Palestinian Studies

2014 Workshop

Leila Farsakh

The Meaning of Palestinian Economic Development: Paradigm Shifts in Understanding the Palestinian Economy

The literature on the political economy of Palestine and the Palestinians has grown over the past two decades, both by mainstream economists and radical economists. It has been guided by an interest to define the economic manifestation of Palestinian resistance and focused on explaining the economic foundation of a future Palestinian state. This literature, though, has been uneven in its coverage of the various Palestinian communities. It has also been biased towards Palestinians living in the West Bank and to some extent those living in Gaza, to the detriment of refugees living in Arab countries or to the Palestinian citizens of Israel. It has adhered to a neo-liberal lens of analysis which is being increasingly contested by a growing number of radical economists, but which remains dominant in the official and mainstream academic circles.

The aim of this paper is to reflect on the way scholars have tried to construct a body of knowledge around the political economy of Palestine and the Palestinians. It seeks to investigate how the locus and boundaries of the Palestinian economy have changed over years and what has determined its delineation. Is Gaza part of a single Palestinian economy or a different entity altogether? Can one exclude the links forged with Palestinian citizens in Israel and how have these changed over the years? Who determines the answer to these questions and what implications do such answers have on the Palestinian people, their cause, the knowledge constructed around them?

Moreover, the paper critically reviews the analytical perspective used so far to explain Palestinian economic performance. It interrogates the extent to which the outcome of the past 40 years has been one of development, stalled growth, de-development or pauperization, as different scholars have argued. It traces the genealogy of two main theoretical paradigms, namely neoliberalism and colonialism, and the shift in their use at various interval of Palestinian historical trajectory. It examines, in particular, the way these two perspectives incorporate- or not- power into its analysis of Palestinian supply and demand forces. It explores which of the two has been more successful in explaining the peculiarity of the Palestinian economic condition, the evolution of its structure and the determinants of its performance condition. The paper gives special attention to the origins and comeback of colonialism as a framework of analysis to understanding the political economy of Palestine and the Palestinians.

Leila Farsakh is associate professor in political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the author of Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation, (Routledge, fall 2005) and editor of Commemorating the Naksa, Evoking the Nakba, (a special volume of Electronic Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, in Spring 2008), as well as of numerous journal articles on the political economy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the One-State solution. Dr. Farsakh holds a Ph.D. from the University of London and an M.Phil from the University of Cambridge, UK. She has also worked with a number of international organizations, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris and since 2008 has been a senior research fellow at the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University, in the West Bank. In 2001 Dr. Farsakh won the Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge Peace Commission, in Cambridge-Massachusetts.