A Palestinian state: Like Gaza, only bigger
“Two-state” Middle East proposals are alluring given the prizes they offer each side: a Jewish, democratic Israel; and an independent Palestine. But any real two-state “solution” (and not just a two-state result) must improve the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. For Palestinians, that’s unlikely.
Ten years ago this week, the radical terrorist group Hamas took control of the already-miserable Gaza Strip – and daily life in Gaza has only worsened in the decade since. Indeed, two million Gazans face massive unemployment and daily struggles to find adequate food, housing, electricity, clean water, and medical care. The United Nations predicts the area will be “unlivable” by 2020.
Gaza’s dire straits are usually blamed on the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, as well as other travel and economic restrictions that wouldn’t apply if Palestine were independent. But Palestinian structural, political, and cultural problems mean the Gaza script is all too likely to be replayed on the West Bank in the event of a two-state resolution. How long before the Palestinian residents of Nablus and Hebron begin pining for the good old days of Israeli presence?
With all the complaints about Israeli checkpoints and other restrictions, it’s easy to forget that Israel built the skeleton upon which Palestine has rested, for better or worse, for half a century.
I’m not sure Israel would simply hand over the infrastructure it created – let’s face it, mostly for its own citizens – in the event of a Palestinian state. Two states would not reflect a “divorce” as in Czechoslovakia in 1993, since the land for Palestine originally came from Jordan and Israel was never binational. If Palestine asks Israel to defer to its declaration of independence, it can’t reasonably expect to simply keep everything Israel built within its borders. The two states would have to negotiate the disposition of the West Bank’s water systems, telecommunications, transportation, electric grid, and more.
But even if Israel did abandon all claims to the foundation it built through massive investment in the West Bank, Palestinians have no experience administering and operating it efficiently. Over in Gaza, the technical problems are not solely due to Israeli interference; Hamas blunders also play a role.
The currency Palestinians use – even in Gaza – is the Israeli shekel. An independent Palestine would have its own currency, which – even if pegged to the dollar or the Euro – would be untested and a risky change from Israel’s currently robust shekel.
People often forget that Israel’s military presence in the West Bank modulates the territory’s internal conflicts. Palestinians are sharply divided, particularly regarding the religious and political shape of any future state. Israel’s army has kept those tensions from boiling over into civil war. Who will play that role if Israel withdraws?
And some of Gaza’s plight results from Palestinian cultural factors that would stymie a healthy democracy. (Indeed, the technically democratic Palestinian Authority hasn’t held an election in 11 years.) Notorious corruption on the West Bank combined with tribal and regional rivalries suggest a constantly destabilized Palestine, particularly after it can no longer (well, should no longer) unify its people by blaming its disarray on Israel.
Of course, one of the reasons for Gaza’s hardship is the three short but devastating wars it fought with Israel. Israel had to invade each time because of rockets being fired at its civilians – and not only by militants controlled by Hamas. An independent Palestine will be hard-pressed to prevent individuals and groups from launching missiles on Israel – this time from closer range to Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv. Palestinians bemoan the deaths of Gaza residents from Israel’s “disproportionate response” to its defensive actions. Independence in the West Bank would double down on that problem.
Why are Palestinians even pushing for an independent state given its likely failure to improve their lives? It’s not like they are unaware of the obstacles. Well, for many of them, an independent Palestine is just one step toward the ultimate goal of a unified nation including all of their “heritage” – and that includes Tel Aviv and its suburbs as much as it does Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.
Not every world problem has a solution. Korea remains divided and China still occupies Tibet. Many Israelis have welcomed he Trump Administration’s signals it is not wedded to the two-state approach. Perhaps Palestinians should also be heartened and eager to explore different strategies for easing the conflict, lest a two-state result produces a Palestinian state that is basically Gaza, only bigger.