Hussein Ibish
The Guardian (Opinion)
November 2, 2009 - 1:00am

In an article last week, Ahmad Samhi Khalidi derisively dismissed the plan of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to build the infrastructural, administrative and economic framework of a Palestinian state in spite of the occupation.

His arguments essentially made Israel's case for it: that the Palestinians are not capable of building state institutions, lack the legal authority to do so, and can only create structures that do not challenge the occupation. One can only marvel at expatriate Palestinian intellectuals making Israel's case against a dynamic, proactive Palestinian plan to transform realities on the ground and attack the very essence of the occupation.

The PA plan provides a mechanism that complements diplomatic efforts to end the occupation and frees Palestinians from being entirely dependent upon discussions with others. It enables them to shape their own future. Khalidi, however, argues that no such state-building project is possible because "every PA action is determined by the Israeli occupation". This is only true to the extent that the Palestinians submissively accept it and refuse to embark on what Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad describes as "positive unilateralism". While Israel might be theoretically capable of blocking such moves, its ability to do so in practice may prove quite limited.

What the PA is proposing is consistent with stated Palestinian, American and Israeli intentions and, in effect, calls Israel's bluff. Moreover, the PA plan could and should be provided with powerful diplomatic and political support by the US, Europe and other international players that have considerable sway with Israel.

Even Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has stated that the ultimate goal of negotiations is the creation of a Palestinian state. Under such circumstances, it would be politically costly, and hard to explain, if any attempt were made to block measures that peacefully move in that direction and pose no threat to legitimate Israeli interests. It would be doubly difficult if specific projects are conducted in practical co-operation with American, European and international institutions, whose financial and technical support will undoubtedly be required for the success of much of the programme.

Even if the PA plan does succeed, Khalidi argues that the result will be "a partial, ersatz entity", insufficient in every respect for the realisation of Palestinian national aims. Khalidi is completely wrong to suggest that institution-building negates or substitutes for the kind of robust diplomacy that insists on a genuinely independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Nothing whatsoever in the plan either suggests or promotes any other outcome.

The worst misapprehension Khalidi harbours is the idea that the programme is essentially "apolitical" and plays into Netanyahu's ridiculous idea of "economic peace". In fact, building Palestinian institutions is one of the most radical and effective acts of resistance to occupation imaginable. It will demonstrate the Palestinians are effectively governing themselves, and building the practical framework for a state supported by an overwhelming international consensus.

Khalidi understands that it is essential to continue to strive politically and diplomatically for such a state, but for some reason seems bitterly opposed to any efforts to prepare for it to be well-functioning, stable and effective.

So what do he and the other detractors actually propose? That Palestinians continue to demand statehood, but not prepare for it in a meaningful way? That, because of the occupation, they pay no attention to improving their society, administration and infrastructure? That they have no responsibilities beyond political rhetoric? That they have no agency beyond simple demands for statehood? That they remain entirely dependent on the peace process without trying to alter conditions on the ground to improve not only their society but also their strategic position vis-à-vis Israel?

One of the most important elements of the programme is that it begins to create an administrative and governance structure among the Palestinians that is bureaucratised and institutionalised, and therefore insulated from the untoward dominance of political parties. Fayyad's second tenure as prime minister has already seen a meaningful distinction develop between party and administration that has been healthy for both. And, far from exceeding his authority in doing this, he is implementing the policies of Palestinian president and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Either Khalidi does not recognise the importance of this or he doesn't like it. Independent, effective administrative apparatuses would protect Palestinian governance structures from undue influence by both parties and traditional elites. This is what really informs much of the internal Palestinian opposition to a programme that would empower the Palestinian people, improve their strategic position, and can only bring forward the moment of independence.


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