This issue of "viability" has become inextricably linked to discussions of Palestinian statehood because all of the various peace proposals given the nod by Palestinians and Israelis incorporate the establishment of two states, living side by side. Palestinians in particular have emphasized the importance of assuring that the future state of Palestine is viable, first because they feel the constant pressure of the unequal power relations between themselves and Israel, and second because all too often those parties who give lip service to the notion of Palestinian statehood do their best to avoid describing the outlines of this state. Usually what these parties have in mind is an entity that is in fact missing some crucial features of independence and sovereignty.
Palestinian concerns about viability are rooted in the fact that their quest is first and foremost for an end to Israel's illegal occupation of the lands it captured by force in 1967 (the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem), rather than statehood in name alone. Thus, the demand for statehood is intended to be the outcome of true independence from Israel's yoke and the active exercising of Palestinian self-determination as a people. Viability cannot be separated from these goals. When Palestinians talk about the viability of their state, they have in mind three aspects: economic viability, geographic contiguity and control of their own borders. The absence of any of these three features will make the Palestinian state vulnerable and dependant, falling short of real self-determination, and in the end threatening its long-term survival.
Many of the scenarios proposed by Israelis neglect or purposefully undermine these features. One can only subscribe this tendency to the desire by some to maintain control over the Palestinian destiny. The repeated Israeli intention to maintain some Jewish illegal settlements or settlement blocs is therefore a real threat to the Palestinian state, and the viability of the peace process as a whole. Given that this entire discussion takes place all the while Israel, which speaks about Palestinian statehood, is doggedly pursuing the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, Palestinians emphasize viability as a means of reminding the world what this peace effort was to be about: fulfilling the rights of a people to determine its own path, as enshrined in the conventions of international law.
Much has been said about the link between economic and political stability. Palestine must be free to trade with its neighbors on equal terms, not only to be a poor guest economy for others' use. Control over borders and geographic contiguity is connected to this goal in that development of the state will require free exchange of products and laborers between and through neighboring Arab countries, not least because this state will form an integral part of the Arab world.
Before it is too late (because the bulldozers and cement mixers are at work in the settlements every day) it is crucial to the peace process that when those involved in the region talk about Palestinian statehood, they also clarify what they intend for the fate of Palestinian self-determination, sovereignty over land and borders and sovereignty over the Palestinian people. Palestinians will not settle for less than full-self-determination and sovereignty; only these will guarantee the success and durability of a peace agreement.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian government and for many years prior was featured in the press as a political analyst.
On the face of it, the Palestinian state that most of us envisage already has three strikes against it when it comes to assessing its viability. First, the history of states that are split into two separate, non-contiguous geographical entities--in the Palestinian case, Gaza and the West Bank--is not very promising. Witness the fate of Pakistan/Bangladesh several decades ago. Secondly, "Palestine" never functioned as a coherent Arab political entity until the advent of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, and that experience has proven a failure. And third, Palestine's disastrous economic and demographic situation can hardly be described as self-sustaining. Nor do all of Palestine's neighbors necessarily fully legitimize its claim to statehood; here I am referring not to Israel, where some 80 percent do recognize that claim--but to Syria.
There is an element of arrogance in discussing the future of Palestine in these and similar terms of "viability". After all, which states among us are viable, and which have proven accurate or credible in evaluating the viability of others? In the 1930s and 40s, British experts asserted that the Jewish yishuv in Palestine/Eretz Israel could never absorb 100,000 Jewish refugees and survive, yet Israel successfully doubled its original population of around 600,000 in its first few years of existence. Even today Israel is still over-dependent on foreign aid to qualify under some criteria of viability.
On the other hand, certain Israelis have been arguing for 50 years that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan--currently a pillar of regional stability and economic progress--is an artificial, non-viable state that will soon collapse. And of course the present plight of Iraq, with its three distinct religious/ethnic sectors and additional minorities, provides ample grist for the mill of the viability-sayers.
