A Marshall Plan for Palestine

We have entered a most precarious state in the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs.
April 4, 2002

The rapid downward spiral of events in Israel and the Occupied Territories produces yet more death, destruction and despair. Both sides seethe with rage at the other, oblivious to the parallel courses that their respective national movements have taken — and hence incapable of the slightest empathy for the other.

We have entered a most precarious state in the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs. It is a tribal blood feud in which "normal" considerations like physical safety and economic sustenance are altogether forgotten.

It would be easy to say that the culpable party is the Palestinian side, which encourages and then celebrates the gruesome ritual of the suicide bomber. Its leadership has repeatedly failed to forge a more effective and humane path of national liberation. Moreover, the rampant corruption of the Palestinian Authority does little to lift the average family in the West Bank and Gaza out of abject poverty.

And yet, we cannot forget that the profound desperation of the Palestinians is a byproduct of Israel’s 35-year occupation. Occupation has deprived Palestinians of their basic right to human dignity — and along with that, of a viable economic infrastructure, a stable civil society, and a reliable leadership that will take years to build.

One of the consequences is that the creation of a Palestinian state alone will not solve the problem. Needless to say, we seem lights years away from that point. Gen. Anthony Zinni cannot even broker a cease-fire, no less bring the warring parties together to discuss broader political issues.

If and when they do return to the negotiating table, the Camp David points formulated by Bill Clinton — Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, creation of a Palestinian state, East Jerusalem as its capital, shared control over the Temple Mount, etc. — will be necessary but not sufficient conditions for a definitive settlement. What will also be required will be a massive infusion of aid, investment, and expert advice to the fledgling Palestinian entity. Only such a massive package can exert a transformative effect on Palestinian society. If Palestinians see no hope for a better future, even in their own state, they will have little incentive to abandon present tactics. Conversely, if they see the prospect of refugee camps being transformed into bustling urban centers, they might be prepared to eschew the path of armed struggle they have chosen.

Admittedly, this idea is a bit fantastical. Neither side is ready for compromise at this moment. The two aging leaders, Sharon and Arafat, are reprising their tragic dance from Beirut 20 years ago, but now with deadlier results. And President Bush remains as hesitant as ever to invest American diplomatic or financial capital in the resolution of foreign conflict.

Yet the present moment demands boldness, foresight, and perhaps a glance back at the past. Fifty-five years ago, Secretary of State George Marshall declared, "Europe’s requirements are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character." The ensuing American commitment to rebuild wartorn Europe offers a model for a political and economic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians — that is, a Marshall, or perhaps Powell, Plan for Palestine.

This Plan can and will not work if it is the result of solitary American investment. Rather, it requires an activist American diplomatic effort to enlist the European Union and the Arab League, fresh from its historic endorsement of the Saudi peace initiative, to a multibillion dollar plan for the reconstruction of Palestine. Of course, the Israelis must also commit their own political and economic resources to the undertaking. And the Palestinian leadership will need not only to eschew the path of terrorism, but agree to overhaul its corrupt bureaucracy.

The logic of this plan rests on the sad fact that the two parties are incapable at present of extricating themselves from their conflict. Outside intervention is urgently needed. Sporadic or short-term mediation designed to achieve a temporary cease-fire or an interim political agreement no longer suffices. Rather, a sustained and substantial commitment by the international community, led by the United States, is the order of the day.

The stakes could not be higher. In the absence of a major international effort, Israelis and Palestinians stand to shed much more blood. And their war could degenerate into a broader regional conflict that threatens the stability of the entire world. Before we reach that point, let us agitate for a comprehensive solution that provides a conclusive exit from the current tragedy.

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