Despite the hubbub surrounding SodaStream, the West Bank is poised to expand business ties with Israel. (Paul Rivlin, an economist at Tel Aviv University, noted that the Israeli government does not publicize data about Israeli companies operating in the territories for fear of stoking more criticism, making it more difficult to gauge trends.) From 2013 to 2014, the West Bank inched up from the 145th best country to do business in to the 138th (out of 189), according to the World Bank's report, "Doing Business 2014." During the same period, the report states, the West Bank jumped from the 182nd best economy in which to start a business to the 143rd. On top of this, the area has a growing cadre of Palestinian entrepreneurs. Ambar Renova, the program manager at Leaders Organization, a nonprofit accelerator in Ramallah, said the NGO is backing four startups. It also rents office space to eight other companies at eZone, the first "tech park" in the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinian Authority has done little to boost growth. It is deeply corrupt; in December, the European Court of Auditors reported that the PA had been using European funds to pay Gaza workers who had not worked for seven years, prompting the EU to rethink its aid policy. Palestinian officials also oppose Israeli investment in the West Bank, said Arye Hillman, an economist at Bar-Ilan University who has studied labor markets in Israel and the West Bank.
"What places like SodaStream have done is given them access to high-income jobs."
Hillman remembered that during the second intifada, in late 2000, the number of suicide bombings in Israel skyrocketed. The Israeli government responded by building a barrier (which is mostly a fence) separating Israel and the West Bank. Hillman said that, before the barrier, Israelis and Palestinians more or less inhabited one big labor market. "What SodaStream does is it gives its employees an opportunity to work in a unified labor market again," he said. (Critics say that SodaStream, like other Israeli companies in the West Bank, pays Palestinians less than Israelis and that Palestinian workers' rights are not protected. Palestinian workers at the Ma'ale Adumim factory said their monthly salary — about 5,500 Israeli shekels (or $1,582) — is two to three times greater than it would be at an average job in the West Bank.) "The barrier is good for Palestinian elites," Hillman continued, "because it gives the Palestinian elites access to cheap labor. It trapped them on their side of the barrier. What places like SodaStream have done is given them access to high-income jobs." In other words, so long as the two labor markets are kept segregated, the Palestinian authority (the leading employer in the west bank) can pay comparatively low wages. If the two markets were recombined, the PA would have to compete for labor with Israeli companies, which are operating in a much richer economy and therefore pay much higher wages. (Critics of the Israeli occupation say Israeli businesses in the West Bank like SodaStream benefit from the barrier, too. But Israeli economists have pointed out that, on balance, Israeli business would be better off with a single labor market — which, while driving up wages in the West Bank, would drive them down in Israel.)
The Palestinian Authority may eventually change its tack. In 2013, the West Bank's unemployment rate was just over 22 percent. There are not enough new businesses to create the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are needed to reduce that figure. The bottom line is that taking a principled stand against SodaStream is not only arbitrary and probably pointless — it also ignores the plight of the Palestinians who work there. Rivlin, the economist, said that he opposes the settlements but that it would be a bad idea for SodaStream, or any other Israeli firm in the West Bank, to pull out right now. This neatly reflects the tension at the heart of the factory's very existence — the unavoidable sense that things are not as they should be, and the equally powerful sense that there are no viable alternatives.
Nadim Hamed, one of the cinematographers who worked with The Verge to film the documentary short The Factory, described the Palestinians at the SodaStream facility at Ma'ale Adumim as "desperate, simply desperate." This desperation courses through the whole plant, the daily rhythms of the assembly line, the workers' commutes and conversations, their smoke breaks and lunch breaks, the ways in which they talk to and look at each other. It is a feeling of being trapped, a feeling that they are lucky to work at SodaStream and angry and mystified that their job is in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. "Survival overpowers pride," Hamed said. "They have that feeling of being taken advantage of, but they would rather eat their pride than starve." Evans, from Code Pink, sounded surprised that Palestinians at the SodaStream plant feel conflicted about working there. "You have to start to shift the lever in the other direction," she said. After forcing SodaStream to leave the West Bank, she continued, "We would work to create jobs, find jobs. You have to start moving the needle." Evans added that supporters of the BDS movement outside Israel take their cue from activists in Israel and the West Bank. "We don't go in there and decide what to do," she said. "They asked us to join the BDS movement."