Indeed, it would be a relatively easy exercise to delineate a set of criteria for state viability that eliminate most of the countries in the Middle East.
It is tempting for many Israelis to discuss Palestinian state viability in terms of Israel's security and other needs. In other words, if Israelis can feel that Israel itself is viable--meaning, in this case, safe--alongside a Palestinian state, then that state too is viable, whatever it looks like. But this approach ignores the dangers to Israel of the emergence, almost by default--that is, by dint of a partial Israeli unilateral withdrawal that is accompanied by de facto annexation of large parts of the West Bank--of a Palestinian "state" that is so constrained and fragmented by Israel's perceived territorial needs that it proves ungovernable, hence unstable and dangerous to its neighbors. Back in the 1970s and 80s we saw how disastrous for our own interests was our proximity to the then anarchic state of Lebanon. We should be wary about repeating the experience.
In view of today's demographic situation, we clearly do require the emergence of a territorially viable and stable Palestinian state, if only to enable Israel to survive as a Jewish and a democratic state. This recognition in turn bespeaks an interesting and relatively new Israeli condition for Palestinian viability. Not only must a Palestinian state serve as the homeland of the Palestinian people, enjoy maximum contiguity, cultivate political unity and a stable, non-violent leadership and enjoy at least the potential for relative economic self sufficiency in order to be viable. It must also, by virtue of its very existence, be so configured as to enable Israel to remain a Jewish and a democratic state, and Jordan to remain the Hashemite Kingdom. That is to say, it must absorb all the Palestinian political energies in the region. And it must be constitutionally pledged to abjure any advocacy of irredentism, incitement, refugee "return" and denial of historic symbols of nationhood concerning its neighbors.
True, this criterion too, which is almost certainly shared by both Jordan and Israel, reflects a certain arrogance. But in international terms--within the framework of what Palestinians are fond of terming, in their own arrogance, "international legitimacy"--it is also fair. The Palestinian leadership should integrate it into its own concept of the parameters for eventually negotiating Palestinian statehood.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
There is no simple solution for the Palestinian refugee problem--only a creative one. One must first begin by questioning the nature of both the Palestinian and the Israeli nation-states, the concept of state sovereignty and its inherent violence, and the inclusion/exclusion that the state exercises to determine who is a citizen.
In the spirit of Hannah Arendt, the state is seen as more of a problem than a solution. Take, for example, a Bethlehem Fatah communiqué of December 2003: “If we must choose between the Palestinian state and the right of return, we will choose the latter.” But is there a solution that encompasses the right of return and a Palestinian state? Only the framework of an extraterritorial nation state does, especially if one third of the population of that state is refugees. We must rethink all traditional political-legal categories, particularly in the Middle East. In that process, the refugee figure becomes the frontier of humanity, revealing the current crisis in the "trinity" of nation-state-territory.
The crisis of the modern nation state is that the exception is everywhere becoming the rule. We increasingly live in a time where populations’ ontological status as legal subjects is suspended. The failure of laws that govern citizenship marks a decisive turning point in the life of the modern nation-state and a definitive emancipation from the naive notions of "people" and "citizen."
In this context, the status of the "refugee" vis-a-vis the "citizen" is more than problematic. Can we imagine a solution to the problem of stateless and refugee Palestinians that does not rely on the disciplinary apparatuses of the police and security forces? This issue is not relegated to the Middle East; more and more refugees are excepted from legal norms in many European countries. There, refugees maintain the vulnerability of their status even after acquiring nationality. Any criminal or other questionable activities puts them at risk for denaturalization.
A solution that proposes head-counting the refugees in a given place and offering them a few months to decide their fate is an utopist solution. Individuals prefer to maintain flexible citizenship and multiple passports, even if they choose to settle in one place.
