We are seeing in recent events the advantages of a state, as well as reasons to doubt the wisdom of creating a Palestinian state.
It’s not a simple issue.
A state can discipline its people, via decisions of a government, police, and courts.
However, Palestinians speak and act in numerous ways, with no leadership capable of imposing its will, reaching agreements with others, and likely to implement those agreements.
We can’t be certain they’d do better with a state.
Various claimants of leadership—Palestine National Authority with ostensible control over areas of the West Bank, the Hamas regime of Gaza, several Islamic movements with sizable and sometimes violent adherents in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel—are competing with different levels of incitement to violence and occasional efforts to keep things calm. Each of those clusters also has internal factions likely to compete with different and changing directives.
It’s hard to find an Israeli Jew who believes what Palestinians say, either their descriptions about what has happened (of course they are not terrorists; they are good boys and girls, targeted by Israelis for no good reason), or what they intend to do.
No state operates in an optimal fashion. Most aren’t noticeably better than the variety of things that can be called Palestine. Corruption, lack of discipline, and insensitivity to their people’s needs pretty much characterize the hundred or so countries of the Third World.
Reasons for opposing the creation of yet another one of those, for the sake of Palestinians, deal with the ease of states to use their economic capacity to buy arms elsewhere, which those currently in power can use to perpetuate their control and survival domestically, and—what’s important for Israel’s opposition to a Palestinian state—threaten their neighbors.
The best reason for opposing the creation of a Palestinian state is that the various Palestinian leaderships have yet to accommodate themselves to peaceful coexistence alongside Israel.
Those who do not see that in 60 years or a century of conflict will not be convinced by anything written here.
Israel, the US, and the other democracies are far from perfect. One can find corruption, sloppy policymaking, failures of implementation, as well as untreated social problems wherever one looks. Yet the differences most stark are those on the borders between the poor and well-to-do. Economics is crucial in providing the wherewithal for decent government. Culture and religion have their independent influences. We’re still looking for a Muslim majority country qualifying for membership in the category of reasonably well governed democracies.
Jordan and Egypt do not resemble Western democracies, but have proven to be acceptable as neighbors in the years since signing treaties of peace with Israel. Relations are nothing like those which prevail between the US and Canada or among the countries of Western Europe. Few Israeli Jews travel to one or the other, except for quick visits to Petra and camping trips—usually against the advice of security agencies—to the Egyptian beaches along the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat, and there isn’t much tourism from those countries to Israel. We can count on their officials and media to be cool or hostile whenever there is an issue with Palestinians. However, the borders are generally closed to any violence directed at us, either by rogue soldiers or citizens. Moreover, officials are likely to be more accommodating in quiet than in public, and prepared to coordinate actions on mutual problems.
There are air connections between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. Many Israelis choose the low cost connections via Jordanian Airlines and Amman to points east and west. There are substantial flows of Israeli Arabs to both countries for vacations, family celebrations, and business.
Currently there is considerable coordination between Israeli and Egyptian security personnel, with few details known to the public, against Islamic extremists who threaten both countries from the Sinai.
Neither Lebanon nor Syria qualify as ideal neighbors, but the borders with both have been more disciplined than those with stateless Palestinians.
Israel’s border with Gaza is well defined, but does not assure protection from a frequent drizzle to an occasionally downpour of missiles. The West Bank is more complex, with nothing like clear borders, and vulnerable to violent gangs motivated by nationalism or religion, as well as enraged individuals.
One cluster of Israelis aspires to peace with the Palestinians, and is willing to make minor or major withdrawals of Jewish settlements for the sake of an agreement and the creation of clear borders. Another cluster has tired of frustrating efforts to reach agreement, and aspires to defining clear borders, then either withdrawing Jewish settlements from the other side of those borders, or providing them with some means of defense and/or encouraging the residents to relocate.
Getting in the way of Plan A or Plan B are the details, i.e., a lack of agreement among Israelis as to where to put the lines and what settlements to withdraw. There is also the lingering issue of Palestinians’ incapacity to agree without a host of demands that too many Israelis find unacceptable, and the bad experience of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. And we shouldn’t overlook Israelis loosely defined as religious nationalists, who would maximize Jews’ rights to settle where they would—along with appropriate means of defense—throughout the Land of Israel.
Jerusalem presents its own problems. Jewish and Arab neighborhoods adjoin and mix with one another, with some Arabs and Jews living in the neighborhoods of the other. Some Arab areas are peaceful, and others dangerous for any Jew who would make a wrong turn. Control of, and access to holy sites raise their own problems, shown to be as intractable as ever in recent days.
There is nothing indisputable or permanent in any of this, except perhaps for the difficulties involved in the creation of a Palestinian state.
New states, and even major changes in borders, do not come easily. Most current states and borders came with the political tectonics associated with World War II and the more recent collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently there are events that look more like state collapses involving Iraq, Syria, and the self-described Islamic State. Israel’s military, its political connections, as well as the fumbling of the Palestinians are the best explanations for the failure of Palestinians to find their way to statehood.
What Palestinians have in Gaza is close to a regime, not all that different from the pathos, misery, and internal violence in other parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, parts of Mexico, South America, and a few other places.
Palestinians living in the West Bank have no clear borders with Israel. Areas called A and B are supposed to be controlled entirely or partly by Palestinians, but are subject to intervention by Israeli security personnel.
Most of the time, most Palestinians of the West Bank enjoy an imperfect autonomy, having varying degrees of accommodation with Israel, and a more successful economy and higher standards of living than the Palestinians of Gaza.
That’s where we are. Those seeing a change on the horizon can describe it at their risk.
Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.