The Middle East and North Africa region contains an overwhelming number of failed or failing states. Libya is in shambles. Syria is in a state of chaos. Iraq is a ticking time bomb where U.S.-instituted ‘democracy’ is nothing more than a bad joke. ISIS has established a massive regional footprint stretching from the Levant to the Turkish Border. Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, has a larger and better-equipped force than the Lebanese Army. And Egypt has been through a rollercoaster of regimes and ultimately found stability only in the arms of its all-powerful military.
Against this unstable backdrop of conflict and mayhem, the push for establishment of a Palestinian state is as strong as it has ever been. European governments are passing resolutions supporting an independent Palestine and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking a UN resolution on the matter with the utmost urgency.
Before I proceed further, let me state the following: I firmly believe that the Palestinians should have their own state. I believe it is the only long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I challenge those who disagree to provide a viable, long-term alternative.
With that said, I believe that the establishment of a Palestinian State at this time would be a horrible development for the Middle East and the world at large. Deserving a state and being ready for a state are two very different circumstances, and the blurring of the line between the two is dangerous for all parties. The Palestinians are currently plagued by a myriad of issues that would almost immediately classify an independent Palestine as yet another failed state in the Middle East. Particularly given the intimate proximity of a Palestinian state to Israel, a failed Palestine would serve as the ideal springboard for radical Islam to launch attacks on Israel and deepen the abyss of Middle Eastern violence to extreme levels. It is in the best interest of all world powers to avoid such an eventuality and the international ripples it would cause.
The issues that would contribute to a failed Palestinian state are:
#1: Corruption throughout the Palestinian government is rampant. Incalculable amounts of government funds and foreign aid line the pockets of Abbas, his sons and his cronies (just as they lined the pockets of Arafat and his tribe prior). Nepotism and favoritism are deemed to be the primary criteria for political appointments. Even the Middle East Monitor, an ardently pro-Palestinian website, recently published a scathing report of the expansive role of corruption through all institutions of Palestinian society inclusive of its security forces and the universities. Systemic corruption to such an extreme erodes the public’s confidence in their government and almost inevitably leads to infighting and violence. This is particularly relevant in a Hamas v. Fatah landscape that has demonstrated its approach to conflict resolution through murder plots and executions. How does the global community reconcile the establishment of a Palestinian state with the inability of its political powers to co-exist in any degree of harmony with each other or with their constituents?
#2: The Palestinian Authority is a state sponsor of terrorism. According to Palestinian law, any Palestinian incarcerated in Israel is paid a monthly fee of up to several thousand dollars. This overtly includes prisoners convicted of murdering Israeli civilians. The families of suicide bombers also receive long-term payments of equal or greater amounts. In total, these payments amount to 6% of the overall budget of the Palestinian Authority. To put this in perspective, the US spends 6% of its federal budget on the combination of transportation infrastructure, education, and scientific research. The Palestinian Authority spends the same percentage to recognize, celebrate and glorify acts of premeditated murder that are the very definition of terrorism. How can the world justify creating a state whose existing legal framework rewards the slaying of innocent civilians? These are the very types of governments that world powers seek to topple, not erect.
#3: Palestinians live in the equivalent of a welfare state. UNWRA, the UN agency founded in 1949 to provide relief to the 650,000 Palestinian refugees of that time, has grown to become the largest body in the UN. It now provides education, health care and social services to 5 MILLION Palestinian refugees. During that same 65-year period, the UN High Commissioner for refugees succeeded in implementing durable solutions for refugees around the world but in the case of Palestine, it has become a pure welfare organization upon which the Palestinians categorically depend. In other words, the Palestinian Authority has never provided social services to its own population and instead relies upon the $1.2 billion annual budget of UNWRA to do so. Should the Palestinian Authority not be able to demonstrate some capacity for comprehensive self-governance prior to being granted a state? Is there any plan to wean the Palestinians off UNWRA support so that they become self-sufficient or will their upkeep simply become a permanent responsibility of the international community?
#4: Palestinians continue to educate their children to view Israel negatively and negate the validity of its existence. This untenable approach ensures that current and future Palestinian generations will be encouraged to undermine and attack Israel. A 2013 analysis of Palestinian school textbooks revealed that 84% of them characterize Israel negatively, referring to it as the ‘Zionist Occupation’ and the ‘usurpation of Palestine’ (In the spirit of full disclosure, textbooks used by ultra-orthodox Israelis were barely any better with 73% of them characterizing Palestinians negatively). Palestinian children are taught that Israel, their neighbor, has no valid standing as a country. They are taught that all violence against Israeli civilians is justified as ‘armed struggle’ and they are actively recruited and encouraged to engage in such violence. Should peaceful coexistence not be introduced into children’s upbringing as part of the establishment of a Palestinian state? Should the world passively endorse the perpetuation of Palestinian incitement and the violent radicalization of its youth?
#5: There is no freedom of press in the Palestinian territories. Freedom of press is one of the cornerstones of any democratic society. Its absence, the inability of citizens to openly question and criticize government policies, is a hallmark of dictatorships and/or repressive societies. Stories abound throughout Gaza and the West Bank of reporters who are jailed, threatened and even physically abused when their reporting exposes corruption, violence or intimidation within Palestinian society. During this past summer, after the latest round of conflict between Hamas and Israel, several stories surfaced of Hamas’ efforts to limit the publication of news that portrayed them in a negative light. The 2014 Freedom House ‘Freedom of the Press’ Report ranked the Palestinian territories among the worst in the world for press freedoms (equivalent to Somalia!). Without a robust and uninhibited press corps, would a Palestinian state be in any position to empower its citizens towards informed democracy? Is it not a disservice to the Palestinian people to condemn them to a sovereign state where their freedoms are trampled upon?
As calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the near term grow, world leaders and the global community at-large must institute political and social preconditions to ensure that a responsible, transparent and capable government leads the Palestinian people. Afghanistan and Iraq are two recent examples of ‘democracy gone bad’ when a global coalition instituted democracy in a society that didn’t have the prerequisite freedoms and educational core. It is incumbent upon world leaders to use that precedent to help ensure the mistake is not repeated in Palestine. The establishment of a Palestinian state in the absence of such a framework would be irresponsible at best, and extremely dangerous at worst.