The Israeli leadership has recently turned its attention – even if
contemptuously – to the possible threat of a unilateral declaration of
a Palestinian state. Regardless of whether such a move will take place
or not, the real issue is not in the declaration itself but in the
possibility that it points to a deeper cultural change among the
Palestinians – a change which was also noted with the participation of
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Tuesday night in the
2010 Herzliya Conference and his subsequent speech.
The Palestinian national movement has been characterized from its early
days by a maddening culture of irresponsibility. As far as they were
concerned, their circumstances were never the outcome of their
decisions, actions or conduct. It was always someone else’s fault – the
UK, the United Nations, the Arab countries, and of course above all,
the Zionists and their occupation. No matter the issue, the finger was
permanently pointed outward. And so, in a world where everyone else was
to blame, the only path was resistance – the defining word of
The Palestinians conducted themselves as eternal teenagers, incapable
of moving past blaming others toward shaping their own lives. This was
best embodied in Yasser Arafat who was the captive of his image as
leader of a resistance movement, never transitioning to builder of a
state. If the phrase ‘assumption of responsibility’ was ever mentioned,
it was always in the context of a spectacular and bloody terrorist
Israel benefited from this Palestinian culture. Zionism, the essence of
which was assumption of responsibility and state-building, found
comfortable symbiosis with the Palestinian culture of irresponsibility.
The constantly constructing Israel became adept at blocking the
Palestinian resistance and absorbing blame while never ceasing to
build. Israel was able to thrive and expand against the backdrop of
Palestinian inability to assume responsibility.
BUT IT just might be that recently, below the radar, a revolutionary
change is underway. For several years now, several players under the
sound leadership of General Dayton, Tony Blair and PA Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad, were working together to build a Palestinian state from
the ground up. It is quite probable that when Israel supported this
process several years ago, it treated it as no more than a diversionary
game that would keep the well-meaning Europeans and the dour Fayyad
playing in building Lego Palestinian institutions until the end of
time. Israel might have well assumed that the Palestinians were
culturally incapable of breaking free of the crutches of blaming others
to sustain a building process. The scorn towards this project was
further enhanced by Fayyad’s gall at graduating from the University of
Texas rather than Israeli jails.
Fayyad, who has no terrorist past, is supposedly therefore incapable of
being a Palestinian leader. Even the Israeli leadership tends to
respect Palestinian “warriors” and repeatedly revers a new Barghouti.
But it seems that, of all people, it is Fayyad and his colleagues who
have taken the matter of municipal taxes and sewage seriously and have
approached the building of a state – in all its boring details – with
determination and energy and no trace of blubbering.
The more this process moves forward and succeeds, the more the cultural
change accelerates and deepens. For Fayyad, a unilateral declaration of
a Palestinian state is not an empty gesture such as the one carried out
in 1988, but the culmination of a thorough process of building the
institutions of a Palestinian state on the ground.
The greatest “threat” to Israel’s policy appears to come from a dour
bureaucrat who is steadily leading a revolutionary cultural change of
fostering responsibility among Palestinians.
This change is leaving Israelis, who have long grown accustomed to
Palestinians who do nothing but blame the world for their circumstances
all the while wasting numerous opportunities, wondering, confused and
many – hopeful.
The writer is a Labor MK, a fellow
with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and a member of the
President’s Conference Steering Committee.