polarization revisited
In 1994, amid the peace talks in Oslo, Palestinian per capita income, adjusted to purchasing power parity, was barely 15% relative to the Israeli level. At the time, the hope was that peace would bring stability, which would raise living standards in the West Bank and Gaza. The hopes died with the Jewish far-right assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which triggered a new cycle of devastation.
In 2017, Palestinian per capita income had slowly climbed to 16.2% relative to the Israeli level. After more than two decades, barely 1 percentage point. So, what about progress in the past 5 years?
Despite all the hoopla by the Trump and Biden administrations that the Middle East is at the “cusp of peace and prosperity,” Palestinian per capita income has actually fallen behind. It’s now 12.9% compared to the Israeli level. That’s over 2 percentage points lower relative to where it was over two decades ago. Things have not got any better in the Palestine; they’ve got a lot worse (Figure).
GDP Per Capita PPP: Israel Vs West Bank and Gaza (1995-2023). Data from World Bank
This conclusion is supported by the new IMF report warning that “amid a deteriorating security, political and social situation, [Palestinian] per capita income is projected to decline over the medium term.”
So, how does the Palestinian stagnation compare with that of black South Africans in the days of institutionalized racism?
During the period of apartheid (1948-94), the per capita income of South Africa’s blacks relative to the whites climbed from 8.6% to 13.5%. Compared with South African blacks, the Palestinians’ starting point was almost twice as high in relative terms. But now it is lower than that of South Africa’s blacks at the end of the apartheid. The reversal has occurred during the Trump and Biden administrations.
In absolute terms, Israeli per capita income is today at par with the UK and higher than in Italy. By contrast, Palestinian per capita income is estimated at $5,700, which is lower than that of Nigeria and Cambodia; barely ahead of Myanmar.
And worse looms ahead.
Israel’s drift toward autocracy
The Israeli judicial reform is a series of changes to the judicial system and the balance of powers in Israel that was proposed in January. The arguments concern the so-called Reasonableness Amendment, which was passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in late July. This amendment seeks to curb the judiciary’s influence over lawmaking and public policy. It reflects Israel’s descent toward autocracy.
Under the Netanyahu government, Israel has experienced a deepening divide, as the coalition teeters on a precarious electoral majority. It comprises the conservative Likud party, along with Orthodox and the nationalist religious and the controversial Jewish supremacist factions, which advocate ethnic cleansing in Occupied Territories and a Greater Israel.
After a year of unprecedented events, Israel’s political and constitutional turmoil came to a head on Sept. 12, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the critical case that will determine the future of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul. However, it will also have chilling implications for Palestinian rights.
After all, Israel’s judiciary, mainly its Supreme Court, has regularly upheld policies, practices and laws that help enforce “Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians,” including upholding administrative detentions, green-lighting the destruction of villages, upholding a law imposing restrictions on family reunification.
In the past, the Supreme Court has intervened in protecting Palestinian human rights on few occasions. But if the institution loses power to the government, even this “slim and inconsistent” protection would likely disappear. Autocracy would codify apartheid.
That’s another motive for the ongoing offensive.
No peace without development
Today, there are some 5.4 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, and millions more in the proximate countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and internationally. But it is the Palestinians in the Israeli Occupied Territories that find themselves at the edge of an abyss.
Israel has a right to defend itself, and so do the Palestinians.
With the ongoing war, the Israel/Palestine status quo has entered an entirely new, potentially far more desperate, lethal and coordinated stage. From an economic perspective, the apartheid conditions are pushing Palestinians to a nightmare that’s purely and simply untenable. Worse, the militarization of the crisis is likely to make things far worse before they get any better.
Half a century of policy mistakes in the Middle East by the key stakeholders should be an adequate warning. Assertive pledges of “national security” will never achieve an enduring peace in the region or elsewhere. That requires inclusive economic development.
About the Author
Dr. Dan Steinbock is the founder of Difference Group and has served at the India, China and America Institute (US), Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see http://www.differencegroup.net/