‘Palestine’ in perspective

The unflattering comparison that Mitt Romney drew between the accomplishments of Israelis and Palestinians may have some merit.

US Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers foreign policy remarks in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers foreign policy remarks in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“A Newsweek investigation reveals abuses at almost every level of the Palestinian Authority. Many top ministers staff their offices with cronies, dole out valuable contracts without oversight and create their own monopolies, which crush competition and drive up prices paid by hard-pressed consumers. The courts are powerless... 14 separate police forces enforce the whims of PA officials rather than laws aimed at protecting ordinary Palestinians.” – Newsweek International, June 19, 2000
“If you trawl through comparative global economic and social statistics, it is not difficult to paint a bleak picture of Arab failure, based on a broad pattern of underperformance in investment, productivity, trade, education, social development and even culture [sic]. The total manufacturing exports of the entire Arab world have recently been below those of the Philippines (with less than one-third the population) or Israel (with a population not much bigger than Riyadh’s” – The Economist, July 23, 2009 In a recent Washington Post op-ed, entitled “The Palestine Romney doesn’t know,” Zahi Khouri – who identified himself as a proud American/hardworking businessman/job creator/faithful Christian/Palestinian – took serious umbrage at the unflattering comparison that Mitt Romney, on his recent visit to Jerusalem, drew between the accomplishments of Palestinian society relative to those of Israeli society.
The most charitable way to characterize his attempt to contradict Romney’s assertion would be to dub it “highly partisan.”
Indeed, whether the result of deliberate distortion or innocent ignorance, the entire article was a gross misrepresentation of facts, both past and present.
Gross misrepresentation of facts
THE WEAKNESS of Khouri’s arguments is apparent from the very outset. He launches into his endeavor to invalidate the foundations of Israel’s achievement, which has placed the country on the cutting edge of human endeavor in science and technology in fields as diverse as medicine, telecommunications, irrigation and water treatment, by trying to belittle its contribution to... citrus farming.
So while Khouri is correct that the Jaffa orange (also known as the “shamouti”) was developed originally by Arab farmers, his allegation that the prestige of the Jaffa brand has been “expropriated” by the Jews seems somewhat inappropriate.
In his “Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development” in Palestine (1930), compiled for the British authorities – a document in no way sympathetic to the Zionist enterprise – Sir John Hope-Simpson wrote the following on the topic of the “Origin of orange cultivation”: “The cultivation of the orange, introduced by the Arabs before the commencement of Jewish settlement, has developed to a very great extent in consequence of that settlement. There is no doubt that the pitch of perfection to which the technique of plantation and cultivation of the orange and grapefruit have been brought in Palestine is due to the scientific methods of the Jewish agriculturist.”
Clearly then, although it seems that citrus growing was originated by the Arabs, it was the Jews who developed it into a major industry.
So even if Khouri’s claim that “Jaffa oranges are a Palestinian [read “Arab”], not Israeli [read “Jewish”], trademark” has a smattering of historical truth to it, we are still left to puzzle over why other Arab countries on the eastern Mediterranean coast – such as Lebanon and Syria – where Jaffa oranges are grown, never developed the industry in the same way as the Israelis did.
The heritage of humous
ALMOST COMICALLY, Khouri tries to attribute an absurd misconception to Romney, of which he then tries to disabuse him. He accuses Romney of being “duped into thinking that oranges, falafel and humous – staples of Palestinian cuisine for generations – are Israeli products.”
It is difficult to know what is more staggering: whether Khouri actually believes Romney’s praise for Israel’s achievement is predicated on his misconception of the true origins of unscrupulously plundered recipes for the preparation of chickpeas (falafel and humous); or whether he believes that said recipes somehow prove that Palestinian accomplishment is comparable to that of Israel in, among other things, computer sciences, electronics, genetics, medical equipment and drugs, optics, solar energy, bio-technology, aeronautics, agriculture and agricultural engineering.
With all due respect to humous, is this what Khouri is really raising as the flagship of Palestinian enterprise?
Attributing agricultural acumen
INDEED, THE choice of agriculture seems an injudicious choice of activity by which to try and illustrate Israeli-Palestinian parity.
