Last chance in Palestine?
Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), was 58 when the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine were signed. That was 20 years ago. The PA at the time was created as a waning state body for an interim period of about five years. The final status talks were supposed to start no later than 1996. That was the Accord signed by Yaser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, both warrior leaders. Ariel Sharon, another warrior leader, made an attempt to revive the process in 2003, in its tenth anniversary. Look at where we are now. No final status. Still the interim PA body stays intact. No Arafat, Rabin or Sharon. Mahmoud Abbas is now 78, as the Kerry process for a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict is starting.
I was in Ramallah the other day. I heard many times that this is the last chance for a negotiated peace between Israel and Palestine. I am not sure about that. Even those underlining the latter have a tone of hope in their voice, if you ask me. Let me tell you what I am sure about. I am sure that the international community is fed up with the status quo in Palestine. So many agencies splashing so much money especially in the last 20 years, just to make life easier for the Palestinians. They are all just financing, hence helping, the Israeli Occupation Administration.
Nothing moves. I remember an old time friend working in Palestine. She used to say that “at the outset, it was hard to talk to the Israeli officials. Then you start to understand each other, become friends even. Then you start to make progress on the topic you have been discussing all along. You start to have hopes for a breakthrough, you take one giant step forward and then the next week you have a new guy to start the whole negotiation process all over again.” That is the kind of frustration I am talking about.
And there is a second issue that I am also sure about: the role of commerce in the negotiation process. In the past, business projects were considered possible while negotiations continued. I remember Shimon Peres underlining the role of business as helping the negotiating process by making life easier to the Palestinians. Just to help the warrior leaders who are ready to make hard decisions. That was wrong. I know for a fact that all the business plans stopped when the political process got stuck. So the two, politics and business, are tied to each other. If you do not have a political objective on the ground, you do not have solid ground to build a business plan on. Under occupation conditions, no chance for a business plan to contribute to the political process. For God’s sake, even the chairman of Coca Cola waited for hours at the Ben Gurion airport. Imagine CEOs of small and medium sized companies from Turkey. Even Coca Cola has problems importing hydrogen peroxide into the West Bank, for the “dual use” considerations of Israel. Think about smaller companies.
This time around, there is also the PA. The Palestinian governing body has accumulated considerable administration experience. State building in Palestine is good for economic policy making. Palestinians are now in a much better position to assess and amend what is called “the Paris Protocol” which limits PA’s industrial development. A regime which allows individuals to travel while not allowing goods to pass borders only deepens the disparity between two sides. This time, the political process has to involve a domestic economic policymaking element to be developed in Palestine as part of PA state building activity. This time, political and economic action have to go hand in hand. This time, it has to be more innovative on the ground.