ASSESSING THE VIABILITY OF A PALESTINIAN STATE
Of all the nation-states that have been created in the past century, or will in the conceivable future be created, Palestine may in some ways be one of the best politically prepared. Yet there are also dangerous political weaknesses and flaws that will almost certainly have significant impact in the development of the country.
POLITICALLY SIGNIFICANT GROUPS AND PERSONALITIES
There are presently five main segments to the Palestinian political sphere: the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); the intifada leadership; the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); the Islamic movement; and mass organizations, which include the general unions and certain service and charitable groups. There are also splinter groups which, though not major players in the political realm, still are able to exert some influence.
The Palestinian movement has a long history of dissidence within its ranks. It is natural that within a large group of people working towards a general goal there will be differing perspectives on means of accomplishment, and varying opinions as to the nature and details of the desired result. Sometimes these differences can be quite severe and disruptive. Such is the case with the Palestinians. Discord has at times led to extended periods of internecine violence--one might say that the Palestinians have been their own worst enemies, and might wonder how much momentum toward creating the state of Palestine has been lost over the years to fratricidal disagreements.
The PLO has never completely fulfilled its intended role as unifier of the Palestinian people. The various independent groups that constitute it behave much as did the individual American states under the Articles of Confederation--they follow the organization's policies and avail themselves of its services when it suits their own desires, and completely ignore it when they want to do something else. Indeed, it wasn't until February 1970 that, with the inclusion of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the PLO could finally claim to have representation from all the primary Palestinian groups. 14
Despite that step towards unification, Palestinian history has until recently seen continual rounds of waxing and waning discord and dissent among its own ranks. Throughout the twenty-five-year history of the guerilla struggle against Israel, there were continual disagreements and fallings-out about political strategy, operational tactics, level of violence, and types of targets. Moderates and radicals traded arguments, insults, and often even bullets and bombs. Power struggles took place regularly, and it often seemed that the Palestinians were fighting each other more than they were the Israelis. Several of Yasir Arafat's deputies and associates were assassinated, and Arafat himself was targeted a number of times.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the political cooperation practiced during the intifada have perhaps created a better environment for political cohesion than ever before. Yet there remain political divisions and dissident factions that might still derail the process of creating a state. If Palestine ever comes to be, much of this dissent will have necessarily been stifled. But the trends and sentiments that underlie the dissent will not immediately succumb to solidarity, and will likely play a role in the political future of the fledgling nation.
Just coming to a consensus about what type of system will eventually govern Palestine, then working out an equitable (or at least successful) balance of power among the political constituencies eventually comprising the nation will likely produce turmoil, differences of opinion, and conflicting interests. Much of this will merely be a transference of the political divisions prevailing among Palestinians today, which will have been somewhat transmuted in the crucible of nation-shaping. But two particular elements, Islamic fundamentalism, and attitudes regarding Israel, will be important factors affecting factionalism in Palestinian politics.
POLITICAL TRADITION AND PREFERRED GOVERNMENTAL STYLES
Until the past few decades, Palestinian political involvement was primarily centered in a small elite of approximately 200 Palestinian families, known as "the notables." The leaders of these families served the Ottoman empire as go-betweens with the populace of the Palestine region. After World War I, the British and the French continued this relationship until the end of their mandates after World War II. For the most part, the notables were wealthy landowners or merchants who exercised an almost feudal hold over their tenants and employees. It was their role to manage the region for whomever was master at the time. Their responsibilities included overseeing tax collection, execution of laws, and deciding local judicial proceedings.
The notables had a firm grip on power until the partition of Palestine in 1947-48. Israel's establishment and the subsequent confrontation between Israel and the Arabs, coupled with the burgeoning movement for Arab nationalism and self-determination, set forces in motion that began to erode their authority. Nevertheless, because of their strong ties with the Hashemite regime in Jordan, the notables continued to maintain extensive influence in the West Bank even after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war resulted in the loss of about half the territory of Palestine.