According to a 2003 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research survey, some 60 percent of Palestinians willing to return to Israel want to hold nationality to the Palestinian state. Only two percent want Israeli nationality and one fourth of the entire sample prefer to hold both nationalities. If the accumulation of foreign passports for some globalized businesspeople is “a matter of convenience and confidence” in uncertain political times, for almost all of the Palestinians who reside abroad, it is a matter of survival. For those who have never possessed a passport in their lifetime, having been forced to make do with a travel document, the passport signifies and allows basic connectivity to family and labor markets.
As such, while the classic model of return migration studies mainly envisions a definitive return, the concept of return can be amplified to include a form of being “in between.” Transnational studies provide an excellent conceptual framework for analyzing the experiences of migrants, those who choose to live between worlds. This emerging new form of refugeeness and migrant status is marked by active participation in the cultural, social, economic and political lives of both the country of origin and the host country, and provides new boundaries for solving the Palestinian problem. This cannot be realized if the future Palestinian state is conceived as a classic nation-state. Instead, why not propose extra-territorialized Palestinian and Israeli nation states?
Currently, the political environments that frame Palestinian transmigration are hostile to many transnational practices--or at least do not facilitate them. Broadly, there appear to be two asynchronous dynamics at work: one that accelerates the presence of transnational actors in the territories, and another that is bound up with the identity and political cohesion of the decision makers of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). For example, since the 1999 promulgation of a PNA law regulating non-governmental organizations, the Palestinian Ministry of Interior has refused to allow Palestinian Israelis to serve on the administrative board of any Palestinian organization. This demarcation policy was also shared by some in the private sector who wanted to reinforce the separation between the interim Palestinian territories and Israel. The Palestinian Telecommunications Company, PALTEL, tried for some time to price calls between the Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem, and West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, as international calls--not taking into account how this might impede connectivity within family networks for one. The tension between these interests is quite normal. Refugees develop a flexible notion of citizenship in order to accumulate capital and power. Meanwhile however, the state seeks to preserve its inflexible sovereignty.
While Palestinian scholars are accustomed to dealing with identity in its strict legal sense, it is important to recognize that capitalism, colonialism and culture also constrain and shape the subject, the individual and the collective. The crystallization of Palestinian identity is a relatively recent phenomenon. The same can be said for the Arab and Israeli identities that emerged during the same period. Because of the tenuousness of this process, the state in the Arab world became a nationalizing state: after "making" Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, those states must subsequently make Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians. The same could be said of Israel and Israelis.
Thus we are far from a civic type of nationalism which relies on voluntary commitment, a flexible criteria of membership in the national collectivity, and a consensual legal process for resolving tensions. Generally speaking, migrants are not encouraged (and sometimes hindered) from declaring allegiance to both their countries of origin and their host countries. This fact explains the manner in which some Palestinians are assimilated to their host societies, while others retain a sense of unstated double identity with less feeling of alienation.
The weakness of the center of gravity of the Palestinian diaspora, alongside the relatively new Palestinian national identity, raises many complex questions about Palestinian state formation and the ability of the PNA to challenge the classic pattern of citizenship and nation-states. One can imagine two forms that might allow a nation-state to deal with people outside of its borders: a de-territorialized nation-state or an extra-territorialized nation-state. Studies on transnationalism may be a good framework for thinking about the former. Some consider countries of origin as "de-territorialized nation-states" in the sense that the state now stretches beyond its geographic boundaries. By this logic, there is no longer a diaspora because wherever its people go, their state goes with them. In this region, however, it is very hard to imagine this kind of state being born. Anthony Smith’s argument that nation-states are "territorial by definition" bears some weight.
