The State of Palestine is committed to social and economic development as a means to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian economy is currently contracting; as Palestinian industries struggle to overcome constraints placed on them by the Israeli occupation. In 2014, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Palestine was US$12.74 billion, with a GDP growth of -1.5%. Gross national income per capita was US$3,060, and the poverty rate was 25.8%. The unemployment rate is currently 26.6%, with 43% youth unemployment. Nonetheless, the Palestinian Government continues to work towards economic development in order to improve the situation of the Palestinian people.
According to recent reports, life expectancy at birth for Palestinians is 74.9/71.4 years (females/males), the infant mortality rate is 19.2 per 1000 live births, and the daily allocation of water for domestic purposes is 79.7/79.1 litres per person per day (Gaza/West Bank)—well below the World Health organisation recommendation of at least 100 l/p/d. Primary school attendance is 91.9/91.3% (females/males) and youth literacy rates are 99.4/99.3% (females/males).
The promising figures concerning education are largely due to the successful implementation of programs such as the Palestinian Government’s social sector emergency program. Between 2007 and 2011, this program helped to increase the number of public primary schools operating by 19% and the number of students per school by 36%. Through their 2011-2013 National Development Plan, the Palestinian Government also installed and repaired 1,700km of water pipelines, dug and rehabilitated 70 wells, constructed 7 new water reservoirs, and constructed 1,400 rainwater tanks.
Social development is one of the four key target sectors in the 2014-2016 National Development Plan. Through this plan, the Palestinian Government hopes to enact a democratic apparatus on the grounds of promoting respect for human rights, integrity, transparency, and accountability. This will allow for the alleviation of poverty and unemployment, taking into account the discrepant conditions and needs of various social groups on the basis of gender, age, disability, and geographic region. These goals will be achieved alongside the institution-building process that will improve state functions and develop the government’s capacity to deliver quality equitable public services.
Economic development is another of the key target sectors in the 2014-2016 National Development Plan. The Palestinian Government hopes to develop a knowledge-based national economy, reinvigorate the private sector, enhance corporate social responsibility, promote fair market competition, achieve fiscal stability and alleviate poverty and unemployment. The overlapping economic and social development goals of the National Development Plan are achieved through integrative programs.
One major focus for development in Palestine is the promotion of gender equality. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs have worked together to undertake studies and implement programs to promote gender equality. These include initiatives to protect women’s rights through the justice system, promote freedom of expression for women, and increase the participation of women in the Palestinian civil service and in the workforce more broadly.
Unfortunately, the implementation of such development programs is severely constrained by the Israeli occupation. Obstacles to development include the violation of Palestinians’ basic human rights; Israeli control over Palestinian borders, water sources, fertile farmland, airspace, and sea space; the restriction of Palestinian trade and flooding of Palestinian markets with Israeli goods; ongoing illegal Israeli settlement expansion, land grabs, and Palestinian home demolitions; the blockade of Gaza, causing human insecurity and “de-development”; the isolation of East Jerusalem and displacement of its Palestinian citizens; and the denial of access for Palestinians to Area C, which constitutes 60% of the Palestinian West Bank. The World Bank estimated that the denial of access to Area C alone has cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion. The report predicted that if Palestinian businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35% to the Palestinian GDP. This highlights the need to end the Israeli occupation to allow for further development in Palestine and ensure that all Palestinians can live in peace and dignity.