After the catastrophic June 1967 war, however, the days of the notables' authority were numbered. Not only did Jordan lose control of everything west of the Jordan river, undercutting the notables' power base, but the fledgling Palestinian nationalist movement came into its own. Consequently, a new, younger, urbanized elite began to emerge, supplanting the old ways of doing politics. 21 "In contrast to the traditional leadership of the West Bank and Gaza, which had close links with Jordan," notes one source, "the members of these groups were younger and much less identified with the notable families of Palestinian society," often representing "Palestinians of the refugee camps and of the urban working class." 22
Palestinian political leadership fit into two major categories: the PLO, and the local leadership inside the Occupied Territories. Until recently, those inside the territories looked to outside leadership to resolve Palestinian problems. This practice was perpetuated by Israel tactics designed to subjugate the occupied populace, by the desire of the PLO to maintain its preeminent but sometimes shaky position as representative of all Palestinians, and by the assurances of external Arab governments that they would champion the Palestinian cause.
This situation, however, soon changed. Egypt's peace-making with Israel signaled the beginning of Arab governments' gradual defection from the Palestinian cause. The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, followed by a concerted effort from the Syrians and dissident factions of Fateh resulted in the PLO's expulsion from Tripoli. Having fled fifteen hundred miles to refuge in Tunis, Arafat could no longer monitor as easily events in the territories, nor influence as adequately the political environment. Pressure from Israeli land-expropriation and settlement programs, the tightening of the military government's occupation policies, and growing economic hardship increased feelings of desperation among Palestinians in the occupied territories, convincing them increasingly that the PLO and the Arab governments would continue to attack Palestinian problems with talk and superficial actions until too late to achieve a real solution.
With the outbreak of the intifada in late 1987 a new political pole developed, this time in the occupied territories themselves. At first completely spontaneous, the intifada became an organized outpouring of popular dissent. Long-dormant local political elements from Fateh, the PFLP and DFLP, the communists, and Muslim fundamentalists joined hands in a coalition that provided a united political front. 23 Caught just as unprepared as the Israelis by the intifada's outbreak, the PLO scrambled to gain some control of the uprising. The best it could manage was to establish a fluid and relatively equal partnership with the intifada's leadership.
A complicated chain of events tied to political repercussions from the 1991 Gulf War led to an intensification of the peace process, including for the first time direct meetings between Israeli representatives and a delegation of prominent personalities from the occupied territories. This often-frustrating but still promising process is where the situation stands as of this writing.
Palestinian political consciousness has clearly evolved from typical feudal serfdom to mass politicization over the last approximately 50 years. Where at one time one might have assessed the state of Palestinian politics simply by canvassing the most prominent families, now virtually the entire Palestinian population both within and without the occupied territories has at least some concept of the political issues, and is at least marginally politically involved--often far more. 24
Many nearby Arab states, such as Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, have been comfortable with autocratic governments headed usually by military or former-military figures. Jordan has surprised the world by maintaining its monarchy for seven decades. But whether Palestine will develop into an autocracy or a democracy remains an open question. Jamal Nassar points out several autocratic proclivities associated with the PLO--the way leading figures are lionized by the Palestinian population at large, for example, or the PLO's tendency to force smaller groups to toe the line on unity issues. The political environment itself, he argues, with its life-or-death exigencies and the necessity of living within narrow constraints imposed by host countries, is a fertile climate for the incubation of authoritarian habits. Nassar also notes on the other side several factors leaning toward democratization, such as the PLO's intimate interactions with and atunement to the Palestinian people, and the eclectic, populist composition of the overall organization. 25
Ultimately, Palestine, may be most successful with a functioning representative government of some sort. There are at least three factors that would lend support to a representative government in Palestine. First is the wide politicization of the population. The broadly populist nature of the uprising suggests that the citizens of Palestine would never again be content to allow a small group of individuals decide their political fate, and would insist on having a say in the political process. There are indications that the intifada has increased democratic proclivities among Palestinians. As Don Peretz notes:
Given the grassroots origins of the UNLU, it is not surprising that its decisions are the result of a democratic process, made unanimously after consultation with local committees and at times with the PLO abroad. Because the political orientation of the UNLU is so diverse, unanimity is almost a prerequisite to prevent internecine bickering and even violence. . .26
A 1991 survey of forty prominent Palestinians in the occupied territories reinforces the idea that democracy is the goal of many Palestinian nationalists. "They hope that [Palestine] will be secular and democratic, based on universal suffrage, free elections, a multiparty system, and basic guarantees of civil and human rights." 27
A smoothly functioning representative government is, of course, not the only possible outcome of mass politicization. It is conceivable that instead of establishing a stable administration after independence, Palestinian politics could degenerate into a cauldron of small, radicalized political groups, each vying with all the others for dominance, resulting in virtual anarchy. The remaining two factors supporting a democratic Palestine will work to preclude this situation.
