Palestine is poised to receive recognition as a state by the United Nations General Assembly. Someone has labeled this as its arrival to the level of a "virtual state" without membership in the United Nations or recognition as a state by the two governments most important, i.e., Israel and the United States. Its new status may allow Palestine to trouble Israel by bringing cases to international courts, but Israel will not be without its own leverage.
Just last week Israeli security forces entered the major cities of the West Bank to arrest Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament. Was that an affront to Palestine of the kind likely to recur, or Israel's cooperation with the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas, which is likely to recur in order to limit the power of Hamas? We must ask questions like that--which we cannot answer with certainty--in order to understand events in this region of amorphous realities.
Those who will applaud Palestine's elevation in status may also be joining Hamas' claims of victory in the most recent mini-war with Gaza.
Not only was Hamas' victory the kind that cannot be repeated without further disastrous results to its population and resources, but the very existence of the Hamas regime in Gaza is one of the principal conditions that will keep the idea of a Palestinian state at the level of virtuality. Palestine may now be more likely to appear as a state in computer games, but it will still be less than a truly independent entity in world politics capable of supporting itself economically, with functioning systems of taxation, an independent judiciary, or social services responsive to popular demands. Palestine's president will boast of statehood without mentioning that his term of office expired in January, 2009.
Even with all of the above reservations about the success of Fatah in the United Nations or Hamas on the battlefield with Israel, the two events push us to consider some of the expectations about a Palestine ascending to statehood.
Lest I be mistaken, it's appropriate to indicate at this point that I would welcome a real state--with a disciplined security force and a government responsive to its population, able to support itself with taxes and other fiscal mechanisms along with decent social services--alongside Israel to the east and the southwest. It would be possible to arrange secure ground connections between the West Bank and Gaza, if only the leaders of the two areas could talk with one another without the threat of yet another civil war between them.
The thrust of this note is more in the direction of dismissing any fantasies that Israel is on a cliff, about to tip over into the graveyard of former countries.
The United States Government may be close to a financial cliff. Israel is vibrant economically, politically, and militarily. Palestine, in contrast, may win a majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly, but is heavily dependent on others for financial assistance and the surreptitious supply of arms, and has been on the edge or over the edge of a civil war since the rise of Hamas.
Among the expectations we read about from commentators gleefully confident about Israel's end are those derived from western colonialism and South Africa. The image conveyed is that Israel is an outpost of the West in the Muslim Middle East, and will crumble like the colonial outposts in the 1960s, perhaps in response to economic sanctions as did white South Africa in the 1990s.
However, Israel is not a colonial outpost, but a country with a large Jewish majority that relies on its own military and economy. Nor does it practice anything like the apartheid of South Africa, no matter what Jimmy Carter and others claim.
Algeria was the colony with the most European of populations, but its non-Muslims prior to independence were less than 15 percent; South Africa's white population prior to the out migration that came after the end of apartheid was less than 12 percent; Close to 80 percent of Israel's population is Jewish. Not all "Jews" meet Orthodox rabbinical definitions of being Jewish, but most of those who fail that test identify with the Jews. The latest Statistical Yearbook lists the country's Arab population as 20.5 percent.
Those who imagine that Israel practices anything close to racial segregation should meet my Arab students, colleagues, neighbors, and the friends who share with me the university pool, gym, and no end of political discussions.
South Vietnam fit the image of a propped-up country that fell when its patrons tired of supporting it. Israel receives political, economic, and technological assistance from the United States and Western European countries, but sheds its own blood in national defense. Moreover, its defense industries are among the world's most advanced. It is more appropriate to consider American and European support as helping their governments to keep Israeli security activities modest, than being essential for them.
There are no guarantees about the future. Those who are certain about any drift, trend, or inevitability must wait and see. Beyond a few years, it will be the next generation of leaders and observers who will decide and comment about their present and future. A few years ago Americans were concerned about learning Japanese. Now it is Chinese, but again it is too early to declare the end of the American era and the beginning of Asian hegemony.
It would be an exaggeration to describe Israel's future as "rosy," but "secure" appears appropriate. Not only is there a population tilt the opposite of what it was in the most European of the colonial outposts and in South Africa, but many--perhaps most--Arabs of Israel appear to be better integrated and appreciative of the country's benefits than wanting to become part of Palestine. The Arabs of Jerusalem are less well integrated in Israel by virtue of language and citizenship than Arabs living within Israel's pre-1967 borders, but 35% of Jerusalem Arabs responded to a 2011 survey that they preferred Israeli citizenship to that of a Palestinian state; 30% preferred affiliation with Palestine, and 30% didn't know, or preferred not to answer the question.
The recent Gaza operation may not be the last, but the Hamas regime is much closer to the cliff of extinction than Israel. Moreover, the Netanyahu government--considered right-wing and extreme by detractors--proved itself able to obtain international legitimacy for the start of the operation, and then fit within the frameworks promoted by the United States, European countries and Egypt in bringing it to a close.
The immediate future is likely to include verbal and ceremonial excesses over another declaration of Palestinian statehood. There was already such a declaration by Palestinians in 1988, proclaimed by Yasir Arafat and the Palestine National Council sitting in Tunisia. New York is no closer to the many times declared Palestinian capital of Jerusalem.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 27, 2012 04:26 AM