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barrier jenin 88.298.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Analyze This: State-building in Jenin
Calev Ben-David
Progress on ground may be more important than speeding up talks.
Two news stories about Jenin over the weekend offered differing perspectives about the developing situation in the West Bank city once known as the "cradle of suicide bombers." The Palestinian News Network on Saturday reported on the difficulties faced by Jenin area residents whose Ramadan festivities have been disrupted by IDF arrests, searches and delays at checkpoints. It was the latest in a series of PNN reports detailing the hardships of residents, primarily economic: "General manager of an import company, Bashar Ajawi, said that the economy is only changing for the worse. He is not optimistic that economic conditions will improve during the month of Ramadan. Ajawi said that the ring [security barrier] around Jenin is devastating... 'There are no projects or prospects for work.'" A somewhat different perspective emerges in an article in The New York Times, whose reporting is usual reflective of the paper's strong critical stance of Israeli policy in the territories. But in a piece titled "A West Bank ruin, reborn as a beacon of peace," several positive developments in Jenin are noted, mostly as a result of the security and infrastructure cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that has been mediated by the US -largely through State Department envoys Gen. James Jones and Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton - and the Quartet group via Tony Blair, its special Middle Envoy for Palestinian governance and economic issues. The introduction of hundreds of Jordanian-trained PA security officers into Jenin has brought a measure of calm and law and order into a city until recently ruled by terror-crime clans, and reduced the need for continuous IDF raids there; local officials and businessmen have been granted permits to travel throughout the West Bank; and dozens of Israeli Arabs have been given permission to study in the city's university. The result has indeed been the development of new economic projects and prospects, including a joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zone between Jenin and the Gilboa Regional Council, just over the Green Line. The Times report, though, certainly doesn't contradict the PNN's account of continuing IDF activities in and around Jenin, quoting both Palestinian complaints and the concerns expressed by Israeli security officials that the PA forces introduced into the area, while eager to enforce the rule of law in the streets, are more reluctant to take on the remaining terrorist infrastructure of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian rejectionist groups. Even given that, it's striking the degree to which the Palestinian media - including an ostensibly "independent" group such as the PNN - prefers to paint the situation in Jenin as being completely bleak, totally ignoring any of the efforts being made the past few months. It's as if to acknowledge any improvement of the situation on the ground, or even the prospects of such short of total statehood, would weaken the Palestinian effort to achieve that goal. This of course is hardly a new Palestinian attitude. It was the late Yasser Arafat who carried this approach to its (il)logical extreme, actively working at times to frustrate attempts to improve the lot of his people during the Oslo-era, as a means to maintain pressure both internally on his own camp and on the international community. The Jenin-Gilboa industrial park, for example, was one of several such joint Israeli-Palestinian economic projects originally planned for the West Bank border area during the 1990s that Arafat deliberately stalled and kept from fruition. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has largely eschewed this counterproductive strategy, and current PA prime minister, Salaam Fayad, has demonstrated an actual understanding of the need for building a Palestinian state from the "ground up" in conjuncture with negotiations toward a final-status agreement. But rhetorically at least, the Palestinian leadership and its information organs remain for the most part committed to focusing on the end-game of total independence, and remain reluctant to publicly acknowledge the need for "state-building" institutional and economic development as a precursor to full independence. One would hardly expect such acknowledgement from the Palestinian side. Far more problematic is when relevant parties and individuals outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrate similar lack of understanding, or outright impatience, with the need for a deliberate "ground up" approach toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and press for unrealistic and ultimately counterproductive deadlines in the concurrent negotiating process. The Bush administrative in particular has taken a sharply schizophrenic approach to this situation during the past year. Washington deserves considerable credit for the developments in Jenin, especially the efforts of Dayton to enlarge and improve the PA security apparatus, a mission that sometimes puts him in conflict with Israeli officials, whose over-riding priority is and should be the immediate protection of this nation's citizenry. This measured and realistic effort stands in stark contrast to the hasty and very unrealistic expectations set by the US president at the Annapolis Conference last November, that the basis for a final-status agreement could be reached in negotiations by the end of this year. A similar dichotomy as regards the European approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making is also exemplified by the recent efforts of Tony Blair, as contrasted with the attitude of the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, now making one of his periodic visits to the region. On landing here Friday, Solana acted true to form, telling reporters that it was largely the "slow pace" of negotiations that was at fault for the failure to make progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The notion that outside pressure for a faster negotiating pace between two parties that neither trust each other sufficiently, nor are politically strong enough to sell painful compromises to their own constituencies - especially on the Palestinian side - seems an alien concept for the EU foreign policy chief, who has rarely showed an understanding of the need for real Palestinian state-building as a precursor to that state coming into being. Solana seems still among those who believe in the efficacy of a top-down negotiating effort spurred by outside pressure, despite all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps instead of just racing from Ramallah to Jerusalem he should spend some time the next few days in Jenin - since it's the success or failure of step-by-step, bottom-up efforts such as the one underway there, that will likely hold the key to the future of an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
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