Photo: Reuters
'Palestinians may soon be forced to face descent into chronic chaos and anarchy'
Photo: Reuters

Corrupt kleptocracy vs. tyrannical theocracy

It is time to re-think the conventional wisdom about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A central tenet of prevailing conventional wisdom regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territory that came under Israeli administration in 1967 – the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza - is a sine qua non for a resolution of a seemingly intractable dispute.


Indeed this position is so widely held that it has become almost an "article of faith" in international circles - and woe betide anyone with the temerity to question its validity. In fact, one of the remarkable aspects of this belief is that appears totally immune to the ravages of empirical fact and historical experience.


While it is reasonably understandable why this view has taken root in the Arab and Muslim world, it is far more puzzling why this should be the case among those who purport to be liberal intellectuals. For there is an accumulating body of evidence to suggest that the establishment of a Palestinian state, under any foreseeable future leadership, is likely to have the perverse consequence of promoting values that are diametrically opposed to those to which its liberal intellectual proponents allegedly subscribe… and which, curiously enough, they invoke to justify their support for such a state.


Little reason for hope


There is, of course, little reason to believe that a nascent Palestinian state will blossom into a political entity significantly different from all the other Arab states in the region, where accepted parameters of liberal democracy such as the freedom of the press, individual liberties, due process, the equitable dispensation of justice and the rule of law, and the status of women are hardly the distinguishing hallmarks of the incumbent regimes.


And although the Palestinians indeed managed to conduct a reasonably orderly election (albeit in large measure under Israeli auspices and which brought Hamas to power), the first decade of self-rule has often been characterized by persecution of journalists, harassment of the press, arbitrary arrests, mob lynchings (by Palestinians of Palestinians), and a high rate of "honor killings" of Palestinian women by their male kinfolk.


With the election of Hamas, it is doubtful, to say the least, that matters will improve. Indeed, quite the reverse is likely to be true. Thus, it is puzzling why those who profess support for the tenets of liberal democracy should push for the establishment of an entity in which such anti-liberal features are likely to flourish.


Intellectual honesty


This conundrum needs to be addressed seriously, for it seems highly anomalous that the notion of statehood should be given such overriding sway that it outweighs all other considerations – including those of the personal welfare and quality of life of individual Palestinians who have been left languishing in misery while a failed and fraudulent leadership has lead, or rather mislead, them deeper and deeper into an endless saga of tragedy.


Surely then, at some point, the international community should pause and reassess the moral validity and the practical viability of the Palestinian statehood issue. In many respects it is becoming increasing difficult to defend the moral merit and the political prudence of the entire endeavor.


The enduring inability of the Palestinians to succeed in establishing the apparatus of a state for themselves is a matter that its proponents – in the interest of intellectual integrity - must address. For only the dogmatic, the doctrinaire, and the demagogic can overlook the irksome question of why the Palestinians have failed so resoundingly and consistently to achieve statehood when so many other national movements with far less moral and material support have succeeded in far more daunting conditions – even against mighty empires rather than a micro-state like Israel.


Unprecedented support


Of course, some will protest that it is misleading to characterize Israel in this manner and point out that it has enjoyed strong superpower support of the US. True enough.


But it should also be remembered that for almost four decades, the Palestinians, too, had had even more unmitigated support from a superpower, the USSR, plus that of China and of India, the whole "non-aligned" bloc of nations, and the entire Muslim world. To this one might add the strong endorsement of major international institutions such as the U.N., and highly favorable coverage of nearly all the leading media channels together with strong sources of sympathy within the U.S. administration, particularly the Arabists down at "Foggy Bottom".


So a lack of international political backing certainly cannot account for the poor Palestinian performance. Neither can the lack of international economic support - for in the period between the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 90's and the outbreak of the Palestinian "intifada" late in 2000, the Palestinians the highest per capita recipients of international aid in world.


Yet in spite of these very favorable conditions – certainly far more benign than those experienced by almost any other movement of national freedom since WWII - the Palestinians have not managed to produce any semblance of a stable productive society. Indeed, quite the opposite is true.


Almost a decade-and-a-half has passed since the benevolent Oslo Accords were virtually thrust upon the Palestinians by an unprecedented accommodative Israeli administration which, to a large degree, not only recognized their claims for self determination, but actually identified with them.


Yet in this period the Palestinian leadership used the Oslo process to create a repressive and regressive interim regime that provided little, but successfully managed to pillage the Palestinian people. Indeed the Palestinian Authority has perhaps the unique, if dubious, distinction of attaining "failed state" status even before it was established.


Kleptocracy or theocracy


It is highly doubtful that the radical Islamists who have now assumed power will be able to remedy this condition. Almost half a century after the establishment of their "national liberation" movement, the Palestinian leadership has provided its people with a harsh choice between two distinctly unpalatable alternatives: the corrupt kleptocracy of the former regime or tyrannical theocracy of the present one.


In light of these grim and grisly facts, it seems only proper that the international community pause to reflect on the feasibility and desirability of persisting with the idea of a Palestinian state as if it were an axiomatic inevitability. This should be especially true for those who have a genuine concern for the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people.


Other possibilities


It seems not only proper, but pressing, that the international community begin to seriously consider scenarios for the resolution of the Middle East conflict that do not include the creation of a Palestinian state. Such alternative paradigms should focus on attempting to alleviate genuine humanitarian suffering rather than endeavoring to implement spurious political enterprises.


While the details of such alternatives are beyond the scope of this article, one alarming point should, in closing , be emphasized: Unless there is a paradigmatic shift in the thinking applied to the Palestinian predicament, the recent events in the Palestinian administered territories – particularly the widespread lawlessness and factional gunfights – suggest that the Palestinian people may soon be forced to face a third alternative even more uninviting than the previous two – that is the prospect of a descent into chronic chaos and anarchy.


Dr. Martin Sherman is a political scientist at Tel Aviv University


פרסום ראשון: 04.03.06, 14:08
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