Palestinian economic woes compounded by COVID-19: U.N. report

(Alex Lederman - Al-Jazeera)

Stephanie Nebehay

Reuters  /  September 8, 2020

GENEVA – The COVID-19 pandemic is compounding dire economic conditions in the Palestinian territories, where GDP per capita was already projected to fall by 3% to 4.5% this year, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

Lockdown measures have had “grave fiscal implications” for authorities and residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and come as donors are cash-strapped, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in a report.

“The ‘pre-existing conditions’ in the occupied territories are essentially malignant. And they will get worse over the coming years as the consequences of COVID-19,” said Richard Kozul-Wright, director of UNCTAD’s division on globalisation and development strategies.

“Inequality, indebtedness, insecurity, (and) insufficient investment have been long-standing problems in the Palestinian occupied territories,” he told a news briefing.

Palestinian health officials have reported 215 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 35,000 infections across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

A U.N. aid group has warned that a lack of key medical items in Gaza could make it hard to treat the disease effectively.

“The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is going from bad to worse,” Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD’s coordinator of the assistance to the Palestinian people, told the briefing.

Donor support is expected to decline in 2020 to $266 million, “the lowest in more than a decade,” he said.

Unemployment was already at a “depression-level” of 33% last year, the report said.

By April 2020, revenues collected by the Palestinian National Authority from trade, tourism and transfers had declined to their lowest levels in 20 years, it said.

To allow for expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Israeli zoning and planning regime “makes it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits to build in their own land for any purpose”, the report said.

Last year, Israel demolished or seized 622 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, it said.

additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Graff