TEL AVIV — The collapse of Middle East peace talks is making headlines around the world and, of course, here in Israel as well. It is possible that the renewed negotations that began a few months ago are now taking a temporary break, or might even halt completely for an undetermined period of time.
And yet, if you look at the stock market screens in Israel, you won’t be able to see any real signs of the failure on the diplomatic front. Tel Aviv share prices are mainly influenced by performances of other trading worldwide, as is also the case with the Israeli bond market. Meanwhile, the shekel is still one of the strongest currencies in the world.
However, not everybody’s market is so prosperous, and one need only look at the situation of the Palestinians’ trading. Since mid-March, when the crisis in the negotiations started to appear, the stock market in Ramallah went down by 8% when its neighbor in Tel Aviv went up by 2%.
It is important to note that this downturn linked to the collapse of talks came after the Palestinian stock market rose by 5% more than its counterpart in Tel Aviv.
Indeed, the consequences of the peace talks could have a much larger impact on the Palestinian Authority than on Israel. The Palestinian economy is faltering. The IMF estimates that in 2013 the Palestinian economy grew by only 1.5% while unemployment exceeded 25%. The Palestinian government continues to accumulate debt and the budget deficit grows ever larger.
In purely financial terms, the prospect of success of the peace talks with Israel would guarantee foreign support for the Palestinians. Various international bodies, notably the United States and the European Union, send nearly $1 billion to the Palestinian Authority’s treasury.
In Gaza, the situation is even more critical. The survival of 4 out of 5 citizens in Gaza is dependent on foreign aid. Indeed in 2012 when the Authority got only 80% of the promised aid, the economy slid immediately into its first recession in a decade.
From Ukraine to Tel Aviv
Whether the Palestinians are willing to admit or not, the motivation of international entities to send financial aid depends on the existence of peace talks with Israel. If the talks fail, and especially if the Palestinians are held responsible for its failure, the aid will could drop drastically, which could undermine the entire Palestinian economy.
Meanwhile, Israel has an ever stronger and more independent economy. Nevertheless, it is still hard to understand the complete indifference of the market to the failure in peace talks. It is hard to understand how the events in Ukraine aroused much more attention among investors in Tel Aviv than the events surrounding the peace talks.
Even though the times when the stock market used to react to every announcement of a possibility of negotiations has passed, and that all the wars of the last decade did not have much effect on the market, the current complete apathy is puzzling.
Israel is now facing a number of scenarios, including some it has never seen. Perhaps, like in the past, nothing will really change, and the failures will stay reserved for the nightly newscasts, and never reach the stock market.
But is important to note that several unpredictable scenarios are also possible. The Palestinians could go to the UN with the status of a country and possibly to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and request support from Europe to put in place sanctions against Israel. Then some serious damage could come to the Israeli economy, and its stock market.
There is evidently no need to panic. But complete apathy isn't the answer either. We know the range of political opinions, both inside and outside Israel. But often, the whims of politics are hardly noticed by investors, who follow a very different logic.