The tension that currently exists between the practices of Palestinian transmigrants/returnees/refugees and the policies of the PNA shows that the prospect of an extra-territorialized nation-state is more feasible than the former. In this case the state is territorialized, but it distinguishes between citizenship and nationality. Accordingly, the rights and the duties of those who live in Palestine would not be a function of their nationality (i.e. whether they are Palestinian or not.) At the same time, those who live abroad who are of Palestinian origin could also enjoy rights and duties, even though not residing permanently in Palestine. Such an arrangement would be possible only if the PNA was able to enter into special agreements with countries that host Palestinian refugees, in order to facilitate full dual citizenship. This, particularly in light of outstanding questions regarding the capacity for absorbing Palestinian refugees, could be an honorable solution for those not willing to return but who would nevertheless like to belong to a Palestinian nation and be involved in Palestinian public affairs. It can be expected that many Palestinian refugees will return only to obtain Palestinian nationality and then leave, or simultaneously maintain two places of residency.
The model of two extraterritorial nation states--Israeli and Palestinian--is a model that falls somewhere between the two-state solution which due to power inequities is now leading to an apartheid system, and the absolutely unpopular solution of a bi-national state. A sort of "confederation" may be a more feasible solution: two extraterritorial nation states, with Jerusalem as their capital, contemporaneously forming, without territorial divisions, two different states.
Sari Hanafi is a sociologist and director of the Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Center, Shaml in Ramallah.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Israel's interests take primacy
an interview with Dore Gold
bitterlemons: Is there room for a viable Palestinian state alongside a viable Jewish state in the Land of Israel?
Gold: The word "viable" has been introduced into the political parlance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in recent years even though it has largely remained an undefined term. The Israeli government has stated that it is prepared to live alongside a Palestinian state. But at the same time it will have its own territorial and functional interests that must be protected in order to provide for Israel's security. Ideally, the borders and the powers of a Palestinian state should be a product of negotiation. But at present Israel does not have a negotiating partner to help define these elements.
bitterlemons: So if Israel withdraws unilaterally, can the remaining territory be defined as a Palestinian state?
Gold: Israel will approach the final boundaries that it regards as acceptable from the standpoint of its interest in retaining defensible borders, which has been a long-term interest of every Israeli prime minister since 1967. In his last address to the Knesset, one month before his assassination, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin outlined his concept of defensible borders for Israel. There were elements that had nothing to do with security but with Israel's national history, e.g., his insistence that Jerusalem remain united under Israeli sovereignty. But he also spoke of the need to retain settlement blocs and the Jordan Rift Valley "in the widest sense of the term." This was Rabin's legacy to the people of Israel.
bitterlemons: Do the disengagement plans of the current Israeli government allow for a viable Palestinian state?
Gold: In the future, Israel should approach its options on the territorial aspects of a settlement in the West Bank and Gaza with two factors in mind. One, what are the lessons of the Oslo failure and how can Israel avoid repeating them? And two, what is the likely security environment that Israel will face in the Middle East in the foreseeable future?
bitterlemons: You appear to insist on defining the viability of a Palestinian state in terms of Israel's needs. What about Palestinian needs?
Gold: The term "viable" is like the term "the legitimate rights of the Palestinians." As [United States President] Jimmy Carter once asked [Israeli Prime Minister] Menachem Begin, "are there illegitimate rights?" Accordingly, would Israel support a nonviable Palestinian state? "Viable" is a term that is difficult to debate. Clearly different parties attach different meanings to the term. Does it mean territorial contiguity? Imply a certain number of square kilometers? If so, is Singapore viable?
Israel will recognize a Palestinian state as long as Israel's interests are protected. In the 1980s many concluded from this discussion that federal and con-federal structures would be preferable. But that's voluntary, and there's no indication that Jordan has such an interest.
bitterlemons: You are a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Does the United Nations define membership criteria in terms of viability?
Gold: There are in international law criteria that serve as guidelines for states to decide upon recognizing newly emerging countries. For example, that there is a defined territory, a permanent population, the capacity to enter into relations with other states. But territorial critical mass or contiguity are not criteria.
Dr. Dore Gold is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is former ambassador of Israel to the United Nations.
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