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Are the Palestinians Ready for Statehood?

June 1, 2010

by: Joshua Spurlock, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

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First of all, it should be noted that, as Bible-believing Christians, we see the entire Land of Israel as God’s promised gift to the Jewish people. However, this article does not take into account the right or wrong nature of the idea of a Palestinian state. Instead, taking into consideration the potential push for a state by the world, this discussion tries to take an honest and serious look simply at the practical capability of the Palestinians to achieve a peaceful state in their timeframe.

The answer to that question is a complicated look at a wide range of issues confronting Fayyad and his co-leaders. From building infrastructure, such as roads, to developing a stable government, to setting up an economy, preparing for a state is anything but easy. Just look at American nation-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, who, unlike the Palestinians, have had states of their own before.


The area of some of the most positive press thus far for the Palestinians is the improved security situation. In that sense, the Palestinians may have already moved ahead of their fellow Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thanks to the security forces training provided by US Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the Palestinian security forces’ new look has even received compliments from the Israelis, according to The Jerusalem Post and Ynet.

Of course, even something as simple as an improved security situation has multiple angles. One of the factors clouding the security forces anti-terrorism efforts is that one of the main terror groups faced by the Palestinian Authority (PA) forces also happens to be the PA’s political rival: Hamas. Analyst Dan Diker, the director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told Bridges for Peace in late March that he didn’t feel the PA was confronting terrorism enough from within their own ranks. One example he gave was the shooting of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai in December 2009 by members of a terror group offshoot of the PA’s Fatah party—a group that has members in the PA security forces. Diker felt there was a vetting problem in the security forces and a “weeding out” that remains to be done.

While the vetting issue and additional terror attacks cannot be dismissed, Diker did note “some significant improvement” in the Palestinian policing capabilities. In addition, Ynet has reported that anti-terror efforts by the Palestinians have included transferring bombs and weapons to Israel.

The Economy

Another key factor is the development of the Palestinian economy. In this regard, the Palestinians have more good news. The World Bank’s Web site reported that the Palestinians saw 6.8% economic growth (measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) in 2009. Considering the economic crisis worldwide, that figure appears stunning. Like security, however, there’s more to the story than how things appear. Diker linked the jump in economic numbers to more donor money coming in for the Palestinians, comparing the monetary policy using investment funds to Israel’s Internet-related sector from a decade ago, but not in a good way. “That [venture] capital infusion was external to the economy,” said Diker, referring to investment in what eventually became the Internet bubble bust.

“It was not a function of production, of gross profit that was being generated by the private sector or public sector. Here [with the Palestinians], you have a similar situation, where you have massive injections of money, so it makes the GDP artificially skyrocket, but you’ve still got massive unemployment in the middle of the economy…and if the international community stopped pumping in [large funds], the economy would collapse.”

Economically, the Palestinians are also dependent on Israel. A Ynetreport in April, citing numbers from the Bank of Israel, said about 44,000 Palestinians from Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] worked in Israel in 2008. US $649 million was generated by that work in 2008, accounting for more than 10% of Palestinian production. Beyond providing jobs, Israel also affects the PA economy due to the security situation. The World Bank partly credited Israel for the Palestinian economic growth due to the reduction in economic restrictions, presumably such as the roadblocks originally put in place for security reasons. However, they also noted the need for additional reduction of restrictions by Israel for further Palestinian economic expansion.

Dr. Anat Kurz, senior research fellow and director of research for the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, felt similarly. In an April interview with Bridges, she said that the improving West Bank security situation—which enabled Israel to reduce some of those restrictions—was at least partly responsible for the economy’s improvement. Looking ahead, she noted the landlocked Palestinian economy and the Israeli economy “will have to remain closely linked [even] after a Palestinian state is established.” Despite that, Kurz did not feel that connection to Israel was a disadvantage. “It’s practically normal, and there’s no contradiction between economic growth in the West Bank and dependence or close relations with the Israeli economy,” said Kurz.

She said that there are a lot of people on the Palestinian bureaucratic payroll, essentially creating jobs outside industry, but that too has a positive side. “This is very important because it stabilizes the PA,” said Kurz. “Taking into account all other considerations and the political situation, it’s important that people are economically tied to the PA itself as an institution.” As for their money handling, in a set-up that also lays a foundation for statehood, Palestinians have been spending a lot of funds on infrastructure and projects, such as roads and neighborhoods and even a new town, as well as loans for start-up businesses. Kurz said the process will take time, and it is “very vulnerable to the political atmosphere” and a possible new round of violence.

