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Tel Aviv University
"Without a "Peace Dividend" Reconciliation is out of Reach." Report from a Palestine Center briefing by Yoav Peled
   
 

"Without a "Peace Dividend" Reconciliation is out of Reach."
Report from a Palestine Center briefing by Yoav Peled

The population of Israel has lost faith in the peace process for many reasons. According to Yoav Peled, professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, the main cause was the disappointment in the promised "peace dividend" which never materialized. Meanwhile, Palestinians are not only lacking a peace dividend, they have been deprived of many of the basic needs of a functional society. Professor of Politics and Gender at Birzeit University Islah Jad described the current status of one such essential segment of society, the educational system, and its disruptions at the hands of Israeli authorities. Peled and Jad discussed these topics at a 1 October 2002 Palestine Center (Palestine Center) briefing.

Peled argued that for either side of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to accept a final settlement, there must be a tangible advantage for taking such an uncertain step, and it must be clearly visible to all. This advantage or incentive is what is known as the peace dividend. To support a peace agreement, the general populace must see how they will immediately benefit. Economic improvement is the kind of peace dividend that everyone, on both sides, will support. Peled argued that the peace process was designed to bring about a leap in prosperity. For Israel, acceptance by its neighbors would enable it to integrate in the local economy and reap the benefits of a huge supply of lower-wage workers in neighboring countries through free trade agreements. Furthermore, it would be able to benefit from globalization by liberalizing its economy and opening up many of its government-supported industries to private investment, which Peled noted it had previously been lacking. For the Palestinians the benefits would be obvious. They would see an end to closures and restrictions on movement, opening up the inter-city trade and commerce, while also gaining unrestricted access to the neighboring countries.

Israel's public sector had always played a huge role in the state economy. Between the government and the Histadrut, the overarching Israeli labor federation, almost half of all Israeli assets were in state hands. To decrease the amount of government interference, Israel had to find a way to decrease its massive military spending.

Peled believes this is the reason that Israel has always implemented economic liberalization and military withdrawal simultaneously. After the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, "Israeli capital began to develop global ambitions." With access to a captive market and cheaper labor force in the Occupied Territories, such expansion had finally became possible. The ruling Labor Party resisted the new pressure to liberalize economically, but when the hard line Likud took over in 1977 they took the unexpected step of making peace with Egypt. This provided the necessary decrease in defense spending and government interference with the economy. Peled pointed to further instances of such coincidence, such as when the Likud-led coalition government (partially) withdrew from Lebanon in 1985 and further liberalized the economy. The first intifada, which began in 1987, took the profitability out of the occupation, and Peled believes that Israel then found it necessary to privatize again. Instead of selling the Occupied Territories to a foreign investor, Israel turned them over to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Jad argued that one of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's prime targets in his military campaign against the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been the Palestinian education system. In the course of fighting "terror," Israel has often directly assaulted schools and educational facilities and frequently imposed conditions that have indirectly damaged these facilities or inhibited access to them. Jad pointed out that Palestinian schools, as well as United Nations (UN) schools, have often been commandeered by Israeli soldiers for use as military bases during an attack or for use as prisoner detention and sorting facilities. Closures and curfews—though they may prevent a Palestinian militant from staging an attack on Israelis—usually prohibit students and teachers from attending school.

Referring to a term coined by Harvard economist Sara Roy, Jad said that the overall assault on the fabric of Palestinian society, exemplified by destruction of civilian ministries, looting of educational and civil records, and severe blockage of free movement of civilian goods and services, contributes to a process of "de-development." The erosion of capital accumulation, accomplished by constantly tying up funds in rebuilding what has been destroyed, and the resulting structural impoverishment will leave Palestinian society with barriers to advancement for years to come. Jad also used the term "socio-cide" to describe a campaign of Israeli attacks which, whatever their nominal target, have most gravely affected the basic underpinnings of society. This is not a new policy pioneered by Sharon's government. During the first intifada, many Palestinian schools were closed for up to two years. Jad recalled how Israeli soldiers would patrol areas under curfew to find children attempting to attend one of the many underground schools that Palestinians had organized. Prospective pupils were told to hide their schoolbooks under their clothes so as not to attract suspicion.

Birzeit University, the leading institution of higher education in the Palestinian territories, has suffered more than most from curfews and closures. For the last eight months Jad said students have not been able to attend classes due to the restrictions on movement. The University has tried to cope by putting classes and materials on the internet.

Until both sides in this conflict see a peace dividend within their reach, whether it is increased prosperity for Israelis or something as simple as uninterrupted education for Palestinians, peace will not be a solution to be sought but rather a mandate to be imposed.

The above text is based on remarks delivered on 1 October 2002 by Islah Jad and Yoav Peled. The speakers' views do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center (Palestine Center) or The Jerusalem Fund. This "For the Record" maybe used without permission but with proper attribution to Palestine Center.

This information first appeared in For the Record No. 132, 3 October 2002.

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