Palestinian independence, borders, and Jerusalem

I’ve been thinking, based on many conversations over past years, about what constitutes the heart of the “independence” that Palestinian supporters of a two-state solution judge it is, that their independent state has to have.
Very evidently, no independent Palestinian state that emerges from anything like the current diplomatic arrangements or the current balance of forces with Israel, will be able to conduct anything like an independent military policy. Indeed, the Palestinian state will be substantially disarmed, and if it’s born at all will be born under a very stringent and long-lasting demilitarization regime.
There will be similar constraints on the ability of the Palestinian state to conduct an independent foreign policy.
To see why, you have only to look at the heavy constraints that the peace treaties that Egypt and Jordan have concluded with Israel place on those two countries’ ability to conduct an independent military or foreign policy. And those are significant, pre-existing states! So there is no way that the Palestinians, from their current position of intense dependency and vulnerability, can win anything like even the pared-down, constrained militaries that those earlier treaties allotted to their Arab parties.
So if national “independence” is to have any meaning for Palestinians at all, it has surely to lie in two other key dimensions of the sovereignty of states: control over its own resources and borders, and freedom to conduct its own economic relations directly with the rest of the world economy.
Absent those two dimensions of sovereignty, the Palestinian state would have no independence that, I think, most Palestinians would consider worth having.
A Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that is economically independent, and that has a free-flowing and internationally assured linkage between its two halves, can play many important– and potentially very profitable–roles in the regional and world economies. Interim PM Salam Fayyad is quite right to be concentrating on planning and building the infrastructure of this economically independent state: the airports, ports, and other nodes through which it can interact with its Egyptian and Jordanian neighbors, with other Mediterranean countries, and as an important entrepot for the region.
However, to protect its own economic space and its freedom of international economic action, this state would have to have firm and agreed borders with Israel, (which would presumably also want to preserve the independence of international economic links.) The two economies would almost certainly grow for a number of years in rather different economic directions and at different rates, since they start from such different base-points and have such very different international linkages, as well.
The Palestinian economy, once freed from the stifling constraints of Israel’s current total domination, could grow remarkably rapidly. The Palestinian people are very well educated. Diaspora Palestinians have lots of capital they could invest in a country whose independence and inviolability from foreign aggression could truly be assured. And the location of the country is strategic, indeed.
(Of course, if the Palestinian state is demilitarized, it would have to have iron-clad guarantees of its security from the UN Security Council or elsewhere. But the Palestinians should turn such demilitarization from a necessity into an economic virtue, like Costa Rica. Maintaining a heavy military is, after all, incredibly expensive and burdensome!)
Over the 42 years during which Israel has maintained its occupation over the West Bank and Gaza, there have been two major models for the economic relations between Israel and the OPT Palestinians. The first was one in which Israel forcibly imposed dependency on the OPT Palestinians. The occupation authorities intentionally suppressed the indigenous productive and economic capacities of the OPTs. The OPT Palestinians were thereby forced to work as very low-wage workers in the Israeli labor market; and to become a captive market for the products of Israel’s factories.
The First Intifada put an end to that. Afterwards, Israelis replaced the low-wage and few-rights Palestinian laborers with low-wage and few-rights migrant laborers imported from distant spots around the world, especially East Asia.
And in that second stage we had Oslo, and the PA, and all the fol-de-rol about Shimon Peres’s “New Middle East”, and Israel’s pursuit of an economic model in which– the needs of Palestinians were still completely subsumed to those of Israelis. The West Bank and Gaza are still captive markets for Israeli companies. But Israel’s power-that-be no longer want to have any Palestinian laborers crossing into Israel. So they have left Palestinians of working age simply to rot inside the large open-air prisons known as the OPTs…. And every so often (as with Netanyahu now), they throw them a few economic crumbs in the hope that Palestinians will be so busy rushing after the crumbs– and fighting each other to get them– that they’ll stop worrying about politics and the fight for national independence.
You have to admit, in Ramallah, some of those “crumbs” look pretty ostentatious and glitzy. But they still don’t represent anything like a functioning economy– let alone a functioning and independent Palestinian national economy.
So that is what is going to have to change, if there is to be any kind of a meaningful national independence for Palestinians. To put it plainly, Israel’s boot has to be lifted completely off the Palestinian economy.
Which means there will have to be a real border between Israel and Palestine. And not just the kind of fuzzy, one-way permeable, one-side dominated line we have seen until now (and which is still advocated over the long term by many Israeli proponents of the “New Middle East.”)
This question of the need for a real border impacts very directly on the question of Jerusalem.
I take as a given that if there is to be a viable, independent Palestinian state, alongside Israel, then the Palestinians will have to gain/regain control over a substantial portion of currently occupied East Jerusalem. Yes, including three-fourths of the Old City.
So it occurs to me there would be two formulas for how this need for Palestinian economic independence (and thus a real border) could be reconciled with the political-geographic needs of reaching a politically viable settlement over Jerusalem.
Either the city would need to be once again physically divided between the two states, with a meaningful (and internationally monitored) barrier going through it. Or, the whole city should be designated as some kind of special, internationally invigilated “condominium” between Israel and Palestine, with real borders erected between this condominium and each of the two “parent” states.
Otherwise, how do you keep the two states and their economies separate? How would you prevent massive smuggling between them, through Jerusalem?
Neither of these formulas is ideal. But for the vast majority of those– Israelis and Palestinians– who have a direct stake in bringing peace and hope to Palestine/Israel, either of these formulas would be a whole lot preferable to the current situation.
All Palestinians, both those 250,000 people nowadays hanging on “by a thread” in their East Jerusalem homes and that vast majority of Palestinians who have been completely banned from visiting their nation’s capital city for many years now, are currently living with the deep wound of the separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
There already are walls going through East Jerusalem: the Israeli government has been building those atrocious barriers for the past five years now.
There is no “peace” or “unification” in Jerusalem, as Israeli propaganda would have us believe. And there is a non-trivial number of Jewish Israelis who have already said they are ready to make concessions to the Palestinians over Jerusalem…
But can the international negotiators get their head around these ideas, I wonder?
Have they even started to think through what it would mean for the State of Palestine to have real economic independence and its own direct economic links with the rest of the world?
Have they thought through how this impacts on borders and the question of Jerusalem?
I hope so. Because if they take bold action and go after far-reaching and fair-minded ideas like the ones discussed above, then they might still have just a tiny glimmer of a hope of securing the two-state-based peace agreement.
But if they don’t– if they plan on (once again) fudging the idea of Palestinian economic independence, and fudging the question of securing access for all the peoples of the region to their holy places in Jerusalem, and fudging the whole issue of clear and accountable lines of governance in Jerusalem– then the two-state formula doesn’t stand a chance.
Regardless of all the fine words that Pres. Obama might say about his commitment to it…