One of these factors is the general education level of Palestinians. While education has suffered during the intifada because of disrupted classes and school closings, Palestinians remain highly literate and technically accomplished when compared to many other peoples in the developing world. In fact, it was dramatic increases in education levels and professional development among younger Palestinians since 1967 that contributed to the previously-mentioned mass politicization and the consequent replacement of the traditional ruling elites. In situations where there is a significant disparity between haves and have-nots, education can exercise a short-term divisive effect as it allows the have-nots to become more fully aware of what they do not have and some other privileged group does. Yet education can also exert a moderating and unifying influence. Broader learning can help a people recognize the importance of unity in accomplishing goals as well as the damage caused by social discord. It can also help them develop tolerance for others' differences, respect for individual rights, and teach them constructive ways of solving problems. Democracy is the governmental manifestation of this. It is also the reason why continued high standards of education are so important to a democracy's survival.
The final factor is proximity to Israel. Israel need not intervene in Palestinian society at all to exert an influence. Many Palestinians have observed and envied the political and social environment in Israel. Despite its inefficiencies and excesses, Israel remains essentially a liberal democracy with great respect for the individual and civil rights of its citizens. The economic benefits of its structure are obvious to outsiders, and became blatantly apparent to Palestinians in the occupied territories as their standard of living improved after 1967 relative to their fellow Arabs. Ironically, it was this very awareness that planted the seeds for the intifada. Though Palestinian economic and living conditions improved, they remained in many cases squalid when compared to Israeli standards--a situation fostered by Israeli policies. Recognizing the positive aspects of the Israeli system, young Palestinians became angry and restive when they realized that opportunities and individual and civil rights guaranteed those who lived only a short distance away across the so-called "Green Line" were denied them.
Once Palestine comes into existence, however, the Israeli example with which so many Palestinians have become familiar will likely become a pattern from which to draw an "Arabicized" model for a just and democratic Palestine.
BUREAUCRATIC PROFESSIONALISM AND ORGANIZATIONAL EXPERIENCE
Palestinians have gained considerable organizational and administrative experience from a variety of sources. One that springs to mind immediately is the PLO itself. Considered by many to be a government in all respects but name, the organization has grown into a complex bureaucracy with many of the functions and responsibilities of a national government. The PLO consists of two primary organs, the Palestine National Council (PNC) and the Executive Committee (EC). The EC, a 15-person body, is the overall governing organization for the PLO. The PNC consists of nine departments managing everything from education to economic matters to military affairs. Other associated agencies are concerned with arts, trade, social affairs, etc. 28 Though hampered by being directly excluded from the occupied territories, the PLO indirectly assists in administrative and support matters for the West Bank and Gaza, and performs many important services and support functions for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living outside the territories. Much of the framework and expertise from which the government of Palestine will finally be constructed will certainly come from the PLO.
UNRWA is another agency important to Palestine's governmental future. The organization's 18,000-plus employees not only provide the largest available cadre of qualified school teachers, but are experienced in administrative functions as well as in the provision and distribution of essential services, such as power, water, sewage systems, health care, and food programs for school-age children and the needy.
Another source of skilled bureaucrats are the regional Arab governments. Because of their educational strengths and professionalism, Palestinians have played significant roles in several governments and public organizations in the Middle East. Prominent among these is Jordan. A large percentage of the Jordanian civil servants are Palestinians, who have accumulated several decades of experience in their areas of responsibility. Until 1988 when it relinquished its claims, Jordan also employed many Palestinians to administer its programs and governmental services in the occupied territories.
