A Palestinian stone-thrower looks on as he stands in front of a fire during clashes with IDF troops in the West Bank village of Duma.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Economics of terrorism Cause and effect relationships that seek to explain terrorism are problematic. Does economic hardship explain why a young Muslim man or woman decides to get behind the wheel of a car and run over pedestrians or to grab a kitchen knife and stab passersby? In the 1990s, many supporters of the Oslo Accords predicted that peace would lead to economic growth that would have a moderating effect on Palestinians. Shimon Peres wrote a book in 1993 called The New Middle East in which he argued that peace could be achieved by improving Palestinians’ economic situation. Israel’s economic prosperity could be a catalyst for reconciliation.
Peres and other optimists underestimated the influence of Islamic fundamentalism and incitement. In a collective act of self-destruction, Palestinians chose terrorism and violence over peace and economic prosperity.
But while we cannot expect economic factors to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is also true that economic discontent plays a role in legitimizing and fostering terrorism.
To this day, acts of terrorism are seen as linked either directly or indirectly to socioeconomic conditions.
On Sunday, a senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) official told the cabinet that economic or personal hardships were the trigger behind most of the Palestinian lonewolf attacks over the past six months.
Since October 1, 270 “significant attacks” – stabbings, shootings and car-rammings – have been carried out, many by “lone wolves.” These attackers killed 33 people – 29 Israelis and four foreigners. Some 250 were wounded.
Obviously, it is absurd to claim that simply because a young man or woman suffers from poverty he or she will carry out an attack. Neither the optimists of the Oslo Accords nor the Shin Bet posit such a thing.
When, however, Palestinian youths are exposed to constant incitement against Israel that is sponsored by their official political leadership, whether it be Hamas or the more “moderate” Palestinian Authority, and when this incitement explicitly blames Israel for the poor economic conditions of Palestinians, inevitably some are driven to commit acts of terrorism, particularly when terrorists are seen in Palestinian society as national heroes.
Therefore, it is significant that the Shin Bet official explained the recent down-tick in attacks as the result of “determined” action to prevent Palestinian incitement.
Still, the fight against Palestinian incitement been carried out and attacks thwarted before they happen while working to maintain as much as possible the normal social fabric of daily life for Palestinians not involved in terrorism.
Under orders from IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, concrete steps have been taken to insure that there is no deterioration of the socioeconomic situation in the West Bank. One of the measures supported by the two men has been to increase the number of permits for Palestinians to work within the Green Line. In February the number of permits was increased from 58,000 to 88,000. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has called to increase the number of permits by 100,000. About 120,000 Palestinians are actually employed – legally and illegally – by Israelis.
Within the military establishment, maintaining a stable economy in the West Bank is seen as having a moderating effect on Palestinian society. The idea is that if Palestinians have a vested interest in calm they will be less likely to support terrorism that results in IDF curfews and roadblocks.
While the optimism of the 1990s might have been exaggerated, it is undeniable that Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live alongside one another with close economic ties. The Palestinian economy is dependent on Israel’s market for goods and services and Israel is dependent on Palestinians for labor and as a market for its goods.
Israel needs to do more to encourage Palestinian economic growth. Security checks for imports and exports to and from the West Bank need to be streamlined; infrastructure projects such as sewage treatment and desalination plants and roads need to be moved forward; others dampers to economic growth need to be removed.
Terrorism might not be motivated primarily by socioeconomic factors. Economic instability and discontent, however, make the job of the inciters much easier. Our leaders should do their best to make Palestinians’ lives easier, not just because it is good for business but because it saves lives.