Co-Written By Mahmoud Alshrafi and Professor M. Adil Khan
In September 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York, the member states adopted the 2015-2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,the global framework of development. Underpinned by the principle of ‘Leave No One Behind’ the Agenda has set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 169 targets and 230 indicators.
The outstanding feature of the Agenda or the SDGs is that the goals are inter-connected where ‘development’ is defined holistically, not just in economic but also in social and environmental terms.
Another important feature the Agenda 2030 is the SDGs are global meaning that the goals apply equally to all countries, developing and developed and that implementation of the goals warrants active cooperation of all countries and engagement of all parties – government, private sector and non-government organizations,within and across nations.
The Year 2020 is a milestone year for SDGs as this year progress of implementation of the goals, successes and difficulties would be assessed globally to learn lessons and give guidance/assistanceto countries that are faltering.
Palestine’s tryst with SDGs
Palestine, a ‘UN Non-Member Observer’ State joined other UN member states and signed on SDGs as the pathway of their future development. Accordingly, Palestinian Authority (PA), the governing entity of Palestine mainstreamed SDGs in their own development policies in early 2016 and formed a national SDGs team to plan, implement and monitor progress of implementation of the goals.
So far so good. However, it must be remembered that Palestine is not a normal state, nor it is a fully independent country and given that it is in one of world’s vicious conflict zones and that it functions under unique and if not the most challenging of economic, political and social conditions, its aspirations for SDGs though legitimate, are stacked against many odds.
Palestine’s political, economic and social contexts
On November 29, 1948,the UN Resolution 181 (II) ended the British mandate in Palestine. The Resolution gave the UN the mandate to partition Palestine and establish, after a transition period, two separate states and a special territory namely, “Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem” under the international authority.
More than seven decades have passed,while a fully functioning Jewish state of Israel has been established, establishment of a fully functioning independent Palestine state is yet to be materialized. On the other hand, the UN Resolution 181 (II) has caused immeasurable miseries to the Palestinians.
For the Palestinians, the UN Resolution 181 (II) has turned out to what they call, “Nakba” (catastrophe). With the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel, a campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli settlers resulting in eviction of 800,000 Palestinians from their homes, thousands murdered in cold blood and Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, ensued.
Jewish settlements on Palestinian land that began in 1948 and accelerated since 1967 Arab/Israeli war– the War resulted in capture of large swaths of Arab/Palestinian land by Israel – have altered the economy, geography and demography of Palestine beyond recognition.
In terms of area, present-day Palestine is a moth-eaten fragment of what UN conceived in 1947.
Furthermore, many of the so-called peace agreements that have proliferated in the aftermath of 1967 Arab/Israeli war have resulted in capture and forceful annexation by Israel of more and more Palestinian land and subjugation of its economy and society, at multiple levels. For example, the 1994 Paris Protocol (also called Protocol on Economic Relations) which is part of the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995 has since subjected Palestine to numerous restrictions.
Israel now controls Palestine’s exports and imports and decides what goes in and out of Palestine. In addition, Israel has also imposed restrictions on movement of people within and across Palestine.
While restrictions on import and export have stifled Palestine’s capacity to develop its economy on its own, other controls such as movement of people, goods and services have impeded internal trade between its two territories -the Gaza Strip and West Bank–, which are separated by a landmass occupied by Israel.
These restrictions have had devastating effects on the Palestinian economy especially that these agreements have made Palestine increasingly and permanently dependent on Israel for most of its consumables especially essentials to the extent that Israeli products now account for 70% of all marketed goods in Palestine.
Furthermore, the Paris Accord has also restricted PA from having its own central bank and its own currency. This has resulted in Palestine using Shekel, Israel’s currency as the currency of exchange,deepening further Palestine’s dependence on Israel and Israel’s colonial control over the Palestinian economy.
In addition, given that Palestine has very few if not virtually no plausible avenues to raise its own resources, Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestine’s ruling authority faces chronic budget deficits which it meets mainly through foreign aid. However, since Israel also controls release of aid money to PA arbitrary interruptions are common occurrences,causing delay and at times, loss of up to 70% of aid allocations.Furthermore, Paris Accord has also authorized Israel to collect Palestine’s taxes and custom duties on its behalf and its release to PA as well. Here also Israel arbitrarily withholds release of money,at times depriving Palestine its own money in time. For example, recently Israeli Cabinet voted to withhold $43 million of $170 million of Palestinian tax money on the excuse that the money “would have promoted violence.”
These and other examples reveal that Israel’s control over Palestine is complete and debilitating and what is quite despicable is that Israel often uses the excuse of terrorism to justify these restrictions – a heinous ploy where victims of persecution are portrayed as villains.
Finally, the rift between Fattah and Hamas, the two Palestinian ruling entities that rule separately West Bank and Gaza respectively, has virtually split the territory into these two separate entities and this is not helping the cause of Palestine either. The rift has been compounded further by the intermittent violence that often erupts between the Israeli Army and the Palestinian protestors causing deaths and injuries to Palestinians, some as young as 10-year old. The violence is also contributing to destructions of homes and properties of Palestinians in regular intervals, disrupting normal functioning of life and livelihood especially in Gaza where anti-Israeli protests are more vociferous.
