In a Press-Conference held in Beirut
Al-Zaytouna Centre Releases the Executive Summary of the Palestinian Strategic Report 2009 and the Expected Scenarios for 2010
>> Click here for the full Executive Summary (32 pages, available in html, doc and pdf formats)
>> See also: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2008 available fully for free download (384 pages)
“With all the different involved parties betting on the time-factor to tilt the developments towards their own favor and interests, the Palestinian issue is not expected to witness a drastic change until one of the parties ‘cries out first.’ Till then, the stalemate situation in all relevant tracks of peace settlement, resistance, national reconciliation, and siege that prevailed throughout the majority of the year 2009 is expected to continue; and the year 2010 will be shrouded in ambiguity, while possibilities remain for unexpected surprising developments.”
The above was the opening statement by which Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, the General Manager of the Beirut-based think tank Al-Zaytouna Centre, released the executive summary of the Palestinian Strategic Report for 2009 and the expected scenarios for 2010, in a press conference in Beirut. The conference included speeches by Mohammad Ba’albaki, head of the Lebanese Press Federation; Munir Shafiq, the general coordinator of the National Islamic Conference and one the consultants of the Report; in addition to Saleh’s presentation.
Published annually by Al-Zaytouna Centre, the Palestinian Strategic Report (PSR) is an academic edited volume that documents and analyzes the developments of the Palestinian issue on a yearly basis, in eight major aspects: the internal Palestinian scene, the Israeli scene and the Israeli–Palestinian relations, the Arab, Muslim and the international stances towards the Palestinian issue, the Land and holy sites, the Palestinian demographic indicators, and the economic situation in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS). The Report is additionally supported with tables, figures and charts. It is highly regarded in the academic arena of Palestinian Studies, as it is considered one of the most updated and comprehensive references on the issue.
According to the 350-pages PSR 2009, the tracks of the peace process, resistance, reconciliation and siege have experienced in 2009 stagnation and impasse, and this status is expected to continue in 2010. Various centers of power seem to bet that time will be on their side, thus they, so to speak, continued to play the game of “mutual finger biting.” Until one of them “yells,” the year 2010 will somehow be obscure and liable for surprises. All major parties of the Palestinian issue are currently suffering crises of different magnitudes on the Palestinian, Arab, Israeli and International levels. These crises might compel some sides to take action, as soon as they sense threats of developments against their favor.
The possibility of another Israeli war on GS is quite viable, and there are repeated news of an Israeli attack on Hizbullah and strikes against Syria and Iran. Israel employs war as a vehicle of political blackmailing, or as a means of deterrence. But it could gamble by launching a war, particularly on what it considers the “weak circle,” i.e., GS, if it becomes ready for this, and have prepared “the theatre of operations” or the local, regional and international environment for such an aggression. But the region may be dragged into war in case of sudden embarrassing developments, such as a quality strike against Israel, Hamas in GS, Hizbullah in Lebanon or Iran; when nobody will be able to control the expected far-reaching reactions.
The Internal Palestinian Scene
On the internal Palestinian level, PSR 2009 describes the continued division between Fatah and Hamas not as a mere struggle for power, but rather essentially as a reflection of deeper political differences. It is a conflict between two visions that have thus far been unable to reconcile on issues related to ideologies, priorities of the national struggle, the way of managing the conflict with the occupation, resistance and peace settlement track, and the ways of adjusting to the Arab regimes and the international community.
The current given within the internal Palestinian scene does not furnish for a real national reconciliation, except by overcoming three main touchstones: to put the Palestinian political system in order and to be based on a genuine national agenda; without any external interference, and according to the priorities of the national concern.; Second, any resulting agreement should be comprehensive, deals with all the pending issues and be implemented along parallel lines; third, a confidence-building program should be implemented on the ground well before the elections, e.g., the release of the detainees on both sides, secure all kinds of freedom, reopen the closed institutions and to open the ministries and institutions of the PA and the PLO to all Palestinians in accordance with their qualifications and commitment to the national causes.
