I had an e-mail exchange this week with a fellow who really really doesn’t like us. On the topic of that Sodastream factory in Mishor Adumim, he informed me that the Palestinian workers there are treated as slaves. When I suggested I might try to see their payrolls so as to test his proposition, he backed off: payrolls don’t prove anything, he told me, the only thing that’s important is that Palestine isn’t sovereign.
Which got me thinking. The Israeli-Arab conflict famously makes many otherwise reasonably normal people lose their marbles, so that they engage in all sorts of mumbo-jumbo. The Sodastream story seems to be such a case. In any other context, worldwide, a private company maintaining a factory in an underdeveloped country so as to take advantage of its lower labor costs would be regarded as a boon for the hosting country (if perhaps not for the rich country the factory had previously been in). Sodastream, however, isn’t paying hundreds of Palestinian workers what they’d get from a Palestinian employer. It’s paying the Palestinian laborers Israeli wages, with the social benifits mandated by Israeli law.
Nobody lives in the Sodastream factory: it’s a factory. If ever there is peace between Israel and Palestine, Israeli owned factories in Palestine employing Palestinians is precisely the sort of thing everyone should be wishing for. Not for the “soft” advantages of people working alongside one another, which is the kind of thing one can’t easily measure: for the “hard”, quantifiable advantage of employment and foreign curreny.
In any other context, this is called FDI (foriegn direct investment ) and is eagerly sought by politicians and toted up by economists. When it comes to Israel-Palestine, however, normal discourse goes silent.
(On a related note, Yair Rosenberg has a great piece up at Tablet about the debate, 53 years ago today, when Yaacov Herzog forced Arnold Toynbee to cut out the mumbo-jumbo and talk straight ).