Jonah Naghi

A Palestinian Fishing Rod

What is this one state, two state? I want peace – a Palestinian from Nablus told me on our way to Jerusalem.

During my time in the Palestinian Territories last year, I was humbled to get the chance to speak with many Palestinians during their daily lives. When I asked them about the peace process and whether or not they were for a two-state solution, I can categorize them into three answers.

The first two are obvious: There were those who said, no only one state, Palestine from the river to the sea, and those who were willing to accept a two-state solution. Then there was a third group that I found very interesting and it began with the Palestinian man I spoke with on a bus I was taking back to Jerusalem after spending the weekend in Ramallah.

He spoke fluent Hebrew, so I was able to get the gist of what he was saying and I could ask him basic questions. He said he spoke fluent Hebrew because he studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and told me how he had many Israeli friends and appreciated and, in some ways, adopted Israeli culture.

When I asked him, are you for one or two states, he put out his hands and said, “Mazeh (what is this)?” What is this one state, two state? I want peace. – He went to elaborate on what he meant by that:

What do I mean by peace? I mean that I want to have freedom of movement and economic opportunity so I can provide for my family. That is my number one priority. It seems that Israel wants us to accept the two-state solution. If that’s the case then fine, but I want it to be a two-state solution that will give me freedom of movement, that I can go back and forth between Nablus and Jerusalem with no problems, and find a good job to provide for my family.

Another example I witnessed during my time in the territories was a tour I took in the Palestinian villages of Nabi Elias and Masha. Much of the economic sector there are based on agriculture, but because of Israeli restrictions they cannot develop their crops to their full potential. Similarly to the Palestinian I spoke with on the bus, one of the Palestinian farmers said he wants a solution that will provide him freedom of movement and good economic opportunity. Right now, the restrictions cut him off from some potential costumers to buy his flowers or fruit and he is cut off from some of his land where he can develop more crops.

Those two issues: freedom of movement and economic opportunity, often came up when I spoke to Palestinians in the territories. These Palestinians were only a couple of the many Palestinians that told me that they do not have any ideological preference to a one or two-state solution per se. They just want to be able to move throughout the land and have a good job within their localities.

Indeed, freedom of movement and economic opportunity is a problem in the Palestinian Territories. Every night when I took the bus back from Ramallah to Jerusalem, the bus had to take a few detours and eventually go through a checkpoint. Sometimes we even had to go through the Qalundia checkpoint. I experienced many other obstacles of movement as I traveled throughout the territories, such as between Ramallah and Nablus, which hurts the Palestinian economy.

Helping the Palestinian economy grow in the territories may tip the balance in a Palestinian referendum in favor of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. So how to we achieve this? How do we help the Palestinian economy grow in order to ripen the viability for a two-state solution?

As the saying goes, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. But if you teach a man how to fish, or give him a fishing rod, you feed him for a lifetime!

For the past several months, Israel seems to be pursuing the former in order to combat the recent wave in violence. They have been issuing more Israeli work permits to Palestinians in the West Bank to come into Israel and work. However, this is not a sustainable, long-term solution. Look at what happened with SodaStream. After SodaStream moved from the West Bank into Israel proper, the Israeli government issued 74 permits to Palestinian workers to continue working for the company, but they expired and were not renewed in February. In other words, the fish ran out or went bad.

If, however, Israel would strengthen the Palestinians’ economic autonomy, that would allow the Palestinians to build and develop their own institutions for employment, which would last them a lifetime. It would be like giving them fishing rods to provide for themselves and their family for a lifetime.

The Rawabi Project is a perfect example of this. Rawabi is the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, residing near Berzeit and Ramallah. It is a project primarily funded by Palestinian multibillionaire Bashar al-Masri, who is a supporter of the two-state solution. I took two political tours of Rawabi last year, one in which I got a chance to ride through the city in the making in a van with a tour guide.

As we drove through the developing neighborhoods, the driver pointed out to me some of the areas where Rawabi overlapped with Area C, the area Israel’s military has complete control over. These “overlaps” make it harder to develop the city. For instance, he drove by an area where they had finally been able to build a water pipeline to get clean water into the city, after it had taken them a year to get a permit from Israel to allow them to build it because it overlapped into Area C.

The longer it takes to get the permits we need the more costly it is for us, he stressed. We have a tight budget as a private organization.

It is hoped that Rawabi will provide somewhere between 3,000-5,000 jobs for Palestinians. Therefore, in reference to our metaphor, if Israel were to grant the Rawabi project the capacity it needs to develop the city, and possibly other cities in the future, that will give the Palestinians the rods they need to provide for themselves rather than depending on fish from Israel.

It would be within Israel’s national security interest to make these concessions to allow Palestinian to grow their crops and build cities like Rawabi. It will help enhance their economy independently and thus make them less susceptible to violence. So don’t give them work permits that will eventually expire. Don’t give them a bag of fish that will eventually run out or go rotten. Give them the capacity and viability they need for state-development. Give them a fishing rod so they can provide for themselves for a lifetime.

About the Author
Jonah Naghi is a Boston-based writer and the Chair of Israel Policy Forum's IPF Atid Steering Committee in the city of Boston. A frequent commentator on Israeli-Palestinian and US-Israel affairs, Jonah has spent extensive time in the region and received his Masters in Social Work at Boston College (2020) and LCSW (2021). All the views expressed are his own.
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