The Israeli occupation of Gaza Strip didn’t end — it merely changed form.
With the completion of the Israeli army withdrawal from Gaza Strip, and the eviction of all the settlers from there, its occupation has seemingly ended. And indeed, if by “occupation” we mean, as the Israeli establishment wants us to understand, a mere direct military presence, then, sure enough, Gaza Strip is no longer occupied by Israel. But is that truly the objective situation?
Ariel Sharon’s government tries to instill, both in Israel and abroad, the impression that the occupation of Gaza has ended, and now the Palestinians must “prove themselves worthy.” This serves the purpose of allowing the ongoing occupation to continue, well hidden behind the smokescreen of “ending the occupation.”
The occupation is a far more intricate project than mere direct military presence. The occupation is a project on which fingerprints of class interests can be clearly seen. It can be carried out in numerous ways, colonial as well as neo-colonial.
Peace activists in Israel identified for many years the fight against the occupation with the fight for human rights and self determination for the Palestinian people. This is an important and central struggle, which remains to be completed. Yet it seems that those who benefited the most from the occupation feel that, even with the completion of the withdrawals and evictions, they can still continue to maintain a state of economic occupation, based on keeping the Palestinian territories as colonies, bounded and integrated with Israeli capitalism.
In the 40 years that have passed since Israel occupied Gaza Strip (as well as the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights), a pattern of socio-economic relations between the Palestinians and Israel has evolved — a colonial pattern. The Gaza strip, just like the rest of the occupied territories, became a captive market for Israeli goods. The Israeli occupier, relying on its military might, prevented the Palestinians from developing their economy, especially industries such as cement, which might have posed a competition for Israeli industries. At the same time, Gaza was being kept as a huge pool of cheap labor force for the Israeli economy. The winning colonial formula was established: costly Israeli goods for cheap Palestinian labor.
The two Intifadas (Palestinian uprisings) badly damaged this colonial project and severely weakened the Israeli occupation. As a result of this weakening, the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 with the PLO (previously regarded a dreaded foe), and in 2005 the Israeli army and settlers withdrew from the Gaza strip, and several West Bank settlements were dismantled.
The Israeli socio-economic elites, who followed the events closely, have been preparing since the early 1990s for the “Disengagement.” Dov Lautman, president of the Manufacturers Association (Israel’s most powerful employers organization) declared back then that “it doesn’t matter if a Palestinian state will be established, if the territories will win an autonomy, or if they’ll be annexed to other countries — what’s important is that the borders will remain open.” Lautman, who owns the Delta textile plant, understood the inner workings of the occupation very well, and he even openly stated that a “Palestinian state” is a possible option for the future of the occupied territories. This happened more then a decade ago, when the only voice in Israel calling for an establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it came from the small consistent Peace forces.
The Oslo accords, and especially the economic agreements that followed (the Paris accords), gave contractual approval to the redeeming colonial scheme that Lautman formulated. The Paris accords suit exactly the vision dictated by the heads of the Israeli bourgeoisie. The one signing the Paris accords was Finance Minister Abraham (Baiga) Shohat, but the logic according to which the accords were written was Lautman’s. The Israeli Labor Party, including the Prime Ministers elected from its ranks, gave much thought to what would happen next. Shimon Peres, Labor Party veteran leader and Sharon’s right-hand man, often displays his eagerness to put the colonial formula into practice. This is evident in the elaborate ways he talks about “turning Gaza into the Hong Kong of the Middle East,” “setting up joint industrial zones,” “market-oriented peace agreement,” etc.
The actions taken by the Sharon-Peres government after the Gaza withdrawal suit Peres’s vision: closing the Gaza strip to Egyptian import/export of goods, and leaving it open only for Israeli import/export; continuing to prohibit the Palestinians from rebuilding their airport (destroyed by Israeli air force); continuing to prohibit the construction of a naval port (whose infrastructure was bombed by Israeli air force as an “act of retaliation”); and allowing low-paid Palestinian workers into Israel, where they’ll compete with migrant workers.
As of now, the Palestinian Authority is not taking any significant steps towards ending its reliance on Israel and achieving economic independence. The Palestinian Authority’s economic policies have been, for many years, monitored closely by representatives from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the tentacles of capitalist globalizations. The representatives of these international (i.e., American) bodies, together with their Palestinian colleagues, whose worldview was formulated based on neo-liberal economic theory, contribute their part to implementation of the Israeli neo-colonial formula. As it turns out, there are also Palestinians who make profit of — and therefore have interest in — continuing Palestinian reliance on Israeli economy.
The Israeli neo-colonial dream can quickly turn into a Palestinian nightmare: This neo-colonial formula requires a weak and dependant Palestinian economy, very low wages (for the workers employed in the international trade zones), and high unemployment rates to keep wages low. As a matter of fact, Israel’s plan for the Palestinian economy is exactly what the US is already implementing in Israel: an economy run by representatives of the World Bank and IMF, with a thin layer who profits greatly from its services to corporate globalization, and alongside it — mass unemployment and wage erosion.
Efraim Davidi is member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and member of the Histadrut (Israeli trade union federation) leadership. This article was originally published on September 25, 2005 in the website Hagada Hasmalit.