The New West Bank Palestinian State

I watched a brief exchange between Wolf Blitzer and Dennis Ross on CNN. Ross is a former ambassador to Israel and one of the architects of U.S. policy in the 1990s related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Blitzer asks Ross to respond to Jimmy Carter’s recent statement that the Israel and the U.S. lost an opportunity to engage Hamas after its victory in the democratic Palestinian elections of January 2006.

Ross disagrees with Carter’s implication that Israel and the U.S., by organizing the international economic and political isolation of Hamas, missed a great opportunity to de-escalate tension and move Hamas toward accommodation with Israel. Blitzer asks if there are any circumstances in which Hamas would accept the existence of Israel and negotiate with it. Ross succinctly replies: no.

The former ambassador points out that we should pay attention to what Hamas says as much as what it does. Hamas, he adds, stands for “Islamic Resistance Movement,” suggesting that ‘resistance’ means violence. However, in the lexicon of military conflict, while resistance often entails violence, the term refers to an effort to defend oneself against another’s aggression.

I agree with Ross’ proposition that we need to listen to what people have to say. In this case, however, he does not seem to listen carefully enough ­ to either former President Carter’s word or to his own assertions. Without saying it, Ross promotes the status quo in the conflict (i.e. Israeli-U.S. continuous deception and periodic resort to violence) precisely because he supports continued isolation of Hamas, rejects even a democratically-elected result, and promotes the political recognition of Mahmoud Abbas’ newly-forming government in the West Bank.

Abbas’ Fatah party was defeated at the polls by Hamas in January 2006. Current U.S.-Israeli-Arab League policy seems to be to provide economic assistance to the Abbas’ government in the West Bank to dissuade Palestinians from Hamas’ militancy and to ultimately divide Hamas. This is a curious plan. Economic development of Palestinian territories is exactly what was needed in January 2006 and every year prior to it going back to 1948, the year Israel was founded. Then nearly a million Palestinians were forced from their homes by Israel’s military forces in securing its new government and society.

However, a Palestinian government in the West Bank without addressing the the causes of the violence that brought Hamas to control of Gaza will not work. It will be a weak government at best. Israel will continue its military presence in the West Bank to protect Jewish condominium settlements there and access to them. This virtually assures that a considerable number of the several hundred checkpoints it has established in the West Bank will be maintained. Hamas may control Gaza but it will have no state and no control of its borders and Israeli checkpoints.

A new West Bank Palestinian government is more a creation of Israel and the U.S. than it is of the Palestinian people. Abbas, or Abu Mazen as he is known to Palestinians, was the principle Palestinian negotiator to an unimplemented agreement (Beilin-Abu Mazen Document) that set out a plan for a new Palestinian state in 1995. Several important elements of this agreement (see foreshadow the weak nature of a Palestinian government that is formed under the circumstances now in place.

Beyond the segmentation of the West Bank territory as Jewish settlements remain, such a Palestinian government would be fatally compromised. If we use the Beilin-Abu Mazen principles as a guide, it is clear that a Palestinian government will have virtually little control in Jerusalem, where a concentration of Palestinians live in East Jerusalem on the Israeli side of the present wall built along the West Bank’s border with Jerusalem. In the 1995 document a village outside Jerusalem will be renamed Al-Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) and become the capital of the new Palestinian state. The second debilitating factor is found in Article IV: “By mutual agreement Palestinian self-defense capabilities shall be negotiated by the Parties [Israel and Palestine].” So much for an independent Palestinian state.

Clearly, if the past negotiations are any indication of Israel’s plans, whatever Palestinian entity emerges from these new initiatives in the West Bank will leave many critical concerns unaddressed. The stage for renewed conflict with far graver consequences for Israelis, Palestinians, and the wider Middle East will certainly be set. Already al-Qaeda has altered its rejection of Hamas and urged it to form an al-Qaeda-style state in Gaza.

I returned from Israel in late June where I met with Palestinians and Israelis working for peace. I return convinced that a “silent majority”, as the leader of the Palestinian Center for Alternative Solutions in Ramallah asserted, exists on both sides of the Israeli wall that desires peace and will support leaders with the vision to create a truly viable, defensible, and open Palestinian state.

Israeli leadership since the 1967 War has employed in negotiations with Palestinians a Machiavellian strategy at best and outright deception quite regularly. Israelis and Americans do not understand this because of the continuous flow of disinformation in the media including the Clinton and Bush assertions that Arafat was at fault for the failure of the supposed “breakthroughs” in Israel’s positions several years ago. In actuality what Arafat was offered by the Israelis and Americans was the kind of compromised and vulnerable state that is presently being organized in the West Bank.

JOHN RIPTON, PhD. is an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers University. Recently returned from a meeting with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists in Neve Shalom, Israel. He can be reached at: