Writing for The New Yorker, Dr. Hussein Agha and Dr. Ahmad Khalidi, two London-based scholars who have been behind-the-scenes interlocutors between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and various governments of Israel since the days of Oslo in the early 1990s, authored a piece called “The End of This Road: The Decline of the Palestinian National Movement.” Their analysis is keen and critical and while pointing to some positive developments over the past two decades, the main theme is a bleak Palestinian reality devoid of vision, leadership and hope.
It is a sad, realistic and accurate account of the mood of most Palestinians – inside and outside of Palestine. The lack of hope and vision and the absence of new leadership does not portend well for anyone living between the River and the Sea.
This analysis of the Palestinian situation could easily be applied over the green line, where there is the same lack of vision, hope and a program regarding the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The assessment of many locally and internationally that there is no resolution in sight to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not off-base given the current leadership (or lack thereof) on both sides of the conflict. The absence of hope on both sides, reinforced by a continuous demonstration of “no partner for peace” on both sides has left us all just waiting for the next explosion, the next round of inevitable violence. The most recent explosion, around the Temple Mount/al Aksa Mosque, did not become catastrophic thanks to the help of neighbors and friends, but without some significant new steps the inevitable next explosion is just around the corner.
All is not bad though – even on the Palestinian side. The achievements of the past years were noted in the magazine piece, but the authors live in London and viewing the day-to-day realities of the West Bank from afar perhaps skews their view. But it should be noted that Palestinians in the West Bank also do not usually recognize their own achievements. There is no doubt that the democratic space in the West Bank is in decline (and I am not referring to the basic lack of political and human rights because of Israel’s control and occupation).
The Palestinian president – more than 12 years into what was supposed to be a four-year term – the nonexistence of a representative parliament and the increased surveillance and heavy-handedness of the Palestinian security forces negatively influence the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. There is a sense among Palestinians that their basic democratic freedoms are shrinking and that the PA is not the democracy they dreamed of and hoped for. The lack of real economic growth has reduced opportunities for an increasingly educated Palestinian population, full of young people who are connected to the world and tech savvy and very frustrated because they cannot easily fulfill their dreams and ambitions.
A lot more could be achieved by Palestinians for Palestinians if real freedom existed and if Palestine was released from Israeli control and occupation. The main obstacle to Palestinian economic growth was and remains the Israeli occupation and control.
But I would also like to focus on the achievements of the Palestinians. The PA, or “the Government of the State of Palestine,” as it calls itself, is a fact and a reality on the ground. There is a functioning government, at the national, regional and local levels, providing services to the public which could undoubtedly be improved, but nevertheless exist and function quite well. The education system works, schools are running, teachers are being paid, new classrooms are being built, new teaching methodologies are being adopted.
The health care systems work – there are public and private clinics and hospitals and most people who need health care can get it. The social welfare system works, there are labor laws, new pension funds and schemes are being created to support the needy. Unlike cities and towns in the West, there are no homeless people sleeping on the streets of the West Bank. Ministries of agriculture and tourism, planning and others are functioning. The banking system and banks are full of people – employees and depositors. There is a sense of law and order – courts work and there are lots of new Palestinian lawyers every year providing their services to the public.
These are the characteristics of a functioning state. Ten years ago, coming out of the ruins of the Second Intifada, the current state of affairs in the West Bank was almost unimaginable. Those who do remember those days do not wish to return to the total loss of law and order, and physical destruction, that occurred from 2000-2007.
Retrospection and appreciation for what has been achieved is an important enabler of new vision and achievable hopes. The young Palestinian generation is too often too focused on its own dissatisfaction. There is too little engagement in the national struggle of building Palestine that existed during the First Intifada and during the early Oslo days when there was a national sense of taking a direct part in the national narrative of state building. Palestine will not be freed by the stone, the knife or the gun. Palestine will be freed and lives will improve when the young people of Palestine understand that they need to take a direct role in building their state.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.