RAND on the costs of the Israeli-Palestinin conflict—the refugee dimension

Posted: June 9, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Uncategorized

1433642901008RAND recently released a major study on the The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which explores the cost and benefits of several possible outcomes to the conflict:

For much of the past century, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been a defining feature of the Middle East. Despite billions of dollars expended to support, oppose, or seek to resolve it, the conflict has endured for decades, with periodic violent eruptions, of which the Israel-Gaza confrontation in the summer of 2014 is only the most recent.

This study estimates the net costs and benefits over the next ten years of five alternative trajectories — a two-state solution, coordinated unilateral withdrawal, uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, nonviolent resistance, and violent uprising — compared with the costs and benefits of a continuing impasse that evolves in accordance with present trends. The analysis focuses on economic costs related to the conflict, including the economic costs of security. In addition, intangible costs are briefly examined, and the costs of each scenario to the international community have been calculated.

The study’s focus emerged from an extensive scoping exercise designed to identify how RAND’s objective, fact-based approach might promote fruitful policy discussion. The overarching goal is to give all parties comprehensive, reliable information about available choices and their expected costs and consequences.

Seven key findings were identified: A two-state solution provides by far the best economic outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis would gain over three times more than the Palestinians in absolute terms — $123 billion versus $50 billion over ten years. But the Palestinians would gain more proportionately, with average per capita income increasing by approximately 36 percent over what it would have been in 2024, versus 5 percent for the average Israeli. A return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis; per capita gross domestic product would fall by 46 percent in the West Bank and Gaza and by 10 percent in Israel by 2024. In most scenarios, the value of economic opportunities gained or lost by both parties is much larger than expected changes in direct costs. Unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank would impose large economic costs on Israelis unless the international community shoulders a substantial portion of the costs of relocating settlers. Intangible factors, such as each party’s security and sovereignty aspirations, are critical considerations in understanding and resolving the impasse. Taking advantage of the economic opportunities of a two-state solution would require substantial investments from the public and private sectors of the international community and from both parties.

The project also has put together an online costs-calculator, which allows a user to modify economic assumptions used in the study and see how these affect the result.

What does the study have to say about the refugee issue, especially with regard to the two state outcome?

Under the two-state solution, we assume that 600,000 Palestinian refugees will return from abroad to the newly formed Palestinian state. Estimates of the number who are likely to return vary significantly, and we select 600,000—equivalent to an approximate 10-percent increase in the size of the population of the Palestinian state— as an “average” value. (p. 75)

Second, we assume that the international community will provide financial support to repatriate the refugees in a two-state solution. Specifically, we assume that the international community will provide sufficient public and private capital investment so that any influx of labor will not lower per capita GDP. (p. 99)

We also assume that the return of refugees would not reduce the per capita GDP of the Palestinian economy. Thus, the 10-percent expansion in the population (600,000 refugees) will be accompanied by a 10-percent expansion in the size of the entire economy, or roughly $2.7 billion. This will require an estimated $9 billion in additional public and private investment. (p. 113)

 We also anticipate that humanitarian assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [sic] will continue. (p. 143)

In my view the RAND study overestimates the amount of international financial assistance that would be forthcoming to support an agreement. It likely underestimates the challenges of refugee repatriation and absorption.

Moreover, the study also assumes that no compensation/reparation payments are made by Israel to refugees, although the payment of some compensation has long been both a Palestinian demand and an assumption of the international community. Previous Israeli governments have accepted the idea of refugee compensation in principle, although it is not clear that is still the case.

Given that estimates of compensation run from $2-3 billion to a Palestinian demand of $200+ billion, the absence of this from the study’s calculations is a significant omission. Moreover, many donors have signalled that they expect much or most of this ought to be paid by Israel, not the international community. Clearly it could factor as a significant expense for Israel, and a significant financial plus for the Palestinians.

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