The PSR 2009 notes the steadfastness and bravery of the Palestinian resistance during the Israeli aggression on GS (27/12/2008–18/1/2009) have increased the popularity of Hamas, its government and the resistance trend in general along both the political and media levels; while the political performance of the PLO and PA leadership in Ramallah remained weak. Yet, the “glow” of the resistance has faded away in a futile Palestinian, Arab and International environment that was incapable of investing it. The siege resumed on GS aggravating the suffering with additional devastating destruction caused by the war, this led to unprecedented misery and hardship among the people of GS. As for the capital allocated by the donors for the reconstruction of GS, over five billion dollars, it was not allowed to enter the GS; in fact it was used as a means to exert political pressure on Hamas’ dismissed government and blackmailing it.
The Israeli-Palestinian Scene
With respect to the negotiations track, the most that the Israelis could offer for the sake of peace is still less than what is acceptable to the most “moderates” among the Palestinians, and there is no visible and real American desire to exercise pressure on Israel. Hence, the project of peace faces a profound and prospective deadlock, which may open the way in future for the eruption of a new resistance drive, increasing awareness that the self-governing Authority has lost its raisons d’être, or even the demise of the notion of two states and the call for a single state with dual nationalities. Such possible developments will certainly affect the sequence of events in the coming years.
With regards to the Israeli domestic affairs, the PSR 2009 notes the right-winged extremist inclination within the Israeli political arena. The 2009 Knesset elections led to the formation of one of the most-extremist governments in the history of Israel, i.e., the current Israel government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli military establishment was preoccupied by five major obsessions in 2009: the internal Palestinian situation, Iran and its nuclear program, the security dimensions of the new American administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East, and the armament of what Israel calls the “radical groups” in the region, in an obvious reference to Hamas and Hizbullah, and, finally, the issue of stability in the neighboring Arab countries. The declared Israeli military budget for the year 2009 amounted to around $12.4 billion (US dollars), expected yet to increase in 2010 to $13.5 billion; let alone undisclosed items that are usually excluded from the budget, including the revenues of armament sales that are estimated by no less than $2 billion.
The PSR 2009 noted the continued pattern of general decline in the number of immigrants to Israel since 2000. Although the number increased slightly from 13,699 in 2008 to 14,564 in 2009, it is still in range with the average number of emigrants leaving Israel, which is estimated by 10 thousand persons annually.
Both the Israeli exports and imports had decreased during the year 2009, by 27% and 22% respectively, while the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reached about $200 billion. The GDP per capita was estimated by $27 thousand. When compared to the Palestinian GDP per capita of $1,327, these figures reveal the extent of the occupation’s economic abuse of the Palestinian resources, and the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation.
The Israeli Aggression and the Palestinian Resistance
Israel continued during the year 2009 its violations against the Palestinian people. These violations climaxed in the Israeli aggression on GS, known as Operation Cast Lead.
The total number of Palestinians who died in 2009 as a result of Israeli fire was estimated by 1,181 Palestinians, of whom 1,148 were in GS and 33 in the WB and Jerusalem. Amongst the killed, there were 473 under the age of eighteen and 126 women. Another 4,203 Palestinians were wounded, amongst whom 3,521 were from GS alone, and 682 from the WB.
By the end of the year, the total number of Palestinian prisoners detained by the occupation was estimated by 7,500, amongst whom there were 34 women, 310 children, 17 members of parliament, two ministers and several political leaders.
On the other hand, statistics by the Israeli Security Agency indicated the death of 15 Israelis and injury of other 234, as a result of Palestinian resistance operations in 2009. Among the injured, 185 were injured during the aggression on GS. According to Israeli sources, the launching of rockets and missiles from GS at the surrounding Jewish settlements and towns had substantially decreased, from 2,048 reported rockets and missiles in 2008, to 566 in 2009; of which 406 were during the war on Gaza.
The Palestinian Issue and the Arab World
The impotence of the official Arab regime(s) towards the Palestinian issue has persisted in the year 2009, even more visible than previous years. The Arabs were incapable of lifting the siege off GS or helping the besieged territory in its reconstruction efforts; neither they were able to end the Palestinian state of schism or put a limit to the Israeli violations against the Palestinian people and land, including the Judaization and settlement activities in Jerusalem.
