By Rami Bathish
In the mid 1990s, an evident sense of optimism had prevailed among Palestinians; the signing of the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel was seen by both Palestinians inside the occupied territories and the expatriate community as a catalyst for positive change, and a promise of a long-awaited era of peace, stability, and prosperity. The fragile period between 1994 and 2000 witnessed a significant boost in foreign investment in the Palestinian private sector, a concerted effort aimed at public institution-building, and above all, the flow/return of educated and skilled Palestinian professionals back into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. After all, this was the beginning of a desperately-needed nation-building process, a noble cause of which all wanted to take part. Contrary to most developing countries, Palestine became a leading example for the reversal of the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon, albeit temporarily.
Today, more than 12 years after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and 6 years after the outbreak of the Intifada, not only have most Palestinian expatriates abandoned their once-idealistic aspirations to contribute their skills and expertise to the development of their impoverished homeland, but tens of thousands of Palestinians born inside the occupied territories are pursuing the sanctuary of more secure social and economic conditions abroad. An overwhelming combination of relentless Israeli military occupation and internal Palestinian instability may have finally taken its toll on Palestinian youth.
According to a recent survey conducted by Al-Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus, one in three Palestinians are ready to emigrate out of Palestine. 10,000 Palestinians have already left the Palestinian territories since June 2006, and 45,000 have applied for emigration. The 1,350 people surveyed by Al-Najah clearly identify the deteriorating economic situation as the main trigger for their aspiration to emigrate, while the prevailing lawlessness in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, internal political strife, and the continuing fear of potential civil war are cited as 2nd, 3rd, and 4th causes, respectively.
What adds more concern to an already alarming trend is the fact that the overwhelming majority of those determined to pursuing better lives outside the Palestinian territories are considered among the most enlightened, most educated, most skilled, and most talented segments within Palestinian society, leaving Palestine with an increasingly challenged and fragile population of low-income earners, a scarcity of skills, and the absence of socio-economic stability traditionally sustained by a professional middle class.
Without any visible end to Israel’s repressive occupation of the Palestinian territories, and its diverse impact on the development of Palestinian society, and in light of the continuing antagonism prevalent within the Palestinian political system, most notably the factional rivalry between Hamas and Fateh, there is little hope that this pattern of emigration would/can be reversed, if not further amplified.
Ironically, the underlying causes, in this particular case, are paradoxical: without progress on the internal Palestinian front and a decisive/just end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, more Palestinians are bound to contemplate emigration, yet equally, without the sustainability of valuable human resources and potential inside the Palestinian territories, the continuity, and even intensification, of both internal and external conflicts are guaranteed.
While those legitimately turning their backs on Palestine do so with a sense of bitterness and despair, we are left with the challenging task of addressing two vital questions: where did we go wrong, and how can we safeguard the spirit of the Palestinian cause?
-Rami Bathish is director of the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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