Wednesday, August 26, 2009

State Within A State

Unlike Yasir Arafat's periodic declarations, Salam Fayyad's announcements that his government is preparing the institutions of statehood, irrespective of negotiations with Israel, should be taken seriously--and welcomed. As I argue in a forthcoming article in October's Harper's, Fayyad is no mere technocrat. He represents, and is organizing, precisely the business and professional class that can bring off his vision.Palestinians, too, can create facts. Ironically, Fayyad's political strategy mirrors historic Zionism's success.

It has become a settled wisdom (viz., our president, the day after his Cairo speech) that Israel's founding was a kind of answer to the holocaust, or to put it another way, that were it not for the holocaust, Israel would not have come into being. There is half of a truth here: just go back and read Andrei Gromyko's speech to the UN in support of the 1947 partition resolution.

But the bigger half is that the Zionist colonists, led by Ben-Gurion's Histadrut, had created a state within the British Mandate state back during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s: economically and culturally vibrant, and largely self-reliant. Were it not for the holocaust, the state may not have arisen in 1948, but it would have arisen all the more certainly. Indeed, Hitler wound up murdering its most avid cadres: among the millions of Polish Jews who died in the death camps, hundreds of thousands were sophisticated and devoted Zionists.

Palestine's natural leaders, too, have the means to achieve independence and earn international recognition, though (as my article will show) the occupation administration seems to be doing what it can to frustrate them. I've talked to everyone from the head of the Palestine Investment Fund to the CEO of Palestine's leading software house. It is hard to spend time with these people, some of whom have become friends over the years, and then hear reflexive Israeli government doubts about whether the peace process has a partner--something you hear much less from Israel business people, by the way. More soon.

10 comments:

John said...

I can't find the reference but I came across something a couple of weeks back about Khalid Mishal, favorite son of Hamas and target of a poison plot by Bibi years ago, being a rising star in a move to unite the two Palestinian political groups. Are you aware of anything like that?

Potter said...

"Were it not for the holocaust, the state may not have arisen in 1948, but it would have arisen all the more certainly."

This is an interesting assertion, a good thought experiment that I would love to hear explored more fully including counter arguments.

Usually it's "Were it not for the holocaust, the state would not have arisen."

Y. Ben-David said...

Okay, let's say that Fayyad "represents the business and professional classes" in the Palestinian Authority. But who says they have major political influence in the PA? Fayyad was chosen as Prime Minister not because they had the political clout to get him the position, but because the foreign donors (mostly EU and US) who prop up the PA (their handouts cover the majority of the PA's operating expenses) insisted that someone supposedly "clean" and technocratically efficient like Fayyad be the front man of the PA to avoid the blatant, obvious corruption of Arafat's regime.

Dr Avishai's views are consistently those of the "materalist" school of thought that says that the dominant trend in politics is that of the "business/professional" class. But who says that is true? The recent FATAH Congress didn't reflect the views of this group. They still talk about "revolution" and subordinating all Palestinian trends to furthering those aims.
Did the "business" class support the breakup of Yugoslavia which led to massive bloodshed and a "bad business climate"? What about the carnage in Iraq? No, but it happened anyway. People have passions and interests that go beyond simply making as much money as possible. In the Arab/Muslim Middle East Islamic religion is a more influential force than business. This is what will define the Palestinian interests first.

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David: Maybe the business class did support the break-up of Yugoslavia. States within the Yugoslav Federation wanted more control over their economies; the break-up had a strong economic component.

People need to have a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. That is economic materialism. If they don't have that (a means to that),control over their lives to that extent, then there's social unrest and it most likely will occur along ethnic and religious lines.

Multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious co-existence is not unknown in the world. Look at the conditions that promote it.

I believe a Palestinian state will be secular by the will of the people. I think they, a majority, know this does not mean rejection of religion. But in any case this is their choice not Israel's... and it may be a stage they have to go through.

Joel said...

Y. Ben-David seems to be confident that he understands the Palestinians. If he is an acknowledged and widely published authority on Arab civilization, I should like to be so informed. At present, I doubt it. I’m not such an authority either. My sources are limited to reading some of the Palestinian press, reading the writings of the Palestinian leaders of cooperative Israeli/Palestinian organizations and reading the results of the joint surveys conducted by the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute and the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research. I have also spoken with my Palestinian neighbors and colleagues in Ann Arbor and, unfortunately, with only a very few Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank.

The basis upon which I can reach tentative conclusions is obviously limited, but here they are nonetheless.

