Is a Palestinian state even viable?

Doug Wilson raised that question in this post several weeks ago, and he argued that Israel is actually the best option for improving the lives of Palestinians. Unfortunately, he presents only two options: Israel keeping the 1967 lands and building “new and bigger settlements” or Israel being “pushed into the sea.” Perhaps he just doesn’t think that there’s any possibility in between, like a Palestinian state. Also, his thinking is based on this article by George Gilder, which I haven’t read but hope to, so I am missing the context of his thinking. I will follow up this post after I read it. I really have a hard time seeing Israel being destroyed by the Palestinians without help from the “Resistance Bloc” of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah working with their Palestinian ally, Hamas. And remember, for now at least, Israel is the lone Middle Eastern state with nuclear weapons.

But the question that Wilson raises is quite important: will a Palestinian state actually be a good thing? Is there something magical that will make Palestinians’ lives better because they have a state?

In one of my class readings, I ran across a link to an article from STRATFOR called “The Geopolitics of the Palestinians.” I requested the free article and they e-mailed it to me. You can request it here STRATFOR is less nuanced than I am about Palestinian intentions for Israel. It’s of course true that the destruction of Israel has been a consistent theme of Arab rhetoric since 1948, and sympathy for that sentiment is, I’m sure, higher than people who hope for peace want to admit. But my understanding is that majorities of Israelis and Palestinians alike tell pollsters that they want a two-state solution but don’t trust the other side. Other than that, the STRATFOR article is quite sympathetic to the difficulties of the Palestinians in the 20th and 21st centuries while not demonizing Israel (from what I understand, George Friedman, the founder of STRATFOR, is pretty pro-Israel).

At any rate, here is what STRATFOR has to say:

If a Palestinian state were created, it is not clear that the dynamics of Gaza, the city-state, and the West Bank, more of a nation-state, would be compatible. Under the best of circumstances, Gaza could not survive at its current size without a rapid economic evolution that would generate revenue from trade, banking and other activities common in successful Mediterranean cities. But these cities have either much smaller populations or much larger areas supported by surrounding territory. It is not clear how Gaza could get from where it is to where it would need to be to attain viability.
Therefore, one of the immediate consequences of independence would be a massive outflow of Gazans to the West Bank. The economic conditions of the West Bank are better, but a massive inflow of hundreds of thousands of Gazans, for whom anything is better than what they had in Gaza, would buckle the West Bank economy. Tensions currently visible between the West Bank under Fatah and Gaza under Hamas would intensify. The West Bank could not absorb the population flow from Gaza, but the Gazans could not remain in Gaza except in virtually total dependence on foreign aid.
The only conceivable solution to the economic issue would be for Palestinians to seek work en masse in more dynamic economies. This would mean either emigration or entering the work force in Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Israel. Egypt has its own serious economic troubles, and Syria and Jordan are both too small to solve this problem — and that is completely apart from the political issues that would arise after such immigration.
Therefore, the only economy that could employ surplus Palestinian labor is Israel’s.
Security concerns apart, while the Israeli economy might be able to metabolize this labor, it would turn an independent Palestinian state into an Israeli economic dependency. The ability of the Israelis to control labor flows has always been one means for controlling Palestinian behavior. To move even more deeply into this relationship would mean an effective annulment of Palestinian independence. The degree to which Palestine would depend on Israeli labor markets would turn Palestine into an extension of the Israeli economy. And the driver of this will not be the West Bank, which might be able to create a viable economy over time, but Gaza, which cannot.
From this economic analysis flows the logic of Gaza’s Hamas. Accepting a Palestinian state along lines even approximating the 1948 partition, regardless of the status of Jerusalem, would not result in an independent Palestinian state in anything but name. Particularly for Gaza, it would solve nothing. Thus, the Palestinian desire to destroy Israel flows not only from ideology and/or religion, but from a rational analysis of what independence within the current geographical architecture would mean: a divided nation with profoundly different interests, one part utterly incapable of self-sufficiency, the other part potentially capable of it — but only if it jettisons responsibility for Gaza.
The actual viability of a Palestinian state is not something that I have thought much about. It’s another wrinkle in the situation. Nationalism dictates that a nation must have a state, but of course nationalism doesn’t determine what’s right or beneficial. Wilson closes his post with a challenge that doesn’t only apply to his extreme scenario:
But if things go the other way, and Israel is pushed into the sea, and the humanitarian disaster I am speaking of comes to pass, there is one bright spot for the do-gooders of the West. It will be the kind of humanitarian disaster that will be assiduously ignored, and will get virtually no coverage at all. And that means that they will be able to go to their graves without rethinking any aspect of their economic illiteracy, which is a pleasant way to go, I suppose.
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6 comments