Just to illustrate how all-encompassing and complete Israeli restrictions on Palestinians are, here is a personal account of Mahmoud Alshrafi, the Principal Author of this article, a young Palestinian from Gaza:
I met my wife, a citizen of Kuwait, years ago. We decided to get married while I was completing my Master of Development Practice degree in Australia. As per Kuwaiti Law, when a Kuwaiti citizen decides to marry a foreigner, which I am, he or she must get the approval of the government. My wife applied for the permission and approval process took almost a year and a half. Kuwaiti government gave us 3 months from the date of approval, starting in June 2018 and ending in September 2018 to register and/or get married. Given the time permitted was too short to organise a full-fledged wedding, myself and my fiancée decided to register our marriage in Amman/Jordan and hold the formal wedding ceremony in Kuwait, sometime later. I desperately wanted my parents to be by our side at the wedding registration event in Amman. However, due to the complications in obtaining travel permit from Israel which it controls and issues, my parents were unable to travel to Amman and attend the wedding registration. As a result, we have had no option but to get the marriage registration done without the presence and blessings of my parents. This will remain a life-long void in my life!
This is how deep, pervasive, debilitating and dehumanizing the institutional constraints that Israel has imposed on Palestine, something that Palestinians encounter daily.
Indeed, in recent years, Israeli attacks on and violence against Palestinians have become so vicious that in December 2019 The Hague based International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a probe of ‘war crimes’ against Israel. According to the ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, “I am satisfied that … war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
It is somewhat ironic that at the 75th Commemoration of Holocaust at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem on Thursday 23rd January, 2020 the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the world quite rightly that “when the Jewish people faced annihilation, the world largely turned its back on us”while forgetting to reflect that in a different context the persecuted of yesteryears may themselves have now become the persecutors and the world is looking the other way.
It is against this backdrop that the Palestinian Authority, the PA adopted SDGs as its aspired pathway todevelopment.
Goal 1 of SDGs is poverty alleviation and zero hunger. Thanks to Israeli blockades and attacks that have become more frequent and much harsher in recent times,have steadily worsened economy and poverty in Palestine. According to a 2017 estimate, 29.2 percent of Palestinians live below poverty-line income, and 16.8 percent are hard-core poor who lack access to daily necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. Poverty is particularly acute in Gaza where Israel’s strongest and most militant of protesters reside. Nearly half of Gaza’s population,45.4 percent, live below poverty line.
Another striking feature of poverty in Palestine is that it is on the rise– incidence of poverty in Palestine has increased by 13.2 percent during 2011-2017 where unemployment stands at 27%- 18% in West Bank and 44% in Gaza – and worsening. Furthermore, just under a quarter of all Palestinians face challenges of hunger daily. According to a new study by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, infant mortality, which in most parts of the world is on the decline, in Palestine especially in Gaza, it is on the rise. Overall, economy of Palestine has contracted by 35% during the last decades.
A UN study suggests that things are so desperate in Gaza that if urgent actions are not taken to rescue Gaza from Israel’s restrictions and violence the Strip would cease to exist as a liveable place by 2020, which is now.
Despite these challenges a recent SDGs progress report issued by the State of Palestine suggests that “..the government and its partners – as much as they could do under the obstacles – were able to achieve tangible results on the level of providing public services for citizens” meaning that against all odds, PA is doing all it can to keep their citizens get by and stay alive, just.
SDGs, global obligations and Palestine
As mentioned earlier that SDGs are a global mandate that commits under Goal 17 all member states to forge “global partnership” to help each other to realize the goals. However, as far as Palestine is concerned,support of the international community is anything but ideal in the sense that few if not none have done much to rescue Palestine from Israeli restrictions that consistently and incrementally fracture and pull this besieged nation back. At the same time, some countries such as the US,the most powerful member of the international community which has the capacity to act as the moral guardian of the world, is doing the opposite, consistently abets and even aids Israel’s brutal and dehumanizing control over Palestine.
As a result, and as far as SDGs are concerned, Mr. Rami Al Hamdallah, the Prime Minister of Palestine laments that “a country that is under occupation with no full sovereignty and control over its resources cannot achieve the SDGs….”He also reminds the international community that “The slogan of the 2030 Agenda, Leave No One Behind, cannot be realized in a country that the whole world is leaving behind.”How true!
Indeed, if UN is serious about SDGs and is committed to SDGs’ motto of “Leave No One Behind” it must remind the member states their obligations to Goal 17 (‘global partnership’)and urge them to assist Palestine to free itself of Israel’s debilitating and dehumanizing colonial controls and empower the Palestinians politically, economically and socially so that they gain the strength to realise their dream of living in peace, prosperity, freedom and dignity – the core values of SDGs – on their own!
Mr. Mahmoud Alshrafi, A Palestinian, is a recent graduate of Master of Development Practice (MDP), School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia. The article is based on his MDP thesis. Prof. M. Adil Khan and Dr. Kiah Smith of School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia jointly supervised Mahmoud Alshrafi’s MDP thesis.
Professor M. Adil Khan is an HonouraryProfessor of Development Practice, School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Australia and former senior policy manager of the United Nations
Khalidi, R. J., &Taghdisi-Rad, S. (2009). The Economic Dimensions of Prolonged Occupation: Continuity and Change in Israeli Policy Towards the Palestinian Economy.
UN. (2012). Gaza in 2020 A liveable place. Office of the United Nations Special coordinator for the middle East Peace Process (UNSCO): Jerusalem. Retrieved from https://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/file/publications/gaza/Gaza%20in%202020.pdf