“We do not promise our people to turn Gaza into Hong Kong or Taiwan, but we promise them a dignified and proud life behind the resistance in defense of their honor, their land and their pride.”
Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based leader of Hamas
Well, perhaps you don’t need an economy as bright as Hong Kong and Taiwan to lead a dignified and proud life, but you certainly need more prosperity than you can find in the Palestinian areas or in most Arab states today. So the key question is: how you can promise pride and dignitywithout being able to offer bread and circuses.
This writer periodically travels to Israel, a destination I have periodically visited for more than fifty years.The country is prosperous. I don’t know if it quite reaches the prosperity of Hong Kong or Taiwan, but it is coming pretty damned close. Industry is thriving, particularly in high tech — electronics, computers and pharmaceutical. Agricultural products and flower exports keep increasing yearly.The streets are buzzing.New restaurants and shops open daily. Young people throng to late-night clubs and restaurants, a sure sign of prosperity.
New construction is everywhere. Skyscrapers are rising like mushrooms. There is a real estate boom. Americans have bought seaside property, sometimes as second homes, sometimes as an investment. It is a popular tourist destination. The beaches are crowded, particularly on weekends. Traffic is impossible. In short — prosperity, an essential element of dignity and pride. Showing some signs of recession, but still prosperous.
East Jerusalem shares this prosperity and, to a lesser degree, so do Arab villages located in Israel proper. On average, Israeli Arab citizens enjoy a much higher standard of living than most of their brethren elsewhere. Aware of this, many residents of Umm el-fahm, an Arab village on the West Bank destined for return to a new Palestinian state, would rather remain residents of Israel. “You want to take us from one of the most advanced countries and put us in one of the most depressed.” complains a local Arab. Apparently, even Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal agrees, since he chooses to remain in his posh quarters in Damascus.
Recent visits to Tel Aviv have convinced me of the folly of all my arguments with a number of Arab-American friends. Basically, what does it matter whether God promised this land to the Jews or the Arabs? So what if the Israelis started this war or that or if the Arabs were the aggressors? One can argue ’til doomsday whether the Palestinians need east-Jerusalem as their capital or whether they should be satisfied with Mecca and Medina as their holy cities.
The return of refugees, transit rights between Gaza and the West Bank, the exact configurations of the borders, the control of holy sites, water rights and electrical power rights — all have significance, but are of secondary importance. The real issue is prosperity. The significantquestion is: Can the Palestinian standard of living be brought close to that of the Israelis withing a reasonable number of years?
Indications are that, given peaceful co-existence, there is no question that Israeli prosperity will spread to its Palestinian neighbor. Almost immediately, Palestinian raw materials and local produce will find profitable customers in Israeli. Their agricultural production will find a quick market in Europe and elsewhere. But that is only the beginning. The Palestinians are a bright and relatively well-educated people. What the Israelis have done, the Palestinians can do. The Palestinian State can also become a source of veiy profitable high technology development, with theother Arab states and the rest of the world as customers.
My Arab friends and I can argue to doomsday the points of dissension mentioned above. While we are arguing, nothing will be solved. The Israelis will be troubled by periodic attacks, but will remain prosperous. The Palestinians may get some sick consolation out of suicide bombings, but that tactic will never enable them to win. They will continue to live in poverty, surviving on the charity of the rest of the world. And for how long?
There is only one sound argument, and it is irrefutable. Prosperity. Simplify the peace negotiations. Hold all points of difference in abeyance, except two – disarmament and prosperity. There can b e no prosperity without disarmament of Hamas and other radical groups. That is a sinequa non.
After that step or during that step, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators need to concentrate on one aim and one aim only – how to build a Palestinian economy where the standard of living of every Palestinian citizen reaches or gets very close to the standard of living of the average Israeli. If that goal can be achieved, solutions for all other differences should fall into place.
Someone once said that there could never be a revolution in England. The average Englishman is too busy tending his garde: Create a Palestinian state and turn in into a Hong King or Taiwan, and the average Palestinian will lose interest in suicide bombings . He will be too busy making money and leading the good life.
The approach may sound naive, but is anything else working?
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