The year 2010 is not expected to bring any substantial difference on this level. For the problems and predicaments that the Arab regime has been exposed to, are expected to continue in 2010, which makes its role far less than its potentials. The special agendas and the local preoccupations of each state are expected to dominate at the expense of the joint Arab effort to serve the Palestinian cause.
The Palestinian Issue and the Muslim World
Although the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) had not taken any viable action in support of the Palestinian cause, except for condemnations; the Muslim World had increasingly sympathized and interacted with the Palestinian cause, particularly during the Israeli aggression on GS. The public sectors played a major role in this respect, organizing media and political campaigns in support of the Palestinian rights, and launching active drives to collect donations for the Palestinians, especially in Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia, which indicates the centrality of the Palestinian issue in the hearts and minds of the Muslim masses. However, the Palestinian schism has negatively affected the overall Muslim interactions with the cause.
The PSR 2009 considers more specifically the stances of two Muslim countries in this respect, Iran and Turkey.
Iran has continued to support Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. This support is expected to continue in 2010, albeit it will ultimately be affected by Iran’s economic conditions, and by the extent of its preoccupation with the internal affairs, in addition, of course, to the Palestinian developments.
In Turkey, significant developments have taken place, at both official and public levels, in support for the Palestinians and for a gradual disengagement from Israel. The report argues that under the leadership of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, Turkey no longer feels the need to maintain its relationship with Israel, particularly so after it has re-arranged its regional connections especially with Syria and Iran. But this disengagement with Israel is bound to be gradual because of the deeply rooted military and commercial ties between the two.
The Palestinian Issue and the International Situation
The international diplomacy was unable to achieve in 2009 a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue and the peace track. Similarly, the international community failed to ease the strangling siege imposed on GS, and to meet its undertakings to reconstruct the GS that had been destroyed by the Israeli aggression of late 2008 and early 2009; with the estimated damage costs amounting to $4.5 billion.
The Report notes that the United States has for sometime been in a state of unprecedented weakness compared to previous decades. Nonetheless, the Palestinian side in particular and the Arab regime in general had “failed” to take advantage of this American weakness to achieve a breakthrough in the Palestinians issue.
As for the international community, the Report mentions the increased public support for the Palestinian cause. But the likelihood is that 2010 will be an extension to previous years, whereby the international effort will stay focused on “convincing” Israel through dialogue to accept freezing the settlement, partition of Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state, without, however, implementing practical measures to effectively pressure Israel. Hence, the Israeli side is not expected to change in 2010 its intransigent position and uncompromising strategy.
On the other hand, the international community will continue its attempts to trigger the Arab states towards increased normalization with Israel, and to direct their efforts towards other issues such as Iran or the so-called “terrorist” organizations, besides guaranteeing the official Arab regimes’ silence on a possible new Israeli aggression on Lebanon or GS, and the continued besiegement of GS. This siege is likely to continue during 2010, unless and until Hamas drastically changes its strategic orientations, regardless of whether it signs the Egyptian reconciliation document or not.
The Land and Holy Sites
The Israeli authorities have continued to actively pursue their policy of Judaizing Jerusalem and seizing the holy sites, most importantly Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Report warned against the increasing rate of such activities that was clearly visible in 2009, the Israelis stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque 43 times, during the period 21/8/2008-21/8/2009; almost double those of the previous two years, i.e., 21 storming per year. Excavations beneath the Mosque area and around have also increased, with 25 excavation sites in August 2009, 13 of which were complete and 12 in progress. Such excavations, the Report added, should be viewed seriously as they might have also extended westwards to reach the holy site of the Dome of the Rock.
In the same venue, the occupation authorities continued in pursuing their policy of house demolitions to reduce the Arab Jerusalemite population. According to the report, 82 houses were demolished in 2009 while another 8 thousand houses were marked for demolition. Among these houses are hundreds of houses in Al-Bustan area where the occupation is planning to expel around 1,500 Palestinian in order to build what it calls “Ancient City of David.”
