A report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development says the occupied Palestinian territory is in recession for the first time in six years and that Gaza could become uninhabitable in less than five years if current economic trends persist.
Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD coordinator of assistance to the Palestinian people, said the economy "declined by almost half a percentage point. As a result, unemployment has increased significantly. Unemployment was about 30 percent last year in the occupied Palestinian territory. Of course, the situation in Gaza was extremely bad. Unemployment was 44 percent.”
He said joblessness was particularly severe among young women, with more than eight in 10 out of work. The report said 72 percent of households were food insecure, and that the number of Palestinian refugees who rely completely on food distribution from U.N. agencies had increased from 72,000 to nearly 900,000 over the past 15 years.
UNCTAD said the eight-year economic blockade of Gaza by Israel, as well as three military operations in the past six years, had shattered Gaza’s ability to export and produce for the domestic market.
In addition, Elkhafif said, in the first four months of this year, Israel withheld almost $700 million in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. He said Israel uses this as a major pressure tool against the Palestinian Authority.
“It represents about 75 percent of the total Palestinian public revenue," he said. "Actually, it could cover 50 percent of Palestinian public expenditure. And actually, it is enough to cover the Palestinian public wage.”
The report said donor support for Gaza remains vitally important, although it will not reverse the ongoing lack of development and impoverishment of the Palestinian people. UNCTAD appealed to donors to fulfill the pledges made at a conference in Cairo last year. It noted that only 27 percent of the $5 billion pledged for reconstruction in Gaza had been met.