Funding a failing enterprise

Author Jonathan Schanzer’s informative examination of the Palestinian Authority argues for implementing long-term reform.

Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 2003. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 2003.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘If you build it, they will come,” was the line that made Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams famous, as his Ray Kinsella was called upon to build a baseball field that would allow Shoeless Joe Jackson and the seven other players banned in the 1919 Black Sox scandal to play again.
The phrase should be modified in this key way: “If you build it to that end, actual work needs to be put into any enterprise to make it alive and sustainable” – especially if we are talking about state-building.
In the Palestinian case study, Palestinians have attempted to circumvent the building phase in favor of “instant statehood,” that is to argue that because we think we should have a state, we will.
Enter Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who specializes in Palestinian politics. In his latest book, State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State, he methodically details the corruption, lack of leadership and countless excuses by the Palestinians to avoid building a viable state, in favor of Jewish rejectionism at large. As the author correctly describes Arafat’s leadership, “While Arafat was revered by his people for almost singlehandedly focusing the world’s attention on the Palestinian cause from the 1960’s until his death, the problem of corruption would, to some extent, define his legacy.”
Historically, the notion of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state existing alongside Israel was never part of Arafat’s vision or the Palestinian worldview at large.
Furthermore, Palestinians continuously rejected the notion of a single bi-national state. Palestinian society has never seen Jewish sovereignty or Israel’s existence as a “right”; the only right in their narrative is their sole connection to the land. They do, however, see the State of Israel as a temporary military fact. But they believe a day will come, so the narrative goes, when they will be able to rid all Jews from Israel.
The Abbas push for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence at the UN was a new and cynical turn, used to mask the history of rejectionism while touting Palestinian statehood. As the author states, “supporting a bureaucratic maneuver at the United Nations, which merely granted Abbas a temporary boost in approval, was not a viable strategy for developing a functioning democratic state in the West Bank.
The move, in fact, only exacerbated the challenges in the West Bank. It bolstered the current leadership without pushing for much-needed reform.”
Consequently, once again the Palestinian leadership showed no follow-through on the reform front, but rather expected the international community to continue funding a failing enterprise.
Like Arafat, Abbas understands the need to promote the notion of a Palestinian state as a way to show readiness for a farewell to arms. However, pragmatically, Palestinian statehood would force Palestinians to give up the Nakba victimhood narrative they have been carrying as a “badge of honor” for over 60 years. Then world opinion would be forced to judge them as a state, and not as the “underdog” – and this, of course, has not been the chosen path.
Notwithstanding, Washington has remained committed to the politically correct two-state solution, in which it has invested billions of dollars. After all, it does sound idyllic: two states living side-by-side in peace and harmony, with free trade and a free market of ideas. This is exactly where Schanzer’s book stands out: in its unique ability to give policy-makers the necessary tools to hold Palestinians accountable and implement long-term changes that could lead to a true reform.
Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams made the dream a reality. Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, continues to hold onto a dream that has no reality, and no long-term state-building plans. Moreover, until Palestinian society fully accepts Israel’s right to exist, the two-state solution will remain unattainable.
All in all, this is an essential read for any policy-maker and observer who wants a clear picture of the problems within Palestinian society, and what Washington can do to address them.
The writer has a PhD and is a Philadelphia- based Middle East analyst, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum.