You really can't blame those regional and international actors and donors whose image of the West Bank and Gaza has evolved over the years from prospective independent new state to desperate basket case; whose attitude has changed from encouraging and cultivating a political peace process to ensuring that Palestinians don't starve. Two main factors appear to have influenced this growing preference for economics over politics.
First, the political factor. So many formerly active advocates of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process have lost hope for any near-term solution. Many Israelis have concluded that the fault lies in a combination of poor Israeli and Palestinian leadership and political systems that constrain courageous decision-making and allow both terrorism and settlements to flourish. Many Palestinians have in recent years come to support Hamas, a movement that rejects peace with Israel. The moderate Arab states are increasingly more concerned about threats from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hizballah, al-Qaeda and their own lack of cohesiveness than the seemingly bottomless pit of the Palestinian issue. And much of the rest of the world has watched the military and political failure of the withdrawal from Gaza and the Hamas takeover there and concluded that an agreed compromise solution is not in the offing.
Second, the economic factor. Efforts to prime Israeli-Palestinian coexistence through economic development have been a major feature of the two peoples' relationship since the occupation of 1967. Moshe Dayan's "open bridges" policy of 1967 and Shimon Peres' "new Middle East" of the Oslo era come to mind, as does the Paris treaty of the mid-1990s that ensured ongoing Palestinian economic dependency on Israel. Nor is this strictly an Israeli approach: Palestinian economists, too, have advocated close economic integration, and the global donor community contributed billions of dollars during the Oslo era to development projects intended to catalyze peace through prosperity.
Nowhere and never did this approach succeed: negative political and security developments always prevailed over economics. But this has not stopped the advocates of the economic track from trying.
The donor countries (to Palestine) meet this week at the United Nations. It is understandable that these wealthy states, confronting the current poor prospects for peace, are focusing on a two-pronged economic effort. First, to ensure a subsistence level of existence in Gaza until Hamas rule somehow disappears, and second, to develop economic, political and military infrastructure in the West Bank as a precursor to a successful peace process. In both cases they are right, in the sense that the absence of a promising peace process shifts the emphasis to economic development. But they are wrong if they really think these economic efforts will evolve into peace any time soon.
That's why the current policies of both the Olmert government and President Mahmoud Abbas seem so out of step with reality. On the one hand Olmert and Abbas, egged on by the Bush administration and each clutching at illusory straws of political salvation, are trying to generate a new peace process that totally lacks in the necessary foundations of strong government and a capacity to "deliver"--whether on new Israeli territorial and security concessions or on Palestinian responsibility for security. On the other, they are enforcing tight economic strictures on the Gaza Strip--the Israeli Cabinet just declared the Strip "hostile territory" where even vital supplies like electricity may now be cut off in punishment for terrorist rocket attacks on Israel--on the vain and unfounded assumption that this will somehow, by popular vote or street revolution, bring down Hamas.
Better to focus on support for Quartet envoy Tony Blair's mandate to build Palestinian infrastructure; and better to reopen the Gaza Strip passages to a modicum of commerce--whatever the security situation will allow. A peace process should wait for the creation of viable Palestinian security institutions and stronger leadership in the West Bank and in Israel. As for the security situation around Gaza, Israel has far cleaner, more efficient and more humane options than impoverishing Gazans.- Published 24/9/2007 © bitterlemons.org
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is in essence political. It started as a result of where Israel was established and how Palestinians were consequently forced from their homeland in 1948. The conflict was further aggravated when Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, in 1967. Palestinians now are either under occupation or refugees. In some cases they are refugees under occupation. In all cases they have been denied their political rights, primarily their right to self-determination and statehood.
As a byproduct of this political conflict, Palestinians have been deprived of some of their basic human rights as well. Refugees have lived miserable lives in neighboring countries, while those under occupation have suffered the iniquities of belligerent Israeli military rule and all that that has entailed including collective punishment on a massive scale.
The last decade of the last century witnessed the first internationally-supported political attempt to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by recognizing Palestinian political rights and allowing a Palestinian leadership to negotiate for a solution. Since then there has been a constantly growing accumulation of peace efforts, political negotiations, schemes, proposals and initiatives that have all had as their one common denominator the two-state solution, i.e., giving Palestinians the right of self-determination in an independent state on the part of Palestine that was occupied by Israel in 1967.
But the first decade of this century has witnessed a series of setbacks and eventually the complete collapse of these political efforts. The international community became completely paralyzed and remained on the sidelines, an almost silent witness to this deterioration and the reversal of the political efforts. Together with Israel, the international community has instead tried to compensate for neglecting to promote a political solution by attempting to deal only with the symptoms of the conflict, i.e., the economic deterioration and the worsening humanitarian conditions.
This shift in policy accompanied and was partly a cause of the radicalization process in both Israel and Palestine. The radicalization of both publics led first to the election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel and then to the election of Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority. Both events helped erode any political prospects and further diverted the international community to focus solely on humanitarian aid.
That this is extremely unhelpful is backed up by any number of reports by independent humanitarian and development agencies working in the occupied territories, including the UN and the World Bank. These have repeatedly found that the causes of the economic and humanitarian deterioration are indeed political. These causes include the annexation of land by Israel, the establishment of new and expansion of existing illegal settlements, as well as the fragmentation of Palestinian land and the restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and their goods within and beyond the occupied territories.
Other independent studies come to the same conclusion, but it is really only common sense to suggest that progress in reversing the worsening humanitarian situation can only come about with progress in realizing Palestinian political rights, thereby also stalling the radicalization of public opinion. The vicious circle cannot be broken by emergency humanitarian aid. It can only be broken with a political solution of the kind that ends the economic deterioration and humanitarian suffering in a substantial and sustainable way by showing that political negotiations are more effective than violence in achieving the legitimate objectives of the Palestinian people.
Until then, and in spite of the necessity to continue humanitarian and economic support, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will only deepen and continue to negatively influence regional stability.- Published 24/9/2007 © bitterlemons.org.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The great illusion
by Yossi Beilin
It is not difficult to understand those who have lost faith in recent years--those who have concluded that our conflict is not solvable and those who want to move from solving the conflict to managing it. But unless we take the extra step forward, unless we reach the moment of truth and make the necessary effort to reach a solution whose details we all by now know by heart, the situation cannot be managed.
There are those who believe that we can bypass the basic, solvable issues by implementing massive economic investments. But at a time when we don't know where the borders are, when the capital cities are not recognized and the rules of the game are unclear, these parties are simply fooling themselves. Quantitatively, the funds directed toward our region in recent years have been without precedent. This fact alone is sufficient to explain that money doesn't solve everything.
Then there is the approach that argues in favor of aiding the Palestinians in the West Bank and creating an economic garden of Eden there while turning Gaza into an economic hell. This is not only inhuman, but has no chance of achieving its objective. Anyone seeking to strengthen the pragmatic actors and weaken the extremist actors and inciters cannot adopt such a childish and hopeless approach. Without an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement there will be no economic prosperity in the West Bank, just as economic hardship in Gaza will only increase its residents' anger. The latter will blame the entire world for their deteriorating situation--but not Hamas. Such a policy will likely strengthen the extremists rather than having the opposite effect.
The right approach is to afford Palestinians in the West Bank a more normal life alongside an intensive political process that leads, via the international conference set for this November, to a permanent status agreement. This means removing a significant portion of the checkpoints and allowing more Palestinians to work in Israel. As for Gaza, we must reach a ceasefire with Hamas that comprises the release of Gilad Shalit, the opening of passages for imports and exports and permission for Gazans to work in Israel.
Such a ceasefire is the most significant response possible to the unceasing Palestinian rocket fire on the western Negev. It would also prevent sabotage of the international conference by Hamas and enable Israel to reach agreement with the PLO in the West Bank. And it would leave open the option of expanding to include Gaza as well if the current regime there is willing or if, alternatively, Gazans prefer a different leadership.
The idea of using economic tools as the central variable in solving the conflict has repeatedly proven to be an illusion. Of course economic development is important: we cannot ignore the mass unemployment, the poverty and the hardship and their ramifications for public health, education of the younger generation, etc. But economics is an auxiliary tool: it cannot replace a political process and is not the central tool for leveraging other processes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan believed the "open bridges" policy he instituted after the Six-Day War would produce the calm he needed to wait for a "phone call" from the other side. After the 1991 Madrid conference, Israel insisted on commencing economic cooperation within the framework of the multilateral talks, an approach that did produce a few interesting developments. Following the signing of the Oslo DOP in 1993, major global efforts were made to aid the Palestinian economy. But everyone learned, time and again, that any economic development is totally dependent on the political situation. No economic process can exist when political and security tensions are worsening.