What do the Palestinians know of the history of the conflict? Certainly, they are aware of the recent offenses committed against them by Israeli Jews. Well educated Palestinians are also aware that: most of the Yishuv land was purchased from its legitimate owners; that they were responsible for most of the atrocities of the 1920’s; that they aided, abetted and rejoiced over the attacking Arab armies in 1948; that they helped to foment the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars, and that they carried on the incursions that preceded the invasion of Lebanon. Aware of all this and aware that the welfare of their people requires peace, many of these Palestinian leaders are working to keep their fellows aware of the facts and are working to achieve a peace – witness Yasser Abed-Rabbo, former PLO Minister of Information and Culture and chief Palestinian negotiator at Geneva, Hanna Siniora, Co-CEO of IPCRI and Ghassan Khatib, coeditor of the “bitterlemons” family of internet publications, vice-president for community outreach at Birzeit University and former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.

What do the Palestinians want? Like most Israelis, most Palestinians want peace and prosperity. Of course, like the Israeli Gush Emunim, Hamas wants to do the will of God as they understand it, and they want control of all the land between the river and the sea. Fortunately, the Palestinians have for decades been mostly secular. What is to become of Gush Emunim, I don’t know.

What is it that the Palestinians don’t want? They don’t want: massive unemployment, malnourished children, the destruction of their crops and homes, too few and inadequate and overcrowded schools, an inadequate water supply, a polluted environment, their fellows held captive by Israel, and the targeted assassination of their leaders. So, the things that the Palestinians don’t want for Palestinians are nearly exactly the same as the things that we Jews don’t want for Israeli Jews.
What is nonnegotiable? As Netanyahu well knows, accepting Israel as a "Jewish state" is implicitly accepting second class status for Israeli Arab citizens, and this the Palestinians can’t and won’t do.

What about a single binational state? I believe that a single state is out of the question at this time. Presently, there is too much mutual fear and anger. Additionally, the secular and religious components of each people must work out their own accommodations, before they can successfully share the governance of a state, however defined.

What can we in America do? We can cross our fingers and support Obama. But, if Obama’s efforts prove inadequate, there is something else that we can do, and we should start right away. We can do everything that we can to support the several Israeli and Palestinian organizations which are promoting positive contacts between individual Israelis and Palestinians, until the majorities realize that their opponents are human beings with whom they can relate to their mutual benefit.

Y. Ben-David said...

Joel-
You express admirable sentiments, but what you are hearing from your Palestinian friends in Ann Arbor is irrelevant. For that matter, what the Palestinian in the street in the Palestinian Authority territories is irrelevant. Did you hear what was said at the recent FATAH Congress? They didn't talk about peace and cooperation. Why did HAMAS win the election a few years ago if everybody wants peace and cooperation?
The fact is that while the rank and file Palestinians may really want peace, they have no way of expressing this publicly. The money they need to live on comes either through the FATAH-controlled Palestinian Authority or HAMAS-controlled Gaza regime. He who pays the piper is the one who calls the tune. It is the money that these groups control (much of it received as handouts from the US, EU, Iran or Syria) that decides everything, and so people keep their mouths shut in order to be able to survive. The "business and professional classes" that Dr Avishai seems to think are a pressure group that is going to push for policies HE thinks are "reasonable" will NOT do such a thing. The Palestinian Authority is nominally "socialist" which means no one can go into business without close contact with the political power center. Many of the big businesses are monopolies protected by the regime. These businessmen are not going to endanger their position by pushing the political echelons (i.e. FATAH and HAMAS) to carry out policies that these echelons don't approve of--and, as I said, both FATAH and HAMAS are committed to armed struggle against Israel unless Israel capitulates on its own.
No one wants war. I am sure nobody in Lebanon liked the 15 year-long civil war there. I am sure the Algerians didn't like their civil war. I am sure most Germans would have preferred if Hitler had not attacked the USSR. Most Iraqis want peace and quiet. BUT AS WE SEE, CERTAIN LEADERS AND GROUPS CAN FORCE WAR ON THEIR OWN PEOPLE.
So I suggest you follow what the Palestinian leaders and official media say about Israel, Jews and peace, not anecdotal stories of individuals, no matter how sincere they are or seem to be.

Y. Ben-David said...

Regarding the demand that the Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state (and it was NOT Netanyahu that came up with this, it was Olmert and Livni of the Kadima "peace" party), it is odd how the Arabs and many other people view this as unreasonable.
Yet Menachem Begin was required by Sadat (and the PLO) to recognize "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian People). Why was that demand legimate, but not that the Arabs recognize the "legitimate rights of the Jewish people?".

Bill said...

Y. Ben-David,

When exactly has Israel recognized the Palestinian right to a state? Surely if Palestinians are expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, this isn't too much to ask.

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