If one assumes, as I do, that there will be a Palestinian state within the near future, one must recognize there are two possible routes toward that state’s development. The first potential method is for Palestinians to establish all the necessary foundations for a state, such as infrastructure, a legal system, a standing army, a stable economy and a representative government, and then attain statehood—either through internationally-authorized diplomatic means or by means of force. Alternatively, Palestine may be granted statehood more abruptly and then allowed to flourish under that new title.
Both approaches have clear benefits and drawbacks. The former process would more likely ensure the long-term stability of the Palestinian state; however, the latter method would more immediately alleviate the harsh realities afflicting the Palestinian people so acutely today.
These two possible courses for achieving this common end appear fundamentally at odds in the current socio-political climate. The deadlock between these two ideologies has already exhibited and will continue to demonstrate negative repercussions for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Palestinians have seemingly divided their limited resources inefficiently between opposing Israeli occupation (in the hopes of attaining independence as soon as possible) and more gradually developing a thorough groundwork for their promised state. Meanwhile, an inability in Israeli society to recognize the shifts occurring in its midst and an obsession with maintaining the status quo have stalled any possible preparations Israel ought to be making for the realization of those shifts.
The Palestinian position is that Israel has deliberately stifled its state-building efforts. Palestinians maintain that without the official recognition as an independent state, and the advantages that this distinction carries in international institutions, they do not have sufficient means to make substantial advancements in regards to infrastructure, human rights and democratic governance. There are certainly legitimate grounds for some such claims.
In truth, however, Israeli objections to immediately granting Palestinian statehood do not directly contradict Palestinian appeals for justice. Israeli society has become dangerously accustomed to the suffering Palestinians face on a daily basis; however, Israel has not assumed the role of oppressor due to mere racist tendencies. In fact, a significant portion of the Israeli Jewish population recognizes the heinousness of the Palestinian reality today.
Israel’s hesitation in offering Palestinians a state within Israel’s current borders does indeed relate to security. Granted, there is a substantial cohort of Israelis (many of whom occupy powerful roles in the government), whose objections to a Palestinian state are not security-related. However, holders of such views will have to appreciate, sooner or later, that their ultra-nationalist positions are outdated and untenable in the current global understanding of the conflict.
The more compelling motivation Israelis have for waiting for the Palestinian state to develop further before allowing it to declare independence is quite simply an existential concern. Israel, and much of the international community, maintains it is imprudent to grant Palestinians a state before they have adequately proven that their state will not become a launching ground for fringe groups of extremists.
I truly hope Israel and its Western allies are informed and respectful enough to know that most Palestinians are not militant. Nonetheless, Israel and its allies are less confident that Palestinians currently possess the means to control the few radicals, who would use a Palestinian state for ulterior ends. Israel wants to ensure that a Palestinian state, run entirely without Israel’s guidance, will not be perceived across either the Arab or Muslim world as a stepping-stone to eliminating the Jewish State completely. It is these fears that ultimately underlie the more aggressive campaigns against Palestinian statehood. Israel fears a concession of such great magnitude will signal Israeli weakness to the world. This is surely a misguided interpretation, but one must understand that Israel’s sense of self-assurance is far more vulnerable than anyone cares to admit.
Israel would prefer to see Palestinians successfully run their territories for a period of time before providing them full autonomy. The continuous rocket fire from Gaza and the seven years without legislative elections in the territories have not been encouraging signs for Israel.
Of course, this line of reasoning leads to a somewhat circular stalemate. Israel claims it is not yet safe to grant Palestinians a state because they cannot control their lands effectively and justly. Meanwhile, Palestinians argue that their inability to quash extremism and to maintain democracy stems from Israel’s denial of their right to self-rule.
The two paths toward Palestinian statehood must meet half way. Israel’s present expectations for the Palestinians are unreasonable. Israel must acknowledge that Palestinians will not be able to establish a fully-functioning state without the recognition of the international community and in the face of Israel’s incessant discriminatory practices. On the other hand, Palestinians cannot minimize Israel’s security concerns nor can they claim they are unquestionably prepared for statehood despite a flawed track-record and sizable rifts among their people.
It is worth noting that the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 exemplified a sort of happy medium between the two time-frames described above. Before the Zionist project came to fruition, it was forced to demonstrate to the world that it would be able to sustain itself. That having been stated, Israeli independence was declared long before all the details of an Israeli state had been clearly defined.
Israel’s present strategy must be altered dramatically. Whether inadvertently or intentionally, Israel has bred a sense of hopelessness among Palestinians. This is simply not an effective policy. Firstly, it is unsustainable. Palestinians are learning to manage their situation and attract the attention of the global community regarding Israel’s wrongdoings. Secondly, this hopelessness only fuels the Palestinian will for liberation, a will which is being used far more diligently today than during the second intifada.
The Palestinian model today, however, is not without flaw. Palestinians, despite their dire circumstances, must stop playing the victim card. Continually claiming that Israel is the source of all problems within Palestinian society diminishes the credibility of the Palestinian national project and furthers the relationship of antagonism between Israelis and Palestinians.
While the two courses toward Palestinian statehood remain fairly inconsistent, some positive steps have already been taken. Some Palestinians, primarily in more urban areas, have relegated fighting the Israeli occupation to a secondary mission, in favor of simply advancing their unrecognized state. More Palestinians must follow this lead and build on all fronts. They must strengthen their communities, bolster their institutions, develop their infrastructure, enhance their human rights and form a government that can fairly represent the entire Palestinian population at the negotiating table with Israel. With these goals reached, surely both Israel and the international community will feel more at ease with the notion of an independent Palestinian state.
Likewise, in Israel some progress has been made. If not in the political sphere, an abundance of organizations have surfaced recently, which aim to highlight and fight the injustices Palestinians currently face. Furthermore, Israel has seemingly begun to take note of international pressures that urge Israel to more seriously consider the potential for a successful Palestinian state.
Another Israeli viewpoint that supports a more immediate establishment of a Palestinian state is more cynical. Some Israelis claim that in light of Israel’s newfound reputation as an oppressive, violent regime, Israel ought to simply stand down and grant the Palestinians independence. The result would either be a lasting peace, or Palestinians not holding their end of the bargain and the world being forced to reevaluate which side to brand the aggressor. This strategy, though potentially effective, is not only somewhat offensive, but also quite risky for Israelis.
The more realistic approach must hinge on compromise. Palestinians have an obligation to continue with their growth before demanding statehood. Likewise, Israelis have a responsibility to adapt their understanding of the future of Palestinian statehood while fostering the independent progress of the Palestinians.
To those well-versed in the conflict, this prescription might seem simplistic. One might ask, what about settlements, refugees, borders, water, Jerusalem or the scores of other issues supposedly delaying the peace process? My response is basically that all of those issues are secondary, and resolvable later. Despite comparisons drawn with other international struggles, this is a conflict unlike any other in history. It is extraordinarily nuanced, and it will thus require out-of-the-box solutions. Unprecedented measures must be considered. Anyone unwilling to entertain the possibility of a nation whose map looks like a “Swiss cheese” or unable to conceive of one city serving as the capital for two nations simultaneously is treating the situation too obtusely.
However, until Israel and Palestine can come to an understanding about what shape they want the peace-process to take, minute details of land-swaps or refugee-compensations are moot. For now, both sides must take a step back. Expectations must be adjusted. The world is losing its patience concerning this conflict. If both sides gesture that their approaches remain malleable, it will instill hope throughout the world that there will be peace yet.