Sunday 1 December 2013

Gizz'a state!

In September 2014, Scotland’s citizenry will vote on their future.  Will they remain part of the United Kingdom, or will they secede and establish their own independent country?  According to opinion polls, some 40% (so far a minority, albeit a very substantial one) favour the latter option.  They argue, among other things, that in the UK Scotland is by far the minor partner, dwarfed by the much more populous and economically powerful England.  Others, however, argue that Scotland is nonetheless better off as it is today – an autonomous 'country' within a federal United Kingdom.

Scottish nationalists claim that self-determination is
the best way forward, as currently Scotland is
dominated by the considerably more populous
and economically powerful England.
The vote will decide which opinion shall prevail.  And, if a majority opts for independence, tough negotiations will no doubt be necessary in order to hammer out the details.  Meanwhile, however, the Scottish government (which, under First Minister Alex Salmond, strongly militates for independence) has already prepared and published a detailed plan, a blueprint for the new state and its institutions.

Establishing a new independent country is not done by snapping one’s fingers; nor are enthusiastic speeches in front of noisy crowds a suitable substitute for hard preparation work.  Which is why the Scottish ‘independence blueprint’ deals with many issues, ranging from currency to pensions, from taxation to natural resources, from citizenship to immigration policy.  Even though it exceeds 600 pages, the plan is still criticised for failing to address all the issues.

The Palestinian Authority also wants an independent state – or at least that is what its leaders say, when they speak in English to foreigners.  Negotiations are taking place, aimed at defining the terms of an agreement, but the principle of Palestinian independence has already been accepted by Israel.  It is therefore odd that, while the PA leadership cries to the high heavens for ‘an immediate end to Israeli occupation’, no plan even remotely similar to Scotland’s has ever emanated from the many ministerial desks in Ramallah.

Of course, the Palestinian leaders don’t want ‘any old state’; they demand a ‘viable’ state (whatever that represents, particularly in the Middle East).  But, oddly, they appear to believe that making it ‘viable’ is somebody else’s task, rather than their own.  They are not alone in that rather strange belief: shaped like a comet (i.e., a ‘hard core’ of Israel-haters and a long trailing tail of naives), a cohort of ‘Palestinian supporters’ clamour that Israel – or, alternatively, 'the international community' – ‘must’ ensure a ‘viable’ Palestinian state.  The ‘supporters’ appear to believe that the ‘viability’ of that future state hinges on… whether the trip between Ramallah and Bethlehem would take 40 minutes or one hour.  The precise logic behind that determination remains rather blurred (and most of the ‘supporters’ have no idea how far apart those towns are, anyway); nonetheless, they are convinced that 'settling' another thousand Jews in Ma’aleh Adumim (a 40,000 people ‘settlement’ located roughly between the two Palestinian towns of Ramallah and Bethlehem) would absolutely ‘destroy’ the ‘viability’ of any future Palestinian state.  The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, is exempt from the elementary duty of planning (let alone building) the foundations of the future state they say they yearn for.  Even a simple question like ‘what will be the currency of the Palestinian state?’ finds no answer in the many documents published by the Palestinian Authority.

Intent on 'cleaning up' the Palestinian Authority,
Fayyad (left) soon attracted the hatred of a
'leadership' steeped in corruption and nepotism.
It is not that the Palestinian Arab society does not produce capable people (indeed, Palestinian Arabs are one of the best educated branches of the Arab nation).  Until recently, the PA Prime Minister was Salam Fayyad, a widely respected economist and politician.  Under his leadership – and despite many difficulties – the West Bank economy experienced enviable rates of growth, raising hopes for a better future.  But Fayyad grew increasingly frustrated, as his attempts to build strong, clean political institutions and independent civil organisations ran against old habits and the selfish interests of a ‘political class’ designed for ‘revolution’, not statehood.  Faced with recurring encroachments upon his authority and fed up with the smear campaign perpetrated against him by extremists, Fayyad resigned in April this year, citing ‘differences’ with PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his party.

In the undemocratic political environment prevalent in the Palestinian Authority, such ‘differences’ are almost never publicly aired.  All the more surprising was, therefore, to learn about Fayyad’s opposition to Abbas’s unilateral quest to ‘declare’ independence at the UN.  An ardent supporter of Palestinian independence and no friend of Israel, Fayyad nevertheless understands that neither statehood nor ‘viability’ are there to be ‘gifted’ by foreigners; that they need to be built through hard work and dedication by the Palestinians themselves.  Fayyad’s replacement as Prime Minister resigned after just a couple of weeks, reportedly because of interference with his authority by Abbas’s office.  With Fayyad gone and no permanent head of government, the Palestinian Authority is back to its old modus operandi, in which ‘political leadership’ amounts to a contest in pointing fingers or waiving angry fists; and 'economic management' translates into distributing benefits funded by international aid.

It’s not that preparations are unnecessary: by all accounts, building a Palestinian state is a much tougher job than building an independent Scotland.  For starters, the latter is economically developed and has a long tradition of democracy and rule of law.  If anything, considerably more hard work, not less, needs to go into planning and laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state.  Yet no such preparations are taking place.  Perhaps we should all ask: why?  Is the Palestinian leadership serious about establishing an independent state alongside Israel?  Are they determined to make it ‘viable’?  Because it certainly does not look like they are.

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