How can the Israelis accuse the Palestinians of being incapable and then rebuke the PA's plan to build a strong government?
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's unveiling of his government program to build the apparatus of a Palestinian state within two years is an admirable, bold and welcome initative. For sixty years the Palestinians have been accused by Israel and the international community of being weak, fragmented, and harboring extremist ideologies.
The plan of the thirteenth Palestinian National Authority (PA) government not only represents a blueprint for the government to address these inherent problems, but it is the first outline for a viable Palestinian state based on freedom, democracy, nonviolence, and international law. It should be supported by all those who seek a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as this commitment suggests that the culture of blame and violence must come to an end.
The program further affirms that the Palestinians' nation-building must be founded by the Palestinian people, for the Palestinian people, and according to all international standards of human rights and law. Israel in particular should embrace this initiative as it would strengthen the efforts of Palestinian moderates, and set in motion a peaceful process leading to final negotiations and the two-state solution to which Netanyahu has agreed.
Israeli detractors of this plan have condemned the PA for acting unilaterally and imposing a timeline, while Palestinian extremist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have claimed the plan is far too accommodating to Israel. The irony here is that a feeble and dependent Palestinian government has gotten the Palestinian people nowhere in the past, just as ideologies of violent resistance have only resulted in more deaths, as the war in Gaza demonstrated.
How can the Israelis justly accuse the Palestinians of being incapable and then rebuke the PA's plan to build a strong government? And how can Hamas reject a plan for a nonviolent de facto Palestinian state when violence has only exacerbated the Palestinians' plight? For Israelis to align themselves with Hamas in opposition to a moderate Palestinian plan for good governance is absurd.
The PA's outline for statehood offers hope to the third generation of despondent Palestinians that there is a better and brighter future where they can develop vested interest in the creation of a state of their own. A commitment to build a future based on equality and restoration of self-dignity in a nonviolent atmosphere changes in a fundamental way the mindset of nearly every individual in this conflict. The forward of the plan by Salam Fayyad states specifically that:
Palestine will be a peace-loving state that rejects violence, commits to co-existence with its neighbors, and builds bridges of cooperation with the international community. It will be a symbol of peace, tolerance and prosperity in this troubled area of the world. By embodying all of these values, Palestine will be a source of pride to all of its citizens, and an anchor of stability in this region.
The majority of Palestinians who will benefit from the Fayyad plan will oppose the resumption of any violence against Israelis. An overwhelming majority of the Palestinian public already approves of a two-state solution and peace with Israel. The mere fact that the Palestinians can now take matters into their hands to build their nation will place the burden of proof on their heads.
Indeed, the development of democratic political, economic, and social programs that the Fayyad plan calls for will empower the people and offer a stark choice between the prospect of better life or more bloodshed. Israel will commit a serious strategic error if it chooses to stifle this effort, as it will give munitions to Palestinian extremists that Israel has no intention of allowing the peaceful rise of a Palestinian state, giving credence to continued violent resistance.
The PA's program is a fulfillment not only of the Palestinians' national aspirations, but Israel's as well. A commitment to building the infrastructure of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will foster acceptance of Israel as a recognized independent state. The plan emphasizes peaceful co-existence with all neighboring states and a policy against any form of religious or cultural discrimination. Is this not what Israelis have been wanting since the inception of their state?
Those Israelis skeptical about the Palestinians' ultimate intentions should find some consolation in a written government document confirming the Palestinian government's vision of peace and democracy. The Palestinians know only too well from past experiences that any challenge to Israel's national security will render their nation-building efforts obsolete. The effects of the second Intifada remain etched in the memory of the Palestinian people, and may well have contributed to the emergence of the current program of moderation.
The concept of a democratic Arab state with an open market economy governed by the rule of law is no small feat. The United States has every reason to promote this goal in any way possible, and Israel should welcome the plan's premise of expanding and promoting regional trade.
In addition, the Fayyad plan will also have serious implications for the Palestinian internal political struggle. Hamas operatives will have a hard time finding support for their opposition, as it will be interpreted as rejecting the principle of realizing the long-held goal -- a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority is planning general elections in January of 2010, and Hamas will be hard pressed to resist joining a political process with the agenda to provide goods and services to the Palestinian people.
Finally, it is important to note that the Fayyad initiative does not call for the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state, but focuses on building the foundation for such a state, leaving all conflicting issues with Israel -- including final borders, East Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees -- to a negotiated agreement.
What this plan states is that the Palestinian people do not need permission from anyone to prepare for such an eventuality, the principal aspects of which are recognized by the international community -- including Israel. The plan's Foundation of Principles states that "We are building a democratic system of government founded on political pluralism, guarantee of equality, and protection of all its citizens' rights and freedoms as safeguarded by the law and within its limits."
This should be encouraged by Israel if it wants to have a strong partner with whom to negotiate. But if a state is declared before reaching a final agreement, it will have only provisional borders that will still have to be negotiated with Israel. What is important here is that the path chosen for Palestinian statehood is the path that of necessity precludes violence. Had the Palestinians started this process after Israel's evacuation of Gaza, there is no question that the last four years would have been dramatically different, preventing the rise of Hamas and the Israeli incursion into Gaza.
As the American-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will likely resume soon, there is no better atmosphere under which to conduct these negotiations than the nonviolent climate that the Fayyad plan will hopefully foster. It is this commitment to true nation-building that will at last put an end to the tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict and discredit those who still advocate violent resistance.
Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. firstname.lastname@example.org