Einat Wilf
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
February 2, 2010 - 1:00am

The Israeli leadership has recently turned its attention – even if contemptuously – to the possible threat of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Regardless of whether such a move will take place or not, the real issue is not in the declaration itself but in the possibility that it points to a deeper cultural change among the Palestinians – a change which was also noted with the participation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Tuesday night in the 2010 Herzliya Conference and his subsequent speech.

The Palestinian national movement has been characterized from its early days by a maddening culture of irresponsibility. As far as they were concerned, their circumstances were never the outcome of their decisions, actions or conduct. It was always someone else’s fault – the UK, the United Nations, the Arab countries, and of course above all, the Zionists and their occupation. No matter the issue, the finger was permanently pointed outward. And so, in a world where everyone else was to blame, the only path was resistance – the defining word of Palestinian identity.

The Palestinians conducted themselves as eternal teenagers, incapable of moving past blaming others toward shaping their own lives. This was best embodied in Yasser Arafat who was the captive of his image as leader of a resistance movement, never transitioning to builder of a state. If the phrase ‘assumption of responsibility’ was ever mentioned, it was always in the context of a spectacular and bloody terrorist attack.

Israel benefited from this Palestinian culture. Zionism, the essence of which was assumption of responsibility and state-building, found comfortable symbiosis with the Palestinian culture of irresponsibility. The constantly constructing Israel became adept at blocking the Palestinian resistance and absorbing blame while never ceasing to build. Israel was able to thrive and expand against the backdrop of Palestinian inability to assume responsibility.

BUT IT just might be that recently, below the radar, a revolutionary change is underway. For several years now, several players under the sound leadership of General Dayton, Tony Blair and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, were working together to build a Palestinian state from the ground up. It is quite probable that when Israel supported this process several years ago, it treated it as no more than a diversionary game that would keep the well-meaning Europeans and the dour Fayyad playing in building Lego Palestinian institutions until the end of time. Israel might have well assumed that the Palestinians were culturally incapable of breaking free of the crutches of blaming others to sustain a building process. The scorn towards this project was further enhanced by Fayyad’s gall at graduating from the University of Texas rather than Israeli jails.

Fayyad, who has no terrorist past, is supposedly therefore incapable of being a Palestinian leader. Even the Israeli leadership tends to respect Palestinian “warriors” and repeatedly revers a new Barghouti. But it seems that, of all people, it is Fayyad and his colleagues who have taken the matter of municipal taxes and sewage seriously and have approached the building of a state – in all its boring details – with determination and energy and no trace of blubbering.

The more this process moves forward and succeeds, the more the cultural change accelerates and deepens. For Fayyad, a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is not an empty gesture such as the one carried out in 1988, but the culmination of a thorough process of building the institutions of a Palestinian state on the ground.

The greatest “threat” to Israel’s policy appears to come from a dour bureaucrat who is steadily leading a revolutionary cultural change of fostering responsibility among Palestinians.

This change is leaving Israelis, who have long grown accustomed to Palestinians who do nothing but blame the world for their circumstances all the while wasting numerous opportunities, wondering, confused and many – hopeful.

The writer is a Labor MK, a fellow with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and a member of the President’s Conference Steering Committee.


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