Israel is frequently admonished to make peace in order to avoid becoming a single, Palestinian-majority state ruling all the territory from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea. But that threat does not have much credibility when it is Israel that holds all the power, and will therefore decide whether or not it annexes territory and offers citizenship to all its inhabitants. A single state will not materialise until a majority of Israelis want it, and so far they overwhelmingly do not.
If and when Israel is confronted with the threat of a single state, it can enact a unilateral withdrawal and count on the support of the great powers in doing so. But that threat is still quite distant.
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In fact, Israelis and Palestinians are now farther from a single state than they have been at any time since the occupation began in Palestinians have a quasi-state in the occupied territories, with its own parliament, courts, intelligence services and foreign ministry. Israelis no longer shop in Nablus and Gaza the way they did before the Oslo accords. Palestinians no longer travel freely to Tel Aviv.
And the supposed reason that partition is often claimed to be impossible — the difficulty of a probable relocation of more than , settlers — is grossly overstated: in the s, Israel absorbed several times as many Russian immigrants, many of them far more difficult to integrate than settlers, who already have Israeli jobs, fully formed networks of family support and a command of Hebrew. Indeed, Israel has had a non-Jewish majority in the territory it controls for several years.
Yet even in their sternest warnings, western governments invariably refer to an undemocratic Israel as a mere hypothetical possibility. C ontrary to what nearly every US mediator has asserted, it is not that Israel greatly desires a peace agreement but has a pretty good fallback option.
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It is that Israel greatly prefers the fallback option to a peace agreement. No tactical brilliance in negotiations, no amount of expert preparation, no perfect alignment of the stars can overcome that obstacle. Only two things can: a more attractive agreement, or a less attractive fallback. The first of these options has been tried extensively, from offering Israel full normalisation with most Arab and Islamic states to promising upgraded relations with Europe, US security guarantees, and increased financial and military assistance.
But for Israel these inducements pale in comparison to the perceived costs. The second option is to make the fallback worse. This is what President Eisenhower did following the Suez crisis when he threatened economic sanctions to get Israel to withdraw from Sinai and Gaza. This is what President Ford did in when he reassessed US relations with Israel, refusing to provide it with new arms deals until it agreed to a second Sinai withdrawal.
This is what President Carter did when he raised the spectre of terminating US military assistance if Israel did not immediately evacuate Lebanon in September And this is what Carter did when he made clear to both sides at Camp David that the United States would withhold aid and downgrade relations if they did not sign an agreement. That was the last time the United States applied pressure of this sort.
As a result, Palestinians have been unable to induce more from Israel than tactical concessions, steps meant to reduce friction between the populations in order not to end occupation but to mitigate it and restore its low cost. Forcing Israel to make larger, conflict-ending concessions would require making its fallback option so unappealing that it would view a peace agreement as an escape from something worse.
That demands more leverage than the Palestinians have so far possessed, while those who do have sufficient power have not been eager to use it.
Holding onto Hope: Palestinian Authority Institution-Building in the Post-Oslo Era Peace Process
No less importantly, the United States has consistently sheltered Israel from accountability for its policies in the West Bank by putting up a facade of opposition to settlements that in practice is a bulwark against more significant pressure to dismantle them. The US and most of Europe draw a sharp distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, refusing to recognise Israeli sovereignty beyond the pre lines. When the limousine of the US president travels from West to East Jerusalem, the Israeli flag comes down from the driver-side front corner.
And US regulations, not consistently enforced, stipulate that products from the settlements should not bear a made-in-Israel label. Israel vehemently protests against this policy of so-called differentiation between Israel and the occupied territories, believing that it delegitimises the settlements and the state, and could lead to boycotts and sanctions of the country. But the policy does precisely the opposite: it acts not as a complement to punitive measures against Israel, but as an alternative to them.
Differentiation creates an illusion of US castigation, but in reality it insulates Israel from answering for its actions in the occupied territories, by assuring that only settlements and not the government that creates them will suffer consequences for repeated violations of international law. Opponents of settlements and occupation, who would otherwise call for costs to be imposed on Israel, instead channel their energies into a distraction that creates headlines but has no chance of changing Israeli behaviour.
In other words, the PA has chosen to use state-building as a means for seeking an end to the occupation. There are tensions between state-building and peace-building, however, such that the peace process started by Oslo has significantly undermined Palestinian institution-building. This paradox arose because the Oslo Peace Process and the subsequent establishment of the PA fueled a new competition between the PA and civil society organizations over scarce resources and limited power.