3 thoughts on “Palestinian independence, borders, and Jerusalem

  1. edward newhouse

    “To see why, you have only to look at the heavy constraints that the peace treaties that Egypt and Jordan have concluded with Israel place on those two countries’ ability to conduct an independent military or foreign. And those are significant, pre-existing states! So there is no way that the Palestinians, from their current position of intense dependency and vulnerability, can win anything like even the pared-down, constrained militaries that those earlier treaties allotted to their Arab parties.”
    Could you please tell me what limitations are placed on those countries militaries? A preliminary reading of the treaty between Egypt and Israel shows limitations to apply to both parties equally;
    http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace%20Process/Israel-Egypt%20Peace%20Treaty
    Isn’t that just “peace”?

  2. truth

    Helena, I don’t know, I’m starting to wonder about the depth of your knowledge on Palestine. I assume you know Fayyed is a puppet; therefore, it is very likely (and many ngo people are writing about this), that these ‘economic development plans’ – being occupier-improved, – will benefit anyone other than the Palesitnians. The plans seem to involve among other things employing labor imprisoned by the wall in industrial zones (ie. sweatshops) after the agriculture industry has been destroyed through annexation of fertile land. You need ports to get the goods out.
    Another thing. West Bankers aren’t dying for Israel’s crumbs right now. Since the Oslo accords, about $10 billion have been dumped here, leading to a proliferation of ngo’s and a phony economy.

  3. truth

    Helena, I don’t know, I’m starting to wonder about the depth of your knowledge on Palestine. I assume you know Fayyed is a puppet; therefore, it is very likely (and many ngo people are writing about this), that these ‘economic development plans’ – being occupier-appproved, – will benefit anyone other than the Palesitnians. The plans seem to involve among other things employing labor imprisoned by the wall in industrial zones (ie. sweatshops) after the agriculture industry has been destroyed through annexation of fertile land. You need ports to get the goods out.
    Another thing. West Bankers aren’t dying for Israel’s crumbs right now. Since the Oslo accords, about $10 billion have been dumped here, leading to a proliferation of ngo’s and a phony economy.

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