Monday, October 14, 2013

The regional implications of a Palestinian State

The title of a conference held at Netanya Academic College (NAC) was "The Regional Implications of the Establishment of a Palestinian State," sponsored by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialog at NAC and funded by the EU Partnership for Peace and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The results presented represented a three-way collaboration between the Abraham Center, the Amman Center for Peace and Development, Jordan, and the Data Studies and Consultation Unit, Palestine Authority. Other organizations were also represented, such as the Inst. for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University.

The conference was based on a research project that asked the question, if a Palestinian State is founded under the "two-state solution" that is both stable and democratic (in other words not supporting any kind of terrorism) what happens the day after, what next? How will the three sovereign entities then, Israel, Jordan and Palestine relate to each other? How will normalization occur, how will the security and the balance of power develop, what will happen to economic cooperation? There were several subsidiary questions, given the assumption of a peaceful resolution of the conflict, of course a very big assumption, what will be the political character of the Palestinian State and how will the Palestinian Diaspora relate to the situation? I wish I could report that these questions were answered substantially and satisfactorily, but that was not the case. Perhaps to expect more is expecting too much, given the wishful thinking represented by the basic assumption underlying the project. However, this was certainly a worthwhile exercise, that brought together representatives of the three above-mentioned countries after several years of collaborative work.

Five areas were investigated by different groups:
I. The political character of the Palestinian State. Under this heading it must be stated that the conclusion reached that the Palestinian State would be democratic, with a civil society in which citizens will enjoy freedom of speech and religion, seemed totally utopian. After all there is only one such democracy in the Midlle east and that is Israel. As one speaker mentioned "the elephant in the room" is Hamas, and without a resolution of the Hamas rejection of Israel and indeed the PLO, there is little hope for any such outcome. Notwithstanding this, the researcher concluded that Hamas could join in a "democratic coalition." This ignores the reality of the situation in the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank and elsewhere.
II. Regional normalization. This assumed that there would be regional normalization between Israel, Jordan and a democratic Palestine subsequent to a "two-state solution" (actually a three-state solution, including Jordan). This would require fruitful cooperation in the areas of economics, tourism, water, agriculture and other subjects. One of the speakers, former Palestinian Ambassador to France, Hind Khouri, emphasized that Palestinians still regard the whole of Palestine as theirs and will never accept Israel as the Jewish State. But, she also stated that the PLO and Hamas (!) support a two-state solution. With such confusion and contradiction it is impossible to really know what is the real Palestinian position. Another speaker referred to a possible confederation of the three countries.
III. The national aspirations of the Palestinian Diaspora. Under this rubric it was concluded that the so-called "refugees" would have to consciously adopt the idea of being a Diaspora, so that they would need to give up the concept of the "right of return" for everyone, although a new concept of "right of exchange" would be possible, whereby any Palestinian immigrants to the Palestinian State would be offset by an equal number of emigrants. I found this concept totally impractical. I pointed out that the definition of refugees used by UNRWA is different for Palestinians than for all other groups in the world under UNCHR, and by adopting this international and legally accepted norm and excluding descendents in perpituity, the number of actual Palestinian refugees would be reduced to a few thousands, and this could produce a manageable solution.
IV. Security and regional balance of power. Because the Palestinians reject the term "demilitarization" they would accept a condition where they would have security forces that would be "lightly armed." There would be a regional mutual defence pact, and Jordan would continue to regard external invasion of its territory as a causus belli for Israel.
V. Economic cooperation. Of course, without regional economic cooperation no progress will be possible. Since Israel has ten times the size of economy as Jordan and Palestine combined and a tenth of the unemployment, it is understood that Israeli cooperation is crucial to this development. However, how would the influx of Jordanian and Palestinian workers in place of other foreign workers in Israel be managed, not only from the pov of security, but also to avoid permanent loss of Palestinian population?

For a much fuller description of this project go to No doubt such academic exercises in virtual reality are useful in producing solutions to future problems. Other think-tanks have tackled this problem, what happens after a "two-state solution"? In reality, we are far from that situation, but there is no harm and perhaps a lot to be gained in planning ahead and engaging in mutual dialog.


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