14 January 2014, Tariq Dana
While most Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are struggling to survive, a powerful group of Palestinian capitalists is thriving and growing in political, economic and social influence. The cost, all too often, is their engagement in economic normalization projects. In other words, they deal with the Israelis as though they were a “normal” business partner rather than an occupying power that has ruthlessly violated Palestinian rights for over 65 years.
In this policy brief, Al-Shabaka Policy Member Tariq Dana sheds light on the ways in which these Palestinian capitalists exercise political influence and social control and gives examples of the economic normalization projects in which they have engaged.
A Snapshot of Palestinian Capital
The presence of Palestinian businessmen in the political sphere predates the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). After the PLO’s foundation, Palestinian capitalists played a variety of roles in the national liberation movement. Some PLO factions, particularly Fatah, saw the Palestinian capitalist class as a “national bourgeoisie” and as such an indispensable part of the anti-colonial struggle and dealt with it accordingly.
At the time, Palestinian capitalists’ engagement with the PLO included funding, occupying leading PLO positions, and political mediation. For example, Palestinian businessmen mediated between the PLO leadership and the Jordanian regime during Black September and between the PLO leadership and the American administration during the 1980s. Many were also philanthropists who supported charitable, educational and socio-economic projects. A landmark in this regard was the establishment of the Welfare Association in 1983, a much-needed boost to the Palestinian national project in the educational and socio-economic spheres after the bulk of Palestinian guerrillas were expelled from their base in Lebanon during the 1982 Israeli invasion launched by the late prime minister Ariel Sharon.