Chapter 1


The Palestine question has, in a very real sense, grown up with the modern world. As the 19th Century came to an end and the 20th Century unfolded with all its technological evolutions and seemingly perpetual upheavals and turmoil, so too has the area of Palestine moved from being an historical backwater, to a pressure cooker, to a central focal point in world concerns. As the locus around which everything else that is happening in the Middle East seems to orbit, the Palestine issue can perhaps best be defined as the continued existence of the State of Israel for the Jewish people, in apposition to the continued non-existence of a Palestinian state for the Arab people who call the same territory home.

There are three main solutions proposed to achieve what the advocates of each regard as an acceptable settlement. The first is the "Israeli option," which proposes that Israel maintain control of the whole of the occupied territories, making permanent what is presently a de facto situation. There are several variations on this notion (such as outright annexation of or limited autonomy for the occupied territories), each with its own degree of practicality or impracticality, and none without a not a few pitfalls.

A second proposition has been the so-called "Jordanian Option." While this idea is essentially dead at present--due partly to the fact that Jordan, the key player, has washed its hands of responsibility for the territories altogether--many Israelis refuse to let go of the notion. Their concept is that Jordan, as the true "Arab Palestine," would annex the West Bank and (in some yet-to-be-determined way) perhaps the Gaza strip as well, assimilate all the Palestinian Arabs, and become fully accountable not only for their well-being and integration into a national structure, but for their activities vis-a-vis Israel as well. A more extreme version of the Jordanian option would draw the border permanently at the Jordan River and expel all Palestinians into the East Bank.

Finally, there is the option of creating an official, independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories, with perhaps a few minor territorial adjustments from Israel, Jordan, and/or Egypt. Many Palestinians now resigned to Israel's evidently permanent presence in the Middle East generally and understandably prefer this option to any of the others.1

International consensus is also growing that the only solution to the Palestinian question is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state. At present, today's most pressing issue is foremost in peoples' minds: how to achieve such a state in the first place. My intent in this thesis is not to try to answer that question--there are enough opinions about the subject already in circulation. I am also uninterested here in answering whether or not a Palestinian state is the solution for the problem. What I do intend to explore is a further, equally important question: how stable, self-sufficient, governable and socially integrated--in short, how "viable"--could such a national/political entity likely be if it were established? The answer to this question will impinge greatly on whether or not a Palestinian state will ultimately bring less tension to the region, or more.

Background to the Question

Historically, nation-states came into existence almost of their own accord, as a fortuitous convergence of a number of variables and catalysts, and without the modern midwifery of either contemporary policy makers or social science theorists. In certain places around the world factors of economics, population, climate, resources, and new technology came together over generations under the right conditions to form a community, a culture, a society, and finally a state. England, as one example, has possessed for centuries some sort of national identity based on a combination of factors ranging from its formidable geographic boundaries to its varied natural resources to its generally successful assimilation of invaders into a fairly uniform ethnic composition.

Similar things might also be said for Spain, France, Thailand, Iran, and many other countries around the world. To be sure, population influxes, invasions, insurrections, and economic revolutions occurred and continue to occur; governments or social systems change and evolve; but the basic nation-ness remains. The fact of existence of these nation-states is a basic assumption for the scholars who research such things. Indeed, the existence of nations became reality long before the relatively recent advent of the academic disciplines that study them. The origins, histories, and natures of nation-states and their current interactions and conflicts continue to be academia's focus of study. But the question of what makes a nation-state "viable" has seldom been seriously examined.

The colonial era brought a change in circumstances for the study of nations. Nation-states began to come into existence as a deliberate act of creation. States were often cut from whole cloth to further the economic or political goals of a colonizing power. As the colonial era drew to a close in the first half of the Twentieth Century, empires no longer able to physically occupy foreign soil but wanting still to promote their own interests or those of their friends did what they could to perpetuate the often byzantine national structures they had built. The new states created during the age of empires were often arbitrarily designed, capriciously delineated, or formed with an eye towards some short-sighted or self-centered agenda. Lacking even our present uncertain understanding of the myriad variables and their impact on the formation of states, colonial-era nation-builders seem to have seldom, if ever, given thought to the long-term effects such arbitrary creations might beget.

