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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Economics of Settlement (George Gilder)

A must read article at the American Spectator (thanks to all those who sent it in.) Excerpts:

The root cause of Middle Eastern turmoil, according to a broad consensus of the international media and the considered cerebrations of the deepest-thinking movie stars, is Israeli settlers in what are described as the "occupied territories" on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Even such celebrated and fervent supporters of Israel as Alan Dershowitz and Bernard-Henri Lévy put the settlers beyond the pale of their Zionist sympathies. Remove the settlers, according to these sage analyses of the scene, and the problems of the region become remediable at last.

Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute adds to these political concerns a coming environmental catastrophe, also presumably aggravated by the Israeli settlers and their hydrophilic irrigation projects. He sees the Middle East as severely threatened by the growth of population and the exhaustion of water resources. The Institute explains: "Since one ton of grain represents 1,000 tons of water, [importing grain] becomes the most efficient way to import water. Last year, Iran imported 7 million tons of wheat, eclipsing Japan to become the world's leading wheat importer. This year, Egypt is also projected to move ahead of Japan. The water required to produce the grain and other foodstuffs imported into [the region] last year was roughly equal to the annual flow of the Nile River."

Although these two concerns might seem unrelated, they converge in the history of Israel, created by several generations of settlers and constrained at every point by the dearth of water in a mostly desert land. In the mid-19th century, before the arrival of the first groups of Jewish settlers fleeing pogroms in Russia, Arabs living in what became the mandate territory of Palestine -- now Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza -- numbered between 200,000 and 300,000. Their population density and longevity resembled today's conditions in parched and depopulated Saharan Chad. Although Worldwatch might prefer to see the Middle East returned to these more earth-friendly, organic, and sustainable demographics, the fact that some 5.5 million Arabs now live in the former British Mandate, with a life expectancy of more than 70 years, is mainly attributable, for better or worse, to the work of those Jewish settlers.

...Many people imagine that the new and larger influx of Jewish settlers after World War II perpetrated an injustice on the Arabs. What they did, in fact, was to continue the heroic and ingenious pattern of development depicted by Lowdermilk in 1939. With the Arab population growing apace with the Jewish population in most neighborhoods, and indeed faster in some, there could not possibly have been any significant displacement. The demographic numbers discredit as simply mythological or mendacious all the literature of Palestinian grievance and eviction from the likes of Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim Rashid Khalidi, and the other divas of the naqba narrative.

By 1948, the Arab population in the Mandate area had grown to some 1.35 million, an increase of 60 percent since the 1930s, and up by a factor of seven since the arrival of the creative, far-seeing cohort of pioneering Jews from Russia in the 1880s. Mostly concentrated in neighborhoods abutting the Zionist settlements, this Arab population was the largest in the entire history of Palestine. Only the 1948 invasion by five Arab armies -- and a desperate and courageous Israeli self-defense -- drove out many of the Arabs, some 700,000. These Palestinian Arabs were evicted or urged to flee by Arab leaders in 1948 in a war that the Jews neither sought nor invited. But the creation of the State of Israel and its growing economy accelerated a renewed immigration into the area to today's level of some 5.5 million Arabs.

The only real Palestinian naqba came not in 1948 at the hands of Zionists, but rather in 1949, at the hands of foreign aid bureaucrats in the form of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). In a desire to compensate the Palestinians for their alleged victimization by the creation of the State of Israel, the international bureaucracies perpetrated and created a genuine and permanent victimization among the 1.4 million refugees who live in UNRWA's 59 camps and the millions more who reside in the surrounding ghettoes.

...The spurious ideology of Palestinian victimization by Israel blinds nearly all observers to the actual facts of economic life in the region. No one reading the current literature could have any idea that throughout most of the three roughly 20-year economic eras following 1948, the Palestinians continued to benefit heavily from Israeli enterprise and prospered mightily compared to Arabs in other countries in the region.

During the era of Israeli "occupation" that ran from after the war of 1967 to 1993, for example, the number of Arabs in the territories tripled to some 3 million, with the creation of some 261 new towns, a tripling of Arab per capita incomes, and a rise in life expectancy from 52 to 73 years. Meanwhile, the number of Israeli settlers in this area stripped of Jews by Jordan rose only to 250,000. Again, far from effecting any displacement of Arabs, the Jewish settlements enabled a huge increase in both the number and wealth of the Palestinian Arabs.