Sir John Hope-Simpson again, on agricultural development in Mandatory Palestine: “The condition of the Arab fellah [farmer] is little if at all superior to what it was under the Turkish regime.
No definite policy of agricultural development of the country held by the Arabs has been adopted.”
By contrast, he reported that: “The sole agencies which have pursued such a consistent policy have been the Jewish [ones], public and private. With this exception agricultural progress of any kind has been haphazard and of small extent or value. The Jewish settlers have had every advantage that capital, science and organization could give them.
To these and to the energy of the settlers themselves their remarkable progress is due.”
Over half a century later, and after three decades of allegedly oppressive Jewish “imposed hindrances,” the agricultural activities of the Palestinians had been transformed dramatically. In his largely Arabophilic treatise on the hydrology of the Middle East, Rivers of Eden (Oxford University Press), acclaimed agricultural expert and 2012 World Food Prize laureate Dan Hillel describes this metamorphosis: “The Israeli occupation changed local agriculture profoundly. It introduced modern technology, including mechanization, precision tillage, pest control, plastic covering of crops for temperature control, high yielding varieties, postharvest processing of produce, marketing, and export outlets. It also introduced efficient methods of irrigation, including sprinkler and especially drip irrigation. Consequently, output increased greatly, and farming was transformed from a subsistence enterprise to a commercial industry.”
Indeed, up to the signing of the Oslo agreements, the area of land under cultivation by the Palestinian Arabs more than doubled under “Israel oppression,” and the agricultural output increased 12-fold!
'Occupation' and education
KHOURI GOES on to make the following breathtaking contention: “Ask our fellow Arabs in Lebanon, Jordan or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region and they will tell you: Palestinian culture, with its premium on education and hard work, has been a force for hope, development and prosperity.”
Premium on education? Really? Virtually the entire system of higher education in the “West Bank” and Gaza was created post-“occupation.” Indeed, prior to “occupation,” there were no institutions of higher learning of any significance in the “West Bank” or Gaza (including Bir Zeit, which was originally established in 1924 as a girls’ school but only attained full university status in the 1970s), leaving us to ponder how this professed Palestinian “premium on education” expressed itself.
“Palestinian culture... a force for hope, development and prosperity”? I guess Khouri must have missed the 2011 piece entitled “The Palestinians’ Long Wait in Lebanon” in The New York Times – hardly a Zionist mouthpiece – on the plight of the Palestinians in that country.
It describes the fierce discrimination, dubbed by one Arab journalist as “apartheid,” that has left the Palestinians in dire poverty and resulted in crushing unemployment – over 60% of the workforce.
He probably didn’t spot the determination of the immigration judge cited in Ahmed v. Ashcroft (Third Circuit, US Appeals Court) which specified “Palestinians in Saudi Arabia are relegated to officially sanctioned second-class status incorporated into the legal and social structure of Saudi Arabia.”
Likewise, the polls that show that the majority of the Palestinians resident in the Arab world would like to acquire the citizenship of their county of residence must have escaped his attention, as apparently did the Los Angeles Times interview (January 4, 2004) with Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef.
In it, Youssef unabashedly declared that the Palestinians’ “fellow Arabs” were deliberately prohibiting them from attaining the citizenship they desired and keeping them “in very bad conditions” – read “penury and privation” – so as to “to preserve their Palestinian identity.”
So it would seem that the Palestinians’ “fellow Arabs” express their view of the Palestinians as “a force for hope… and prosperity” by holding them in a state of despair and destitution. Go figure.
Christians under Palestinian culture
AS A “faithful Christian” he seems curiously unaware of – or unconcerned by – the ravages his co-religionists have been forced to endure under “Palestinian culture.”
While Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where the Christian population has increased (over four-fold since independence) it has been drastically eroded in the Palestinian-administrated areas. A recent report in The Guardian (December 23, 2011) reported that in Gaza celebrating Christmas and displaying crucifixes are taboo, and described how the remnants of the minuscule Christian population live in constant fear.