Assessing potential viability for a nation-state, if it were done at all, must have been at best a seat-of-the-pant s affair conducted by whomever was in charge of the process. Many of the African states are representative of this phenomenon. It is axiomatic that the borders of nations thus created often cut across tribal and natural boundaries, virtually ensuring a weak political structure that could more easily be manipulated and dominated--even absentia by departed imperial masters--permitting continued ready access to valuable natural resources or strategic geography.

The Middle East is itself a prime example of capricious nation-making. Iraq and Jordan were created as places to enthrone Britain's Hashemite allies after their expulsion from the Arabian peninsula by the Saudis. Syria was established and mandated to France as an eventual result of the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement. Israel itself owes much of the fact of its existence to British agendas that serendipitously coincided with other world events.

Yet, the genesis of a Palestinian state, if it happens at all, may turn out to be something altogether different--indeed Palestine could be the first nation-state created through the joint agency and cooperation of a world community working more or less together. The United States will unavoidably be involved; most of the Arab nations will also necessarily share partnership; Israel is an indispensable actor; and many, if not most of the more prominent nations around the world will also likely have their economic and political roles to play. At the birthing of Palestine, the world will have an unprecedented opportunity to theorize, examine, analyze, collect and process data as never before in the establishment of a new national political entity.

The fact of this world-wide interest, and the profoundly different consequences good or bad in the event the Pal estinian experiment results in success or failure, make it vital to know as much as possible about what will bring success. Determining whether Palestine would be "viable"--or what it would take to make it so--becomes a central issue.

For us to examine the issue of viability requires first that we decide what we mean by the term. A search of the literature thus far indicates that neither complete model of nor working definition for viability exists, nor has the question of "viability" per se been adequately explored. This is perhaps at least partially because of the many variables and intangibles that make the concept extremely difficult to express in concrete or quantifiable terms. Whether a nation is successful in surviving with its own identity as a discrete entity is dependent on a complex interplay of a profusion of factors, many of which themselves are not inherently quantifiable. And the viability problem is solved at least somewhat differently by every independent nation that has existed. To be sure, scholars of international relations and political science have discussed the notions of both legitimacy and national power. Yet these two concepts differ both subtly and intrinsically from the concept of national viability.

Nonetheless, we can perhaps draw a comparison here with human personality. No two people are alike, yet each has in common with all others many motivations and behaviors which can be observed, described, then used as tools to scientifically classify and predict in general terms human nature. It would be equally valuable to establish a general model of viability to better understand and anticipate the problems and effects an independent Palestinian state might have. I discuss the nature of viability in Chapter 2, and propose a set of tools for evaluating a nation's viability.

To set the stage, I make several assumptions that must be declared up front. The first one makes this entire effort seem almost a work of science fiction: that Palestine will come to exist. Through whatever convoluted diplomatic paths lay before the peoples and nations actually involved in negotiations today, I postulate that an agreement will be hammered into shape that will establish the sovereignty of the Palestinian people and provide them an independent nation of their own.

My subsequent assumptions are subsets of the first: (1) Palestine will comprise all the territory within the borders of the West Bank and Gaza; (2) The Jerusalem issue will be resolved, with some sort of power sharing/partition agreement between Israel and Palestine; and (3) the Israeli settlements presently existing in the occupied territories will be dismantled or turned over to the Palestinians. For now, of course, the latter two assumptions are quite speculative; but if a sovereign Palestinian state ever does exist, these two issues will have to be resolved in some similar fashion.

Yet, after all, Palestine does not presently exist, so a certain amount of speculation will be unavoidable, due to the need to project and extrapolate a "possible future" based on the realities of today's conditions. But since this assessment is intended to explore the potential for a viable Palestine, the circumstances as they stand at present are not always relevant to the future nation-state. All efforts will be made to assess what pertains and what doesn't.

A model for national viability must address the political, ethnic, social, economic, and religious spheres; it must also take into account internal and external security, regional and foreign relations, available natural resources, population distribution, national geography, and many other ingredients. As a prelude, then, to an evaluation of the viability of a future Palestine state, I will in the following chapter first define the term, and then create a model of viability against which to compare such a state.


  1. Avi Plascov, A Palestinian State? Examining the Alternatives, (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies), 1981, 52.

Prelude     Chapter 2

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