With regards to the settlement activity in the West Bank, the report indicates that the number of settlements in the West Bank is currently 199 settlement, including 34 in East Jerusalem; in addition to 232 unauthorized settlement outposts, inhabited by an estimated population of 540 thousand settlers.
Construction works in the Separation Wall were very limited during 2009, as no new sections of the wall were constructed; but the layering of foundations has continued, although at a slow pace.
The Israeli occupation authorities have continued to exploit the Palestinian natural resources, most significantly water resources. In WB, estimates indicate the Israeli exploit of 82% of renewable water resources, i.e. underground water. The average Israeli individual’s share of water is about 300 liters daily, that is quadruple the average share of the Palestinian individual, estimated at no more than 73 liters.
Talking about GS, the Report notes that Israel still occupies around 24% of the its land, by declaring it a “buffer zone”; thus isolating around 1.5 million Palestinians in an area of barely 275 km2, i.e., a population density of 5,447 individuals/km2, that is the highest population density in the world.
The Palestinian Demographic Indicators
Based on estimates by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the total number of Palestinians at the end of 2009 was around 10.9 million; of whom more than half i.e., 5.63 million (51.8%) live in the Diaspora, and the rest (48.2%) in historical Palestine. The latter are distributed as follows: about 1.25 million in the Israel, about 3.99 million in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, distributed as 2.48 million (62.1%) in the West Bank and 1.51 million (37.9%) in GS.
As for the refugees, the Report estimates that around 70% of the Palestinians (7.55 millions) are effectively refugees, although only 4.74 million were registered in the records of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by the end of August 2009. Many refugees are not included in the UNRWA records either because they hold other nationalities, do not need its service, or they are not residing in places where it operates, such as the Gulf States, European Union and the United States.
If the Palestinian population growth continues at its current rate, the numbers of Palestinians and Jews in historical Palestine will be the same by the end of 2015; each group will be approximately 6.2 millions; but by 2020, the percentage of Jews would be 48.8%, with forecasts of Jewish and Palestinian populations then to be about 6.8 and 7.1 million respectively.
The Economic Situation in the WB and GS
The GDP in the Palestinian Territories in 2009 has increased by 5%, reaching $4.9 billion, from $4.64 billion in 2008. The GDP per capita, accordingly, increased by 2.9%, from $1,290 in 2008 to $1,327. This increase however does not necessarily reflect a real economic growth according to the Report, as its majority is attributed to the flow of foreign aid. Unemployment rates remained high, only improving slightly from 26% in 2008 to 24.5% in 2009. These rates vary significantly between the GS and WB where in the GS the unemployment rate is estimated by 42.3%, i.e. double that in the WB (17.8%). Not to mention that the Palestinian economy continues to suffer from the Israeli occupation practices, especially the siege of GS and movement restrictions in the WB, due to the checkpoints, barriers, and the Separation Wall.
The Report states that the PA has suffered in 2009 from a serious economic crisis because many donors failed to provide the donations they pledged. Donations constitute the Authority’s most important source of revenues, on which it depends to manage its affairs, including the payment of the salaries of government personnel. The Palestinian budget deficit, after including the donation revenues, was estimated by $481 million in 2009; compared to a surplus of $280 million in 2008. This retreat is mainly due to the shrinking of donations and external funding by approximately 49.8%, from $1.76 billion in 2008 to 878.6 million in 2009.
>> Click here for the full Executive Summary (32 pages, available in html, doc and pdf formats)
>> See also: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2008 available fully for free download (384 pages)
The Palestinian Strategic Report is published in both Arabic and English, and it has become an essential reference for those concerned with the Palestinian issue, including academics, policy-makers, and journalists; because of its comprehensive coverage of the various aspects of the Palestinian issue on an annual basis, in a scientific well-documented and professional approach.
Al-Zaytouna Centre is an independent think tank that is based in Beirut. It focuses on strategic and futuristic studies, with special emphasis on the Palestinian issue.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, Beirut, 10/3/2010