In any case, the ongoing peace process and the indefinite status of the Israeli occupation have pushed the PA to adopt a strategy of building formal state institutions and centralizing administrative power. This, in turn, has led to the top-down and highly technocratic institution-building which is distanced from political dynamics on the ground and from Palestinian society at large. The peace process has also profoundly impacted the internal dynamics of Palestinian politics and has shaped the degree to which the PA has sought to co-opt, repress or tolerate other groups and parties.
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The post-Oslo peace process, as Robinson points out, painted Islamists in a corner by forcing them to choose whether they wished to participate in the political process created out of the Oslo framework, thereby giving legitimacy to a process they opposed, or decline participation and risk being shut out of important political decisions and beneficial patronage resources.
The Oslo Accords and the advent of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process determined the context in which Palestinian state-building and institutional development would unfold. Through Oslo, the Palestinian Authority was formally established and granted the responsibility of safeguarding Israeli security while paving its own path toward the potential formation of an independent Palestinian state.
While repression, distrust of Palestinian society, high securitization, patronage and corruption have negatively impacted the reputation of the PA and have created a deteriorating situation on the ground for many Palestinians, many of these tendencies were actively influenced by the fact that the PA was forced to work within the constraints imposed by the Oslo Accords, which emphasized Israeli security as well as control over violence and opposition within the Palestinian territories over the development of inclusive and transparent political institutions or economic initiatives for Palestinian society.
One of the most formidable yet vital challenges that lies ahead for the PA and Palestinian institution-building at large is bridging the gulf between state and society.
The need to establish and maintain legitimacy among the public is crucial for the success of state-building. The PA currently faces accusations of illegitimacy stemming from its failure to fully integrate itself into the fabric of civil society and its placement of the narrow interests of powerful elites over the public good. However, the Oslo Accords, through their establishment of the PA, the disproportionate weight given to Israeli considerations of security, and the displacement of Palestinian civil society and highly connected elites, inevitably exerted considerable influence over Palestinian state-building.
Despite the fact that authoritarian tendencies and corruption-encumbered dealings within the PA threaten to eliminate what domestic legitimacy the PA possesses, the PA has undoubtedly catalyzed the Palestinian state-building process and increased the likelihood of a Palestinian state in the future in the face of a number of constraints imposed by the Israel throughout the post-Oslo peace process.
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Brown, Nathan J. Berkeley: University of California Press, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Hilal, Jami and Mushtaq Husain Khan. London: RoutledgeCurzon, State Formation in Palestine: Viability and Governance during a social transformation.
Menocal, Alina Rocha. An independent Palestinian state must be secure within its borders, provide for the routine safety of its inhabitants, be free from subversion or foreign exploitation, and pose no threat to Israel. Public safety, routine law enforcement and the administration of justice will also need to be put on a sound footing as quickly as possible. At a minimum, this will require funds for rebuilding courthouses and police stations, buying legal texts and computers, obtaining training and purchasing police equipment. Internal security services will need to be restructured and will need monitoring, training and analytical support.
The Arc would link the major towns and cities of Palestine — including Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Hebron, and Gaza City — making it possible to travel from southern Gaza to the northern West Bank in less than 90 minutes. Each rail station, located several miles from existing historic urban cores, would create a focal point for new development and would connect to a historic core via a new boulevard and an advanced form of bus rapid transit. Along each boulevard, new commercial and residential neighborhoods would be developed — largely by private sector investment — to accommodate population growth.
Housing and jobs would be created within walking distance of the transit system. New building design would incorporate sustainable systems using solar energy and recaptured water. Development along each boulevard would pump economic activity into the historic centers of Palestinian cities and assure their preservation and revitalization — an essential strategy for creating a much-needed tourism industry.
In addition to creating a ladder of linear cities along the defining mountain ridge of the West Bank, the Arc would preserve open land for agriculture, forests, parks and nature reserves. A national park following the line of the Arc would provide needed recreation space within each city, and a path for hiking and biking between municipal areas.
Israel-Palestine: the real reason there’s still no peace
A parallel toll road would provide access for trucks and other vehicles for people and freight, linking the country to its economic gateways at a possible airport and seaport in Gaza. Other important conditions include Palestinian access to the Israeli labor market to get jobs, and substantial freedom of movement of people and products across Palestine's borders, including the border with Israel. Economic activity would also be strengthened by improvements and investment in the transportation, water, power and communications infrastructure of Palestine.
Equally important, the government will need to adopt appropriate monetary and fiscal measures and open trade policies. Today Palestinians have only half the minimum amount of water per person established by the World Health Organization. Coping with a severe and worsening water shortage will require a combination of measures to enhance supply and restrain demand. One way to provide Palestinians with enough water to meet World Health Organization standards would be for Israel and Palestine to renegotiate the allocation of existing water resources.
Removing water from aquifers beyond sustainable limits must be halted to avoid creating worse shortages.
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