But such harassment has not been confined to the Hamas-dominated Gaza. Indeed, shortly after the commencement of the Palestinian Authority’s rule, The Times of London (“Tensions darken festive mood in Bethlehem” – December 22, 1997) wrote of the dire predicament of the Christians under that regime: “Life in Bethlehem has become insufferable for many members of the dwindling Christian minorities. Increasing Muslim-Christian tensions have left some Christians reluctant to celebrate Christmas in the town at the heart of the story of Christ’s birth.”
The paper cited reports that “[Christian] cemeteries have been destroyed, monasteries broken into, and their telephone lines disconnected.” It conveyed the grave concern expressed by Dr. George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury, who “said after a visit to the Holy Land in 1993: ‘My fear is that in 15 years Jerusalem [and] Bethlehem – once centres of a strong Christian presence – might become a kind of Walt Disney Christian theme park.’”
If not culture – then what?
KHOURI’S PENCHANT for self-aggrandizement exposes his lack of perception and proportion. He boasts: “I returned to Palestine in 1993 to launch the first Coca- Cola bottling plant in the West Bank. It was granted a Best Country Bottling Operation award in May by Coca-Cola, a testament to my colleagues’ ingenuity and determination.”
While Khouri should be commended on his success, a plant for topping up bottles of foreign-sourced soft drink, however well-run, is – with all due respect – hardly a staggering industrial achievement in the second decade of the 21st century. Not really on the cusp of creative advancement.
Is Khouri really suggesting it is somehow indicative of the comparable energy and enterprise that launched leading industrial giants such as Teva, Elbit, Checkpoint, Israel Aerospace Industries – to name but a few examples of Israeli entrepreneurship? There are, of course, refined, erudite and capable Palestinians and Khouri is – in all likelihood – one of them. But sadly, these manifestations of individual competence and acumen do not seem to translate into societal success – either within the Palestinian world, or in the wider Arab world of which they claim they are part.
Indeed, as Tom Friedman pointed out in a rare moment of intellectual integrity, “One reason the Arab world has stagnated while Asia has thrived is that the Arabs had no good local models to follow.” (New York Times, April 3, 2012).
This is a point driven home by The Economist, which notes that: “From 1980 to 2000 Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Jordan between them registered 367 patents in the United States.
Over the same period South Korea alone registered 16,328 and Israel 7,652. The number of books translated into Arabic every year in the entire Arab world is one-fifth the number translated by Greece into Greek.”
It is of course, not immediately obvious how one could compile a compelling case to attribute such dismal culture-wide under-achievement to “Israel’s imposed hindrances.”A culture of denial?
KHOURI’S VENOM verges on the ludicrous when he snipes spitefully: “Israel did not make the desert bloom.” After all, even the briefest visit to the inhospitably arid regions of the Arava and Negev would suffice to repudiate Khouri’s mendacious malice.
It would reveal not only tens of thousands of hectares of extensive dry farming, producing tens of thousands of metric tons of grain, but also modern, cutting-edge greenhouses and the flourishing, innovatively irrigated orchards that yield impressive quantities of some of world’s finest horticulture produce – most for export markets in the West.
Deserts, Mr. Khouri, don’t come much more blooming than that.
But resolutely impervious to readily visible fact, Khouri brings the non sequitur to rarely attained levels when he appears – inexplicably – to attribute the astounding – and globally acknowledged – success of Israeli agriculture “to a deal struck with the British viceroys of Mandate Palestine” almost seven decades ago.
Grudgingly, Khouri admits that “Israelis far outdo Palestinians in net wealth. In fact, [Romney’s] estimates of the disparity were too conservative: Israel’s per capita gross domestic product is roughly $32,000 to the Palestinians’ $1,500.”
He goes on to observe, correctly, that “Remarkably, that $1,500 figure is roughly half of what Palestinians claimed in 1993, when the Oslo accords were signed” but then, somewhat discordantly as “a proud American,” gripes that “the US-sponsored peace process has made us poorer.”
This of course is a baseless grievance that flies in the face of facts. For in fact the US had no hand in brokering the Oslo deal, which was the unfortunate product of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – although later it did contribute generously to Palestinian coffers in a vain effort to help it succeed – somehow making Palestinians poorer.
So while it is indeed true that Palestinians did fare far better under Israeli “occupation” than under their own corrupt, cruel and less-than-competent regime, this is attributable – exclusively – to their own deeds and misdeeds; to what they did and to what they did not do.
But rather than recognize Palestinian responsibility for the Palestinians’ plight, Khouri typically adopts the well-known Palestinian stratagem of blaming everyone and anyone – the British, the US the Israelis – except themselves for their own unenviable plight.
Water-the dry facts
ONE OF the most galling allegations that Khouri hurls is that Palestinians are being deprived of water by Israel.
On the contrary, the Palestinians’ hydrological situation has improved beyond all recognition under Israeli administration, not only in absolute terms compared to initial pre-“occupation” conditions, but in relative terms compared to that of Israelis.
Whether one focuses on overall consumption of fresh water; per capita consumption of fresh water; consumption of fresh water relative to Israelis; accessibility of running water to households; the area under agricultural cultivation; or the size of the agricultural product, the conditions for the Palestinians were dramatically enhanced by Israeli rule.
Moreover, from 1967 to the years just before Oslo, Palestinian household consumption of water rose precipitously – by almost 600%, significantly higher than the 230% rise in Israel.
Similarly, water conveyance to households also increased impressively. Whereas in 1967 only 10% of the “West Bank” Arab population was connected to a running water system, the figure today stands at 95%. So much for discriminatory deprivation! As mentioned, Palestinian agricultural performance improved spectacularly as well – both in terms of area cultivated and quantities produced, even though water allocations were not increased. (Significantly, in recent years Israeli farmers have had their freshwater allocations slashed by 50% and more.)
Demand not discrimination
KHOURI COMPLAINS that “[i]n the West Bank, for example, Israeli settlers consume on average 4.3 times the amount of water as Palestinians.”
However, he fails to mention that Israel conveys more water from inside the pre- 1967 borders into the “West Bank” than the total consumption of the entire Jewish population in the settlements across the “Green Line.” In other words, there is a net inflow of water from pre-1967 Israel to the Palestinians, which more than compensates for the settlers’ sorely maligned lawns and swimming pools.
Indeed, while claims that per-capita consumption of water by Israelis is much higher than that of the Palestinian population are true, this is principally a result of differences in demand – not supply – because of differences in lifestyles. (Clearly, the fact that a millionaire in an opulent penthouse in Manhattan will use far less water than an equally affluent owner of a sprawling estate in Bel Air is not a matter of discriminatory deprivation.) Significantly different rates of consumption are found between the Jewish and Arab populations within pre-1967 Israel – and between different socio-economic groups within the Jewish population – without anyone raising the claim that this is the result of purposeful deprivation.
Interestingly, per-capita consumption in the frequently vilified settlement of Kiryat Arba is 25% lower than in the Beduin city of Rahat – and 90% lower than in up-market Savyon. What perverse discrimination does that indicate?
“Imagine our potential without Israel’s hindrances…”
ACCORDING TO Khouri: “Palestinian development of all kinds is severely hindered by the Israeli occupation.” In fact, it soared under Israeli administration and wilted under Palestinian rule.
He continues, “Yet Palestinians have not given up. Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world” – forgetting to note that is was under Israeli administration that literacy rose precipitously.
He claims that “Our youth continue to graduate from our universities” but fails to mention that none of these existed prior to 1967.
He crows that Palestinians are “opening businesses and gaining skills. Our private sector innovates and grows” – when in fact, despite massive international aid – among the highest per capita in the world – the Palestinian economy is still unsustainable, comprised mainly of a bloated public sector and a minuscule private one, generating a GDP dramatically lower than disposable income.
He concludes his duplicitous diatribe with the following words: “If Romney had any historical perspective, he would dispose of his racist judgments about Palestinian culture and instead imagine our potential without Israel’s imposed hindrances.”
Apart from the fact that Romney of course never made any reference to race, but rather to culture, there is really no need for him to imagine how a Palestinian-dominant society would fare “without Israel’s imposed hindrances.” All he needs to do is look at Jordan, where the Palestinians comprise a clear majority, and at the performance of the Jordanian economy, which is manifestly unencumbered by “Israel’s imposed hindrances.”
What he would find is a GDP per capita barely one eighth that of Israel’s – hardly something that helps Khouri make his case.
It does, however, help Romney make his.Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.