The Palestinians’ refusal to attend a U.S.-sponsored “economic workshop” in Bahrain on June 25-26 has been widely treated as a reasonable response to the unlikelihood that U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan (whose economic section will be unveiled at the workshop) will satisfy their demands. But in fact, it’s merely further proof that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t actually want a state—or at least, not a viable one. Because even if Palestinian statehood isn’t imminent, economic development now would increase the viability of any future state.
This understanding is precisely what guided Israel’s leadership in both the pre-state years and the early years of statehood. The pre-state Jewish community was bitterly at odds with the ruling British over multiple violations of the promises contained in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1920 San Remo Resolution and the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine. These included Britain’s serial diminishments of the territory allotted for a “Jewish national home” and its curtailment of Jewish immigration, notoriously culminating in a total denial of entry to Jews fleeing the Nazis.
Nevertheless, the pre-state leadership still welcomed and cooperated with British efforts to develop the country, knowing that this would benefit the Jewish state once it finally arose (despite Britain’s best efforts to thwart it). And four years after Israel’s establishment, in a far more controversial decision, the government even accepted Holocaust reparations from Germany to obtain money desperately needed for the new state’s development.
The Bahrain conference requires no such morally wrenching compromise from the Palestinian Authority; its declared aim is merely to drum up investment in the Palestinian economy, primarily from Arab states and the private sector. Thus if the P.A. actually wanted to lay the groundwork for a viable state, what it ought to be doing is attending the conference and discussing these proposals. To claim that this would somehow undermine its negotiating positions is fatuous since attendance wouldn’t preclude it from rejecting any proposals that had political strings attached.
Nor is this the first time the P.A.’s behavior has proven that a functional state—as opposed to the trappings of statehood—isn’t what it wants. The most blatant example is its handling of the refugee issue.
The international community has always asserted that Palestinian statehood is necessary in part to provide a solution for Palestinian refugees. Forget for a moment that under the U.N. definition used for everyone except Palestinians, most of the nearly 5.5 million Palestinian “refugees” wouldn’t actually qualify as such. The fact remains that roughly half those 5.5 million people have lived under Palestinian rule for 25 years now. Indeed, around 40 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are registered as refugees.
Yet in 25 years, neither the P.A. nor Hamas (which seized control of Gaza in 2007) has moved even one of these people out of refugee camps. Nor has either Palestinian government ever accepted financial responsibility for them. In fact, one of the few things both rival governments agree on is that the international community, via donations to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), bears full responsibility for the refugees’ education, health care and welfare.
In other words, the Palestinian state-to-be, which has already been recognized as an actual state by more than two-thirds of the world, insists it has no responsibility whatsoever for a whopping 40 percent of its population. This, to put it mildly, is not how you behave if you seek to become a functioning state.
Another salient example is the ongoing crisis over taxes that Israel collects on the P.A.’s behalf and remits to it. Israel recently (and very belatedly) decided to deduct from this sum the amount of money the P.A. spends incentivizing anti-Israel terror by paying above-market salaries to jailed terrorists. In response, the P.A. has refused to accept any tax transfers at all from Israel.
Since the tax transfers fund more than half the P.A.’s budget, this decision put it on what even The New York Times admitted was “a kamikaze course.” Inter alia, the P.A. has slashed government employees’ salaries by 50 percent (an injury exacerbated by the recent news that its cabinet secretly gave its members a 67 percent raise two years ago) and stopped sending patients to Israeli hospitals for treatments unavailable in Palestinian ones.
In contrast, the Israeli deduction would at most have created only modest financial pain since it amounted to less than 5 percent of the P.A. budget. And in reality, it would have created no pain at all, since both the European Union (with some strings attached) and the Arab states (with no strings) offered to make up the shortfall. Yet the P.A. rejected both offers.
In other words, the P.A. could have received its revenues in full without even having to make any changes in its pay-for-slay program. Instead, it chose to devastate its own economy and society rather than accept any solution that didn’t require Israel to acquiesce in financial incentives for the murder of its own citizens. This, too, isn’t how you behave if you actually want to create a functioning state.
Of course, the clearest evidence of all that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want a state is its continued rejection of every Israeli and international offer. A leadership that actually wants a state doesn’t keep rebuffing offers just because they fail to meet 100 percent of its demands. Here, too, Israel’s pre-state leadership provides an instructive contrast: Since it actually did want a state, it repeatedly said “yes” to offers far more objectionable than those the Palestinians have rejected.
The most astounding part of all this is that the rest of the world, despite insisting that it wants a “viable Palestinian state” (to quote official E.U. policy), keeps encouraging this Palestinian behavior—in this case, by openly condoning the P.A.’s refusal to go to Bahrain. Instead, the rest of the world should be telling the P.A. what Washington has: that it ought to seize any chance for economic development. Because without such development, there’s no chance of any future Palestinian state actually being viable. Instead, it would be just another failed state.
Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and commentator living in Israel.