Two views on a Palestinian state Solutions will depend on international support

April 06, 1997|By Phyllis Bennis

IF THERE IS TO BE any hope for a lasting peace in the Middle East, Palestinians must be given a chance to build a state of their own.

Real statehood for Palestinians means full control of land, control of economic life (as much as any country can hope for independence in this era of globalization), and the right to as much democracy as this long-occupied and long-exiled people is prepared to fight for.

Certainly a new Palestinian state is going to have trouble - serious trouble. But potential obstacles cannot be allowed to attack the legitimacy or undermine the potential feasibility of a new state.

Economic viability is one of the the most serious problems a new Palestinian state would face. Currently, the Palestinian economy overwhelmingly dependent on Israel, which means that Tel Aviv controls the lifeline of Palestinian existence. Today, the continued closure of the West Bank and Gaza, imposed by Israel since the suicide bombings of Feb. 1996, prevents all but a handful of Palestinians from working inside Israel and results in a loss to the Palestinian economy of millions of dollars.

The former United Nations Special Coordinator for the Occupied Territories, Terje Larsen, estimated that over the course of a year, the closure would result in a loss of at least $750 million - far more than the yearly amount pledged by donor countries to support the nascent Palestinian authority during the ""interim period" of the Oslo accord. The damage caused by this closure will continue to be felt for many years.

In fact, virtually all of Palestine's economic instability is caused by Israel's long years of military occupation and its refusal to allow the creation of anything resembling an independent economic infrastructure in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Potential solutions to Palestinian economic dislocation depend on international support to compensate for the years that Israel denied the Palestinians their rights to development.

Once Palestine is independent, certain things will be possible. Efficient transportation of Palestinian agricultural produce from Gaza will no longer be prevented by Israeli refusal to allow flights in or out of the new Gaza airport or by denying Gazan fisherman access to a real port.

Much of the recent wealth of the Israeli settlements in Gaza comes from large-scale production of carnations which are sold in Europe. Flower production is labor-intensive and water-hungry. These settlers, like others throughout the West Bank, have made Gaza's desert bloom by relying on unrestricted access to cheap water - available because Israeli occupations have succeeded in wresting control of much of the water of the Jordan and Litani rivers, the springs and rivers of the water-rich occupied Golan Heights, and most of the West Bank's rapidly depleting underground water sources, as well as Gaza's own meager supplies.

Perhaps a fledgling Palestinian state would renounce carnations, renounce reliance on stolen water, and declare its intention to seek international help to provide subsidies to Gazan farmers to shift to new water-sparing crops and new forms of desert-friendly agricultural production.

On the global political front, Palestine's state will emerge framed by the limitations as well as successes of its past roles.

Its existing involvement in international organizations, from its current observer status at the United Nations to its full membership in the League of Arab States, would provide diplomatic scaffolding. But in the long term, maintaining

Palestine's international position would require fighting to reverse Washington's longstanding efforts to keep the question of Palestine, and the negotiations over the Israel-Palestine conflict, outside the parameters of the international community and existing international law.

It is not realistic to believe that U.S. influence in the Middle East, and U.S. acquiescence to Israel's goal of strategic mastery of the region, would end if a Palestinian state came into being. But once Palestine is a fact, and no longer a question plaguing the international community, there will at least be a transformed political terrain for challenging that U.S.-Israeli domination. Perhaps then there will be new potential for implementing some of the existing, but long unenforced, international law and U.N. resolutions concerning the legitimacy of, and need to support, a Palestinian state.

Ultimately, in this increasingly interdependent and globalized world, no new state, and few of the old, can aspire to true and complete independence. But winning the small modicum of freedom that comes with the realization of national rights, and winning the chance at least to fight one's own government for innovative forms of democracy and social justice, is still the right of every colonized population. Whatever its limitations and however imperfect, the Palestinians deserve a state of their own. And the elusive peace sought in the Middle East requires no less.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and author of "Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's U.N." She recently visited the Middle East.

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