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THEY WANT A STATE, NOT AID
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
December 18, 2007

Although Christmas is still a few days away, the mood at the international donors' conference on Palestine, held in Paris this week, was very much one of bestowing gifts. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared determined to imitate his namesake and opened the conference with an offer of 200 million euros.

The man behind the Paris conference was Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, in his new capacity as Mideast peacemaker. At first glance, Blair has reason to be pleased.

The conference attracted a record turnout of nations and international agencies. It also ended with the largest pledges of aid, with promises of more to come in the next two years. To believe Bernard Kouchner, France's Foreign Minister, we are a step closer to peace.

That belief, however, is based on some illusions.

The first is that of the primacy of economics over politics, a common misconception that found its most dramatic manifestation in Marxism. The idea is that it is the economic infrastructure that determines the political superstructure. In this context, therefore, an improvement in material conditions for the Palestinians would lead to a decline in violence against Israel, and that, in turn, would persuade the Israelis that they have nothing to fear from a Palestinian state.

That illusion can easily be exposed.

When the Palestinians launched their first Intifada in the 1980s they enjoyed a standard of living that was significantly higher than the average in the rest of the Arab world.

At the time, almost a million Palestinians worked in Israel. Overall Palestinian unemployment was lower than the comparable rates in the European Economic Community, as the European Union was known at the time. Even today, thanks to international charity, the average Palestinian is materially better off than his counterpart in several member states of the Arab League.

The other illusion is that a Palestinian economic boom would create a large number of what Blair calls "stakeholders" who would, in turn, promote peace to protect their investments. However, experience again exposes the fallacious nature of that assumption.

After the Oslo agreement billions of dollars were pumped into the Palestinian economy, especially in Gaza, designated by the late Yasser Arafat as his stronghold. A decade later it is clear that the investments made by Palestinian exiles, and other Arabs, were mostly designed to ensure minimum commitment and maximum profit. At least one World Bank study shows that those private investments took more out of the Palestinian territories than they put into it. Some of Arafat's relatives and hangers-on made vast fortunes out of the bonanza. All those billions failed to undercut support for Hamas or to strengthen the hoped-for peace movement.

Those who believe that economics is the key to solving the Palestinian problem are barking up the wrong tree.

Man is not an economic animal but a political one.

One could buy the loyalty of a dog by feeding him sugar. But one cannot expect the loyalty of a man just by feeding him.

Anyone travelling in the former East Germany would soon see the truth of this. There, living standards are far higher than they were under Communism. And everyone knows that all this is thanks to subsidies from the western parts of Germany, and the rest of the EU for that matter. And, yet, most former East Germans give the impression that they have done their fellow Germans in the west a favour by joining them and spending their money.

What the Palestinians want is not money. What they want is a state of their own. Logically, such a state, built in some 5,000 square kilometres of territory, is a dicey proposition.

Strong possibility

It would be the most overpopulated state in the world with no natural resources, not even enough water for its inhabitants to drink and wash with. It might not even be viable. There is a strong possibility that the average Palestinian would become poorer in his own state than he is in the " occupied territories" today.

Again logically, the Palestinians would have a better economic future if they attached their territories to Jordan or even Egypt. More than half of all Palestinians already live in other countries, from Asia to the Americas and passing by the Middle East and Europe, where, thanks to their talent, they have often prospered. But few Palestinians would cherish the prospect of becoming Jordanian or Egyptian citizens or emigrating to distant lands.

The reason is that, for the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, Palestine is a cause not a problem of territory and, even less, economics.

I never forget the face of an old Palestinian I ran into during a trip last spring.

"Even if they create the paradise for me, I don't want it," he said. "I just want everyone to leave us alone."

The only credible policy on Palestine is one aimed at creating a Palestinian state as quickly as possible. Such a state would have myriads of problems which may takes decades to solve, or may even prove insoluble. Most Palestinians may end up regretting the fact that they ruined their lives fighting for a state of their own. But, like all humans, they prefer to make their own mistakes and pay for it rather than remaining objects of history. They want to write their own story, even if it turns out to be a sad one.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is wrong in insisting that these problems be solved before the "final phase", that is to say the announcement of a Palestinian state, is reached. She is blowing the trumpet from the wrong end.

Amir Taheri is an Iranian writer based in Europe.

 

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