Palestinians in Kuwait also gained much organizational and governmental experience. In fact, Palestinians deserve much of the credit for making Kuwait what it is today, having been heavily involved in constructing the bureaucracy and putting in place many of the organs for management and administration. The Kuwaiti ministry of Public Works, for example, was famous for the high percentage of Palestinians among its ranks. As Laurie Brand says, ". . .it was the Palestinians more than any other single expatriate group who helped shape [Kuwait's] social, economic, and political development." 29 Tragic as it was, the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait in the aftermath of DESERT STORM has a positive side as well. It makes available a large pool of trained and experienced blue and white collar workers, many of whom might otherwise have opted to remain in Kuwait even after the establishment of Palestine, had they been given the choice. Unfortunately, if Palestine's creation is dragged out, as appears to be likely, these workers will gradually filter away and again become unavailable.
The mass organizations among the Palestinians in surrounding countries, such as the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW), Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), the General Union of Palestinian Teachers (GUPT), and the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), provided valuable corporate experience for Palestinians. Though a number of these groups no longer exist, and some were not contemporary with others, they all to greater or lesser degree contributed to the pool of organizational experience. Though this experience can be drawn upon when Palestine's government is finally formed, it has already proven valuable:
If the Palestinians of the two occupied areas had not had a rich experience in mass organizational work before December 1987, the political leadership would have issued its leaflets in vain and the eruption of early December would have passed within weeks or days. 30
Several of the organizations, such as the PRCS and the teachers' union, will continue to provide their specialized services to the State of Palestine. But they will also be important contributors of administrative expertise to other governmental activities during the nation's formative stages.
A final source of organizational experience is the Israeli occupation government itself. Since 1967 the government has employed local Palestinians for police work and various lower-level administrative and bureaucratic functions. The intifada has dramatically lowered the numbers of Palestinians still employed by the occupation, but they remain available once autonomy has been achieved.
We must acknowledge that experience alone will not ensure that an effective, efficient bureaucratic structure can be established and maintained in Palestine. Skills unused by those no longer employed as administrators become rusty; procedures and practices differ--sometimes dramatically--from bureaucracy to bureaucracy, and Palestinians with bureaucratic experience come from a wide variety of administrative backgrounds. Still, skills once acquired are much more easily regained; and there are certain broad, common principles that, once mastered, apply to all organizational settings. Some things will have to be unlearned or modified before experienced Palestinian bureaucrats can fit into the new system, but the fact that so many have already gained that experience should make the transition considerably easier.
One of the reasons the United States has had such an extended history of political stability has been the high standards of professionalism to which military, security, and bureaucratic personnel are held. One of the primary components of professionalism is the strict maintenance of non-political attitudes while on the job. In fact, this cultivated apolitical attitude is one of the mainstays of civilian control of the military and career bureaucrats. It is the mechanism that allows administrations to change, policies to be reversed, new standards to be adopted--all with the full expectation that the military and government will comply. Individuals may have their private political views, and may even speak privately about them. But they are not allowed to be active politically while employed by the government. History is full of examples where a country's army or government workers became politically polarized, creating serious turmoil, and leading often to a coup or insurrection.
Civil servants must behave as if they were simply tools in the hands of the policy makers, executing the leadership's policies whether they are perceived to be good or bad. To manifest any other inclination is to invite destabilization of a nation's political structure. This then begs the question: how prepared is the bureaucratic class of Palestinians to adopt this professional stance in performing its duties?
Fortunately, Palestinians have a promising start with regard to professionalism. Probably the best example is UNRWA, the personnel of which are not only acquiring bureaucratic experience, but are learning valuable lessons in professionalism as well. Recognizing the need to maintain its reputation for political neutrality, UNRWA officials insist that Palestinian employees maintain a strictly non-political stance in conducting their duties, "a demand to which some local [Palestinian] employees take exception." But such detachment is essential for UNRWA's mission, for otherwise it "would lose its claim to being impartial in the daily encounters in which the interests of the refugees confront those of the host governments, not just Israeli but Arab as well." 31 If Palestine's civil servants--whether coming from the UNRWA ranks or learning principles from those that do--are able to truly internalize the concepts of professionalism, they will act as a major stabilizing influence even when major political battles erupt between political factions, or when administrations change from one political camp to another.
