The news releases put out by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) are always a paragon of optimistic writing and the latest is no exception. Unemployment is declining, export is on the rise and the economy is booming. The optimism is contagious (Hebrew), especially if you’re not very familiar with the data. Unfortunately, we are. Here’s a slightly more discerning look at COGAT’s news release.
What is the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip? Depends who you ask.
“Regarding employment in the Strip – an increase of approximately 5.45% can be seen in the daily wage in the first quarter alone, combined with a drop of 0.5% in the rate of unemployment compared with the corresponding quarter last year. In addition, a continuation of the last year’s trend of an increase in the level of participation in the workforce can be observed, and this figure now stands at 39.9% compared to 39.4% in the previous quarter (an increase of 0.5% over just the last 3 months)”.
It’s hard to be discerning when COGAT doesn’t provide the source for its data or if you’re a bit rusty on Economics 101. But that’s what we’re here for.
It seems that COGAT, like Gisha, relies on figures published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). COGAT may have thought that a rise in the rate of workforce participation is the same thing as a decrease in unemployment. PCBS data denotes a rise in labor force participation (of .4%, not .5%), but it also notes that unemployment in the Gaza Strip is now at 31.5%, an increase rather than a decrease of 0.7% compared with the same quarter last year. In other words, more people may have joined the labor market but that doesn’t mean they necessarily found a job there.
Whether or not it confused the rate of labor force participation with the rate of unemployment, it doesn’t give the actual unemployment figure for the current quarter. COGAT has published PCBS figures in the past (for example, here (Hebrew)), and, in an interview given by Avi Shalev (Hebrew/Arabic), head of the economic division at the Gaza DCO, so it’s not clear why they chose not to use PCBS’s current unemployment figure.
“The Hamas government ceased purchasing fuel”
“Since 2011, the Hamas government has ceased purchasing fuel from Israel, via the Palestinian Authority”.
Yes, it’s true that Hamas decided to stop buying industrial diesel (not fuel in general) from Israel in 2011, but it’s worth mentioning that when Israel was the sole provider of fuel to the Gaza Strip, it didn’t exactly flow in freely.
And most importantly: export.
“Upon completion of the agricultural export season from Gaza, in addition to the continued export of flowers from the Strip, an increase of 86% in the volume of agricultural exports can be observed – 708 tons of agricultural produce were exported this year compared with 380 tons* last year”. [*Editor’s note: in the English translation of the COGAT news release, they write 30 tons, though we assume they meant to write 380 tons, as in the Hebrew text].
“In addition to the exports of furniture and textile products that included 4000 sweaters to Britain and 45 pallets of furniture on two different occasions to a furniture exhibition in Jordan, a further request from the WFP Organization for the marketing of 720 tons of date snacks from the Gaza Strip to Judea and Samaria was authorized. This was in addition to 140 tons of such snacks that were already marketed at the beginning of the year”.
The same numbers can tell an entirely different story and still be correct. For example, 4,000 sweaters sound much better than one truckload and so do 45 pallets of furniture. An increase of 86% in export also sounds pretty impressive, until you compare the 708 tons exported this year, according to COGAT, with the 15,845 tons of fruit and vegetables that were exported from Gaza in 2006 according to Israeli Ministry of Agriculture figures. In other words, someone in the Ministry of Defense apparently still does not want to let Gaza farmers exceed 5% of their export capacity as it stood in 2006.
On the other hand, COGAT does deserve kudos for approving an application by the World Food Programme (WFP) to transfer 720 tons of date snack bars from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, in addition to 140 tons that have already been transported to the West Bank this year. We don’t know why date bars were chosen for the honor of being delivered to the West Bank while vegetables, fruit, furniture and textiles were not, but, after a five-year ban on selling Gaza-made products in the West Bank, we’ll take anything. We will repeat the question we asked last time a shipment like this was approved: “If marketing goods to the West Bank can be approved once, why can’t it be allowed on a routine basis?”
One last thing
Aside from the news about approving the transfer of date bars from Gaza in the West Bank, the truly uplifting thing about the COGAT’s release is its tone. COGAT is obviously trying to take pride in Gaza’s economic recovery and increased export from the Strip. If this tone reflects the future direction of Israel’s policy towards Gaza, maybe a little cautious optimism is in order. We hope that in the future COGAT will really give itself something to boast about when it allows real economic recovery and sale of goods outside the Strip exceeding a few truckloads. If only.