  1. Great questions. I don’t understand what they think will change if the territories become a Palestinian State. Gaza has survived this long without a mass exodus, so what would change as a state? Would Hamas change? Is the assumption that foreign subsidies would cease? Would UNRWA cease?

    If Palestinians would be giving up foreign aid by declaring a state, I cannot imagine any of them actually wanting it (as opposed to saying they want it). It would also be in Israel’s interest to push for it like crazy. Without such subsidies, most Palestinians would probably disperse.

  2. I imagine that foreign aid would continue. I don’t know about UNRWA. I’d assume that there would no longer be a plausible way to call its clients “refugees,” but I imagine that the US (if Obama were president), Western European countries, and some Arab states (and perhaps wealthy Arab citizens) might send aid. Israeli could potentially aid in the keeping of law and order, but I wouldn’t count on that.

    I’m hesitant to say that most Palestinians would disperse unless I misunderstand the Palestinians. Many of them live in their homes in the West Bank. Their families have by and large been there for generations.

    Then you have the built-up refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon (I think, and possibly other Arab countries). Since the economy in the West Bank has been growing and Israel might still need some Palestinian labor, there could be opportunities. A dispersal of the Palestinians would make most of what they’ve been talking about for 60+ years pointless.

    So I don’t see most of them leaving except in the case of extreme privation. The Palestinians have strong ties to the land, as do the Israelis: https://temporachristiana.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/why-americans-have-a-tough-time-understanding-the-middle-east/

    Two stories that make the situation look worse for a state:
    http://mobile.nytimes.com/article?a=821694&single=1&f=19
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/17/no_savior

  3. So do you buy into STRATFOR’s claim that Gaza must become independently economically viable if Palestine becomes a state? It sounds like you’re saying that the subsidies might be sustainable.

    Emigration would be statistical if subsidies were removed, but I think practical economics tends to win out over unsupportable ideology. Arab family cohesiveness would actually help migrate the population, just as it does in immigration to the US.

    With a better standard of living than their neighbors, there is an incentive to stay and even immigrate. This actually feeds and reenforces their ideology about the land. But over time, with a lower standard of living, many would seek better lives elsewhere. At the point of extreme privation, almost all would leave, particularly given their education, accustomed standard of living, and opportunities elsewhere.

    Israel wouldn’t have survived without external investment and subsidies. I think it could now, but I still doubt the Palestinians could. Subsidies have perpetuated the conflict and ossified refugees.

  4. I only mean that the subsidies would be sustainable in the sense that they might keep on coming, although they would be of questionable value, as you noted in your last sentence. STRATFOR might overstate the need for Gaza to become independently viable, but I suppose that given that its relations with one of the best markets around (Israel) will almost certainly be strained there would be steep challenges to attaining economic viability. What do you think?

    Interesting points about the possibility of Palestinians leaving. International pressure on Israel and the possibility of intensified violence against Israel would be wild cards there along with how deeply Palestinians were attached to their ancestors’ lands.

  5. I agree, Gaza would have to develop Israel’s trust to be independently economically viable. STRATFOR’s analysis makes increasing sense the less subsidies there are. It’s just interesting that loss of subsidies may be an expected side-effect of statehood.

    You’re right that withdrawing all aid would cause serious chaos for a (long) while. It would be a brand new “nakba” for them. Most would still feel deeply attached to their ancestor’s lands, just from afar.

    Of course, this hypothetical is not really practical. Subsidies pacify, as money usually does, so it’s always tempting to use it if you’ve got it. Plus, they can always threaten to take away the subsidy, like the Senate’s recent resolution regarding Palestinians seeking recognition from the UN.

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