Mature leadership must emerge from the ruins and chaosWhen Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with President George W. Bush in Washington today, the major issue on the table will be the creation of a Palestinian state.
Ever since Yasser Arafat appeared to embrace the idea of the State of Israel alongside a Palestinian state in 1988, and the Israeli government accepted the notion of a Palestinian state by signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, it was presumed that the peace process was moving toward a two-state solution. Commentators such as myself have embraced this concept for years. Sadly, however, I now sense we were wrong. Put simply, the Palestinians are not ready for statehood.
I say this with the deeply held belief that in a perfect world there would already exist a Palestinian state -- one that was politically stable and economically viable. But to create a Palestinian state now, in 2002, will not solve the problems of the Middle East as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak suggested to President Bush at Camp David over the weekend. Instead, such a move would make it even harder to bring stability to the region.
The key to creating any state is a monopoly over the means of violence by the legitimate leadership of the proposed state. This is clearly absent in Palestinian Authority areas. There is mounting evidence that Mr. Arafat has lost control over the various Palestinian paramilitary groups and is afraid of challenging the freedom of radical Islamic groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to launch attacks in Israel.
At present, the Islamic groups, and some groups closer to Mr. Arafat, reject the two-state solution to the conflict. As a result, even if a Palestinian state were created the violence would not end, Hamas and others would continue to launch attacks against Israeli citizens. Israel would be forced to retaliate, leading to increased Palestinian support for more attacks against Israeli targets. In short, statehood would not end the violence, but would more likely fan its flames.
The question of political reform within the Palestinian Authority has become so important that to proceed with the creation of a state before this has taken place would be foolhardy for all parties. We need to see a more mature leadership emerge from the ruins and chaos. Values such as accountability and democracy need to be instilled in new leaders who must serve their people in a less selfish manner than have Mr. Arafat and his cronies. Without this, a Palestinian state would resemble Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Economically speaking, a Palestinian state is not viable either. There would be an over-reliance on international aid from Arab and European Union countries -- dangerous given that much of what was promised in the past never arrived. The business sector has not developed as was hoped back in 1993. The majority of successful Palestinian entrepreneurs live outside the boundaries of the proposed state and have shown little inclination to invest in the Palestinian Authority, preferring markets where there is a stronger chance of financial return. Put simply, they continue to invest in global markets for business and not nationalist reasons, and there is little sign this would change with the creation of a state. Consequently, many Palestinian families would become increasingly reliant on one or more members of the family working in Israel or in Kuwait. In these circumstances, it is difficult to see how a state could raise enough taxes to pay for even the most basic services for its citizens.
So, the absence of control over armed groups, the lack of legitimate and credible political leadership and a weak economic sector suggest the only criteria for creating a state today would be to satisfy the nationalist aspirations of Palestinians.
This, however, is sheer folly. Creating such a state would only increase nationalism as the state struggled to survive. The land of milk and honey across the border would likely become a target of frustration, with increased calls to destroy Israel in order to form a more viable state of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan.
World leaders need to understand that creating a Palestinian state today will not end the violence. President Mubarak admits this in private, as does King Abdullah of Jordan. From their perspective, however, the creation of a weak Palestinian state poses little short-term political threat to the strategic balance of the Arab world and satisfies the increasingly strong pro-Palestinian sentiment of their respective populations. What they fail to see is that a failed Palestinian state -- for that is what it would eventually be -- is as much a long-term danger to their own positions as to Israel. Mr. Sharon, will no doubt have to remind President Bush of this point.
At present, a two-state solution represents no solution at all.Neill Lochery is director of the Centre for Israeli Studies at University College in London.
©2002 - National Post