The ideas that are associated with President Shimon Peres, based (not entirely accurately) on his book "The New Middle East", that it is possible to create economic interests in our region so strong they are immune to political deterioration and that economic interests can bring peace, have repeatedly been proven unrealistic. I have been there. I headed the Israeli delegation to the multilaterals. Later, as a member of the government, I was involved in the regional economic conferences and in planning joint projects with the Jordanians and Palestinians. I watched all the beautiful plans collapse the moment we confronted terrorism and tension. I witnessed what happened when PM Binyamin Netanyahu in effect ended the Oslo process, after which there were no more economic conferences; how the multilateral process collapsed; how regional economic plans were shelved in the absence of a peace process.
The conclusion is clear. In looking at this cause-and-effect, chicken-and-egg issue--whether significant economic processes can be developed in order that the two sides understand that it is worth their while to make peace or it is preferable to sign a final status agreement and only then develop economic interests--I am convinced that the latter option is the better one. I certainly agree that when peace exists and is accompanied by economic interests that promise profits to both sides, it is harder to damage the peace. Hence I will always support the development of economic relations with our neighbors. But I am not prepared to support the illusion that the opposite direction of development--first economics, then peace--is feasible.- Published 24/9/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Member of Knesset Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad party.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
an interview with Islah Jad
bitterlemons: There's a suggestion, strongly backed up by the reported brief of Tony Blair as Quartet envoy, that the international community is focusing very much on institution building and humanitarian aid rather than Palestinian political rights. Do you think this is correct?
Jad: Yes, in general that's the trend.
bitterlemons: Is this a useful road to go down?
Jad: No. The source of the problems in this area is the denial of the political rights of the Palestinian people. The Israeli invasion at the end of March 2002 showed very clearly that investing in so-called development and humanitarian aid is nonsensical because that invasion, in less than 24 hours, turned all these development projects to rubble.
The continuation of conflict here is because of the denial of Palestinian political rights, and no amount of humanitarian or developmental aid can help before this is addressed.
bitterlemons: There is a suggestion by those who promote the development agenda that in order for Palestinians to be in position to negotiate a peace they need strong institutions. Is this getting things upside-down?
Jad: Absolutely. In order to build institutions you need consensus. The last elections showed very clearly that there was consensus to bring a new elite willing to build institutions based on objective criteria and accountability. But such change proved futile because the new elite was not willing to follow the political agendas of outside donors, and those donors would not then respect this change. I think this was a very hypocritical political stand.
bitterlemons: Critics, particularly in Israel, argued that during the 1990s one major cause of the breakdown of the Oslo process was that the PA did not build strong institutions, especially in the security field, to fulfill its obligations. Is there truth in that?
Jad: Concerning the different security apparatuses, I think their establishment is normal when a new elite wants to build its constituency and wants to control power. But suppose the Israelis had delivered on the political agenda? I don't think the situation would be as it is right now. One of the factors that enforced the trend to build different security apparatuses is the Israeli tendency to see the conflict as a security rather than a political problem. So part of the proliferation of the security apparatuses and their consequent corruption was also to some extent due to Israeli intervention and pressures.
bitterlemons: What should the international community focus on now?
Jad: They should do as they did with Iraq. When that country ignored UN Security Council resolutions it resulted in war and the destruction of a whole country. In Palestine there is a whole slew of resolutions. I don't mean that the international community should start a war with Israel, but it should exert political pressure to force Israel to abide by the will of the international community.
bitterlemons: Is there not a danger, assuming that the international community exerts this pressure, that a vacuum is left on the Palestinian side with an absence of functioning institutions?
Jad: I don't think so. If the security threat over Palestinians is lifted and people are left alone to manage their own internal affairs I think Palestinians are sufficiently politically aware to do so and well. I believe that Palestinian democracy could correct its own house if left free to do so.
bitterlemons: Do you have any hope that the November meeting called by the US will address any of these concerns?
Jad: No. I think it's a piece of theater to serve US purposes. I don't think the meeting will lead to any tangible results. It lacks political will and preparation and the vital Israeli political will to reach a historical compromise with the Palestinians.- Published 24/9/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Islah Jad teaches women's studies and cultural studies at Birzeit University.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.