She said the quality of life in some places in the West Bank, especially the northern region between Jerusalem and Jenin, has improved a lot in the last two years. Still, she said there is a need for economic progress to be felt throughout the West Bank. It has taken years for some of the internationally-sponsored factories and economic initiatives to really get going, but perhaps improved security conditions can finally lead to those becoming a significant reality. As part of the economic discussion, Kurz said there is “much hope” for the Palestinians now. However, she noted that Gaza in the 1990s had a similar outlook to today’s West Bank, and then the political situation and violence ruined it.

The questions raised by security and a still vulnerable economy raise doubts about a viable Palestinian state even before factors like the judicial system and water rights are even discussed. Then there’s an essential factor for the peace aspect of an agreement with Israel—ending incitement.

Coexistence with Israel

Last year, the Dispatch from Jerusalem took a look at the issue of Palestinian incitement. Yet, this year, despite US criticism of incitement from Palestinians, the matter was still a very serious concern, even as the US tried to get peace talks off the ground in March.

Bridges for Peace spoke with Itamar Marcus, the director of Palestinian Media Watch, on the incitement issue. Marcus said the worst type of incitement to violence was the glorification of terrorists because of the values it teaches to children—the next generation of Palestinians who would be expected to live in peace with Israel. He said that two schools, as well as events, have been named for Dalal Mughrabi, who took part in a terror attack in Israel in 1978 that killed dozens. He noted that incitement doesn’t need to be explicitly violent to still convey that message. “People think, ‘Ok, nobody said kill the Jews today.’ I said, ‘Wait a second, every time children walk into that school [named for Mughrabi] they’re getting a message that if you want to be a hero, you’ve got to kill Jews.’”

Still more troubling, Mughrabi’s heroine-status was not given to her by the Palestinians in spite of her terrorism, but because of it, according to Marcus. “We’re not talking about a person who was a leader…Mughrabi did one thing in her life that’s known, and that was murder 37, and that is what’s turned her into a hero,” said Marcus. “[Regarding the date of her terror attack] the television talked about ‘This is a great day, this is a glorious day in the history of the Palestinian revolution.’ A glorious day—the killing of 37, the worst terror attack in Israel becomes their heroic and glorious day.”

In addition to the glorification of terrorists, official PA TV ran a sermon in January calling for genocide against the Jews. Also, an article in March in the official PA newspaper, written by a former deputy minister in the PA, called for the Palestinians to combine popular resistance, such as protests, with the regular resistance, which Marcus said was armed resistance to pressure Israel into concessions in peace negotiations.

Marcus said his advice to the PA for fostering peace with Israel is to tell the Palestinians that the Jewish people have a history in the Land. “One of the most important parts of Palestinian ideology in the last few years is that the Jews have no history in the Land of Israel,” said Marcus. “This erasing of Jewish history, this denying of Israel having a right to exist, is the basic crux of where the violence comes from…You have to not only teach not to be violent, but you also have to teach that we [Jews] have a right to be here, and we will be here, and that’s why they have to live with us in peace.”

After this interview, a report in The Jerusalem Post revealed that the Palestinians had made some potential progress on some factors of the incitement issue. The Palestinian Authority has, over the course of some time, fired teachers and religious leaders, as well as screened and restricted sermons, in efforts they claimed were, at least in part, an attempt to reduce incitement. Despite that, Palestinian incitement was still critiqued even by the international community.

Not Ready

While it would be unfair to fail to note the varying degrees of progress made so far by the Palestinians towards a viable, peaceful state, the conclusion from the three analysts interviewed by Bridges for Peace was pessimistic regarding the Palestinian readiness for statehood and peace with Israel in just two years. Speaking about a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence in that timeframe, Kurz, who opposes unilateralism, said, “Maybe it will be a state recognized by many states around the globe…but in terms of viability, I very much doubt the ability to establish a viable state on a unilateral basis.” She seemed pessimistic that a viable, at least partly independent state, could be created in just two years, even with a peace agreement with Israel. Instead, it’s looking more like a 10-year plan.

When it comes to the issue of incitement, Marcus was very pessimistic about Palestinian readiness for peace with Israel in just two years. “They might be willing to sign, but the people will never be willing to accept Israel, because they are taught that Haifa, Jaffa, and Akko, all Israeli cities, are actually occupied Palestinian cities,” said Marcus. “So they are taught to see any agreement that narrows Israel—that takes more land away from Israel—as a temporary agreement until they go on and destroy Israel, which is very, very often presented still, not just by Hamas, as the goal.”

The irony in all this is that assistance from the very nation Palestinians reject, Israel, is their best chance for making a declaration of independence more than empty words.

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