There is more to this story, a side often overlooked. In communities throughout the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a surprising degree of luxury exists alongside the poverty. After receiving billions of dollars in Western aid over many decades, major improvements are visible in the standard of living in the West Bank, as seen in newly-constructed buildings, late-model cars, and luxury items.
This study offers an often overlooked window into life in the Palestinian Authority. The empirical data provides a more complete picture of living standards in the West Bank. The truth is that alongside the slums of the old refugee camps, which the Palestinian government has done little to rehabilitate, a parallel Palestinian society is emerging.
Marwan Asmar, a Jordan-based journalist with a PhD in political science from Leeds University in the UK, described this phenomenon upon returning to the West Bank after 30 years:
“There has been a total transformation since I was last in Howara in the West Bank in 1985. One can see a buzz of activity at the shops, restaurants, offices and cafes. This wasn’t the sleepy village I saw long ago. Buildings, villas, mosques and rest areas have been constructed everywhere. There is even a swimming pool.
This was certainly not the picture I had in mind. This was not the picture the media presents – of Palestinians surviving on daily wages of $2 as pointed out by the World Bank, of high unemployment and pockets of poverty. The people I spoke to here said many worked as laborers in Israel and were paid high daily wages. This is how they could build their houses, they told me.16
As speculation continues about renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it is important to understand how the quality of life in the West Bank has improved and how a new Palestinian society is emerging – one that requires a changed perception of the reality of Palestinian life.
While the Arab world is in the throes of a major melt-down – with widespread violence and destruction in Syria and Iraq, together with serious instability in Lebanon and Egypt – daily life for Arabs in the West Bank offers a stark contrast to those scenes of violence and decline.
Since the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed approximately $5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.17 Overall, Palestinians receive approximately $2 billion in aid each year.18 Palestinian economic analysts estimate that the PA has received a total of $25 billion in financial aid during the past two decades.19
The CIA World Factbook reported the poverty rate in the West Bank as 18% in 2011,20 in contrast to Israel’s poverty rate in 2012 of 21%.21
In 2015, life expectancy in the West Bank was 76 years.22 This was notably higher than the life expectancy in Arab states of 71 years (in 2012), and the average life expectancy around the world of 70 years.23
In 2015, the infant mortality rate in the West Bank and Gaza was 13 per 1,000 live births,24 compared with 27 per 1,000 live births in the Arab states in 2013 and 36.58 per 1,000 live births in the world in 2014.25
In 2015 the literacy rate for people aged 15 and above in the West Bank and Gaza was 96.5%.26
In 2011, when Palestinians were asked “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the education system?” 63.5% answered “satisfied”, a higher percentage than the U.S. (62.8), Netherlands (60.3), Sweden (61.6) or Japan (54.6).27 The overall percentage in Arab states was 50.0%.28
Palestinians insist that they suffer from water shortages due to Israeli policies. However, data shows that Israel has fulfilled all of its obligations according to the signed water agreements with the PA. The development of water supply systems for Palestinian communities has been carried out on an extensive scale, much larger than that called for in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.
From 1967-1995 the number of towns and villages connected to running water through modern supply systems increased from four to 309 communities. In March 2010, 641 of 708 Palestinian communities, which include more than 96 percent of the Palestinian population, were found to be connected to a running water network. Water supply networks for an additional 16 villages (encompassing an additional 2.5 percent of the population) were under construction.
Palestinians claim that the water consumption of the average Israeli is four times greater than that of the average Palestinian. However, this claim is not factually supported. In 1967, there was indeed a large gap in the per capita consumption of water. This gap, however, was reduced during the Israeli administration period and the difference is now negligible. The per capita consumption of natural, fresh water in Israel is 150 m3/c/y and in the PA 140 m3/c/y.
According to the PA, roughly 33.6 percent of their water leaks from internal pipelines, compared with 11 percent in Israel. Moreover, the Palestinians have violated their part of the water agreements by refusing to build sewage treatment plants (despite available international financing). Thus, raw sewage discharged from Palestinian communities flows freely in many streams in the West Bank.
In 2014, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, published an article lauding Israeli employers for their treatment of Palestinian workers in Israel. The article stated, “Whenever Palestinian workers have the opportunity to work for Israeli employers, they are quick to quit their jobs with their Palestinian employers – for reasons having to do with salaries and other rights….The salaries of workers employed by Palestinians amount to less than half the salaries of those who work for Israeli employers.”
“The [Israeli] work conditions are very good, and include transportation, medical insurance and pensions. These things do not exist with Palestinian employers….”
According to Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, 92,000 Arabs from the West Bank work in Israel each day.31
16. Marwan Asmar, “A Trip into the Heart of Palestine,” Gulf News (Dubai), June 17, 2015, http://gulfnews.com/culture/people/a-trip-into-the-heart-of-palestine-1.1536536 .
17. Jim Zanotti, “U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians,” Congressional Research Service, July 3, 2014 ,https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22967.pdf..
18. Global Humanitarian Assistance, “Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2015,” June 2015 ,http://www.globalhumanitarianassistance.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/GHA-Report-2015_-Interactive_Online.pdf p – 141
19. Khaled Abu Toameh, “What Are Palestinians Doing with U.S. Money?,” Gatestone Institute, August 19, 2015 ,http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6353/palestinians-us-aid
20. CIA, “The World Factbook: West Bank,” Central Intelligence Agency, August 6, 2015, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html
21. CIA, “The World Factbook: Israel,” Central Intelligence Agency, August 10, 2015, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/is.html
22. CIA, “The World Factbook: West Bank,” Central Intelligence Agency, August 6, 2015, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html
23. UNDP, “Human Development Report 2013,” UNDP, 2013, http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/14/hdr2013_en_complete.pdf p – 25
24. CIA, “The World Factbook: West Bank,” Central Intelligence Agency, August 6, 2015, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html
25. CIA, “The World Factbook: World,” Central Intelligence Agency, August 6, 2015, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html The World Bank, “Arab World,” Word Bank Group, Date Unknown, http://data.worldbank.org/region/ARB
26. CIA, “The World Factbook: West Bank,” Central Intelligence Agency, August 6, 2015, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html
27. UNDP, “Human Development Report 2013,” UNDP, 2013, http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/14/hdr2013_en_complete.pdf p – 171
28. UNDP, “Human Development Report 2013,” UNDP, 2013, http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/14/hdr2013_en_complete.pdf p – 40
29. Haim Gvirtzman, “The Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict: An Israeli Perspective,” Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, January 2012, http://www.biu.ac.il/SOC/besa/MSPS94.pdf. The writer is a professor of hydrology at the Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a member of the Israel Water Authority Council.
30. Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik. “Official PA Daily Lauds Israel’s Treatment of Palestinian Workers – PMW Bulletins,”www.palwatch.org. Palestinian Media Watch, September 23, 2014. http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=12696, See also “Palestinian Workers Treated Better in Israel,” I24news.tv. September 24, 2014 http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/44941-140924-palestinian-workers-treated-better-in-israel
31. “Palestinian Human Rights Campaigner Excoriates Palestinian Leadership,” J-Wire, August 27, 2015, http://www.jwire.com.au/palestinian-human-rights-campaigner-excoriates-palestinian-leadership/