UNRWA, extensive and experienced as it is, could provide only a portion of the personnel necessary to man a robust government. Fortunately, there are other sources for people who are either partially or fully prepared to enter a professional civil service. Extensive Palestinian involvement in the development of several of the nations in the region can contribute as well. As already mentioned, Palestinians were instrumental in first building up, then operating the Kuwaiti public power utility. They also provided key services at worker, staff, and management levels in various oil extraction and production enterprises throughout the region. They were also sought after to work in white collar positions in various commercial and governmental agencies. Such experience certainly contributed greatly to professional behavior and expertise.
Professionalism doesn't involve only non-political behavior. To be truly professional a bureaucratic elite must be honest and incorruptible. Bribery and chicanery undermines laws, regulation, justice, fairness, economy, and confidence in government. In an area of the world which has a long-standing heritage of baksheesh and bribery, there may be much to overcome. The PLO, for one, has had its problems with corruption and nepotism. But a strong government requires integrity, both from its citizens and the civil service. The fact that many Palestinians have extensive exposure to western education and western business, administrative and government styles may help. If the people come to demand professionalism and integrity as essential elements of patriotic service, there is hope.
DIPLOMATIC INFLUENCE/FOREIGN AFFAIRS EXPERIENCE
The Palestinian movement is perhaps the best represented diplomatically of any non-sovereign entity in the world. This has mostly occurred through the auspices of the PLO. For instance, the organization has been granted permanent observer status at the United Nations. It also maintains quasi-diplomatic offices in most of the more than one hundred nations that have recognized it as representative for the Palestine people. It is allowed to participate in the decision-making process of various UN offices and activities in issues pertaining to Palestinian interests, and has the ear of many prominent political officials throughout the world.
The power the PLO and the Palestinian people wield internationally, however, considerably exceeds what one might expect it intrinsically to have--certainly more than most other dispossessed peoples. Jamal Nassar suggests four reasons for this: (1) humanitarian concerns--many citizens of established nations sympathize with the plight of the Palestinian people, and empathize with their desire for sovereignty; (2) reactions to previous Palestinian terrorism--terrorist acts by Palestinian guerilla organizations focused world attention on the Palestinian problem, and when attention wavered, brought it back again; (3) Israeli intransigence--despite a stated desire for peace, Israel maintains an uncompromising attitude, continues to expropriate Palestinian land and property, and subjects Palestinians to increasingly oppressive conditions; and (4) the rise of anticolonialism--the increase, particularly in the Third World, of attitudes against what is popularly described as imperialism and colonialism, of which Israel is adjudged to be guilty. Nassar further suggests that the PLO has won increasing support for the Palestinian cause by moving away from violent tactics and renouncing its intent to destroy Israel.
While all these factors perhaps played their parts, the primary source of the PLO's international influence most likely stems from its ability to play a spoiling role in the region. Since stability in the Middle East is viewed as highly desirable by Western governments, and since this stability orbits around the Arab-Israeli confrontation as one of its principle loci, and, finally, since the Palestinians are a major actor in the Arab-Israeli peace equation, then they must be regarded very seriously as a key player in diplomatic considerations.
The problem here is that influence based on its present situation may possibly disappear once a Palestinian state comes into existence. It is possible that the world at large--perceiving the problem to be resolved--might proceed to shift its attention away, and regard Palestinian diplomacy as it does any other tiny nation in the developing world. Unfortunately, a militarily and economically weak Palestine would need to rely even more on canny diplomacy and international influence for protection politically and economically, and perhaps even militarily. Palestine would not want to renew its role as spoiler, since this would require a return to belligerence, guaranteeing heightened tensions and threatening the survival of the new nation almost before it had even made a good start.
The diplomatic experience that the PLO has gained, and can pass along to the State of Palestine, may work somewhat to offset the possible loss of influence sovereignty might bring. The way the present peace talks are structured can contribute to this, as well. The fact that prominent, non-PLO affiliated citizens of the territories must participate in the negotiations exposes a broader range of Palestinians to the nuances of international diplomacy. Perhaps the skills developed corporately among all the Palestinians can work to replace some of the influence lost by the state's change in status.