Salam Fayyad with kaffiyeh kafiyeh 311 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
Iam an American and son of German Holocaust survivors. For most of my life, the
narrative of Israel was that of a beleaguered nation seeking acceptance by
hostile neighbors. The Six Day War did nothing to change this. Israel held the
moral high ground, in spite of the widespread displacement of Arabs. There was
speculation that it would trade land for peace.
Jordan’s relinquishing of
the West Bank was a watershed event, and focused attention on the lack of
suitable Palestinian governance that would enable Israel to forge a lasting
peace. That it sought accommodation with Yasser Arafat in spite of his
less-than-enlightened leadership is testament to its deep desire for peace.
Frustration over a seeming lack of progress in the wake of negotiations and
territorial withdrawal is understandable.
But Palestinian institutions
have changed, and now display much greater levels of security and prosperity
than in the past. Resistance to Israel is more peaceful, and this has yielded
dividends in international legitimacy.
MUCH OF this change is the result
of new Palestinian leadership. I have known Palestinian Authority Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad for many years. We met as graduate students in Austin, Texas in
Fayyad showed sensitivity to the Jewish experience, including the
Holocaust. He looked forward to the day Israelis and Palestinians could prosper
together, but also recognized the need to develop Palestinian
At that time, the economics department of the University of
Texas was known for its emphasis on institutions and their importance for
political and economic development. These ideas had been falling out of favor
after the Reagan revolution, with its more hard-nosed embrace of markets and
individual responsibility. Unimpressive Israeli and American economic
performance was a backdrop to that time, and Fayyad was drawn to the more
market- oriented approaches to economic policy. He went on to work for the
relatively conservative International Monetary Fund in Washington before
returning to the Middle East.
Some institutional economists in Austin in
the 1980s were at pains to emphasize the importance of fairness. Social,
political and economic progress is jeopardized if fundamental tenets of fairness
are not evident. The old institutional school had its roots in the American
progressive movement and its many efforts to improve welfare for lower- and
working-class Americans. Social justice is not always easy to define, and may be
especially problematic to establish when two parties in conflict – such as Jews
and Palestinians – have been victimized. It helps if both sides have a
vision for social justice.
The Palestinian Authority accepts a two-state
solution. This helps ensure the long-term survival of Israel with a
Jewish character as long as there is a limited right of return. The PA has also
shown some flexibility on final borders. But there is no clear idea of what
Israel proposes as a fair dispensation, and patience on this matter is
dissipating in the international community. Some fear the 43-year occupation
will be extended indefinitely.
Former president Jimmy Carter and others
have compared Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory to apartheid.
It is not. I lived and taught in Johannesburg in the mid-1980s, and there are
important differences. South Africa was never about two peoples and one land, as
with Israelis and Palestinians.
It was about one national identity, South
African, with an unjust social dispensation. It is unfortunate that many critics
of Israel fail to see this fundamental difference.
South African whites
realized that apartheid was untenable in the long run. They also knew it was
unethical. But many whites were convinced the alternative was worse. Real
democracy, it was thought, would bring one man, one vote. So far the transition
away from apartheid has been relatively benign, and many fears have not
materialized, although Zimbabwe is another story.
IN SPITE of important
differences between Israel and South Africa, there is a parallel in the
reluctance to make that leap of faith to a new order. Israelis are asked to
trade threats they know for ones that are more uncertain. Some say Israel is
more committed to settlements than peace, but this is not clear. Borders and
Jerusalem are real issues, and not to be minimized. But the most important
stumbling blocks on the road to peace may now be the Israeli political structure
and social psychology, instead of Palestinian institutions or the lack thereof.
Israel has been unable to show leadership in the drive toward peace. It is not
obvious what will break the logjam, but for now my attention has turned from
Palestinian to Israeli institutions and policies.The writer is Joseph M.
Long Chair in Health Care Management and professor of economics at the Eberhardt
School of Business and Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at
the University of the Pacific in California.
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