No doubt you have heard in the news and media many negative things about Israel and its relations with the Palestinians.

You have heard about Gaza and Operation Cast Lead; you have heard about Gaza being a new Warsaw Ghetto; you heard about blockades and “humanitarian disasters”‘ that require aid convoys to travel overland from Europe across North Africa and then enter Palestine via Israel; you have heard of apartheid operating on the West Bank; you have heard illegal settlements and the “ethnic cleansing” of East Jerusalem; you heard about boycotts and UN resolutions; you have heard of the Goldstone Report.

Now hear this.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just released its periodic update on “The economic situation in the Palestinian Authority and Israeli relief measures”.

The headline of this document states that a double-digit growth rate might be reached by the end of 2009 in the Palestinian Authority area of the West Bank. And it appears that this rate, in a world economic crisis, has been achieved because of unprecedented assistance from Israel.

Here are some highlights:

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the Washington Post that 2009 (October) had seen a growth rate of 8% “If not even more”.

Now here’s a surprise for you. Israel collected tax on behalf of he PA to the tune of NIS 330 million in November compared to NIS 293 million in October.

Now here’s another surprise for you blocade-niks: Israel transfer NIS 50 million every month to Gaza to pay the salaries of PA employees and as much as $13.5 to UNWRA employees who are not only Palestinian but many of whom have a close association (to put it coyly) with Hamas. (I’m worried. This does not sound like a genocidal policy to me. What’s going on?)

Some bad news. The PA still has a $200 million budget deficit and it would be more were it not for $200 million from the Saudis. Come on Arab world! The Israelis are doing more than you are to help the Palestinians. Where’s Dubai when you need them? Oh yes, forgot, sorry.

“The Israeli government decided to establish a ministerial committee headed by the prime minister to examine and promote economic measures that will lead to further economic growth in the West Bank. A regional cooperation minister will be appointed, whose ministry will be in charge of coordinating and advancing the above matters.”

So more evidence of an Israeli policy to improve the condition of Palestinians, and it goes pretty much unreported in the West where only negativity is news.

There is a Joint Economic Committee to boot. This is sounding very much like what one would like to see were there two states with very close ties and mutual interests.

Almost 50,000 Palestinians were given work permits in Israel and West Bank ‘settlements’. In fact there are are huge number of Palestinians working in Israel and  in Israeli businesses in the West Bank. The report states that 14% of the workforce is employed by Israel in the West Bank. Are you listening boycott-niks?

Unemployment in the West Bank is still unacceptably high although it has dropped from 19% in 2009 to 16.4% in the second quarter of 2009. In Gaza it dropped from 45.5% to 36% which is a startling statistic. If things are so much better in the Hamas-free West Bank why not Gaza? Nothing to do with Hamas, by any chance?

The Palestinians themselves have said there was a six-fold increase in foreign investment in the West Bank because of the improving security situation compared to last year. Six-fold!!

A new city – Rawabi – is planned and Ramallah “has become an unprecedentedly bustling and flourishing West Bank city of cafes and restaurants“.

Power plants, sewage works, road networks, industrial zones all progress apace funded by the French and the EU with technical assistance from the Israelis.

Commerce between Israel and Palestine have risen steeply both ways.

In the first half of 2007 about 81,000 trucks passed from Israel to the West Bank. In the second half of 2008 this had reached 189,000 – more than doubled in two years.

A new Cell phone company. Gasoline consumption up 29% and a 93% increase in tourism to Bethlehem! and a 42% increase in hotel stays.

Once again I am worried. This does not sound like apartheid South Africa to me. Someone has been telling fibs.

There has been a huge reduction in checkpoints and roadblocks due to improved security. These reductions have led to much greater freedom of movement within the West Bank and for Israeli Arabs who want to visit the West Bank. These roadblocks have always been seen as an instrument of Israeli oppression and not a security measure. Surely if Israel is so willing to remove these obstacles (and there is a long way to go, not least of all the security barrier), does not this tell you something about Israel that you may not have been aware of?

And now for Gaza.

Before, during and after Operation Cast Lead, Israel facilitated the entrance of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. Israel ensured the orderly operation of the electricity, communications and water infrastructures, including bringing in equipment and repair teams to repair water and sewer facilities during the operation, and to repair turbines and parts of the Gaza power station after the operation. This included a two-month stay by a Siemens team, which conducted repairs and maintenance work at the power station.

The report makes clear that essential supplies are getting through but there is still an issue with building materials, but even that is being negotiated with the UN.

Marc Otte, European Union emissary to the Middle East, stated the following to the working group for Middle East affairs in the European Parliament, on November 24:

  • There has been an economic improvement in the West Bank, primarily due to removal of the checkpoints.
  • There is no shortage of equipment or cement for construction in Gaza, and Hamas is controlling the resources.
  • Hamas dismissed employees of the systems and appointed its own people, and that is the reason that there is no construction in Gaza.
  • The prevailing economy in Gaza is not an official economy but rather an economy of tunnels; there are no shortages in Gaza, but there is a problem of unemployment, primarily for civilians who are not close to Hamas and have no buying power.

The security fence has proven its effectiveness in the fight against terrorism.

So there you have it. The more peaceable, the better off you are likely to be economically. This does not sound like the Israel I read about in the press.

I’m worried.