It’s a strange time to have hopes and dreams in the Middle East given the region’s ongoing paroxysms of violence and mayhem. But a tripartite group of fifteen Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians have been doing just that for two years. And they’ve written up their dreams in a newly released 119-page report entitled, The Regional Implications of the Establishment of a Palestinian State.
As the title suggests, the report—published in English, Hebrew and Arabic—ignores how a Palestinian state could be created. Instead, it assumes that one exists and discusses what is likely to come next.
“It’s the first time we can show what are the benefits to all the parties if we have a Palestinian state,” said Reuven Pedatzur, director of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College in Israel, which came up with the idea for the project. The center then partnered with the Amman Center for Peace and Development to complete it. Their work was mainly financed by the European Union in the framework of its Partnership for Peace Program.
The report concludes that “a two-state solution will have a positive impact on the region, not least in terms of economic development and overall security,” according to the website of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation that partly financed the group’s work and is helping publicize its findings.
The fifteen researchers—who included academics, retired generals and former diplomats—divided into five teams of three (one person of each of the three nationalities) to examine various issues. “I don’t know of any other ongoing project in which Palestinians, Jordanians and Israeli researchers worked together for two years,” said Elie Friedman, project manager with the Abraham Center. Several researchers were recently in Washington, DC, talking to policymakers about their upbeat report, which they informally refer to as “the day after” scenario.
Their tour, organized by the Israel chapter of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, included meetings with members of the US Congress, officials at the State Department, US Chamber of Commerce and the World Bank, as well as various think tanks.
During a meeting with the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the researchers outlined some of the benefits they say will start flowing when a Palestinian state is founded. In the economic sphere, these include a more mobile labor market as workers can travel freely in the tri-state area, thus boosting agriculture and construction. The lowering of electricity costs, more green energy projects, new gas pipelines and an increase in foreign investment are also listed as future benefits.
One researcher, who like several others did not want to be named because some aspects of the report are controversial, said there also would be an “immediate” tourism boom of perhaps 100 percent.
Another area the researchers looked at was the “political character of the Palestinian state,” which the report suggests will be democratic and demilitarized. And though Islam will be its official religion, it will be secular with separation of religion and state. The report also discusses the implications of a Jordan–Palestine confederation and of a tri-state confederation—concepts that have been floated before but not examined in detail.
The creation of a Palestinian state within the two-state solution, the researchers predict, “would result in gradual [regional] normalization, including economic cooperation, education for peace, and the establishment of diplomatic relations . . . based on the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative” originated by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. It stressed that “Palestinian economic independence and a feeling of social justice” would be necessary to sustain regional peace.
In perhaps the most controversial chapter, the report examined how a Palestinian state might satisfy the national aspirations of Palestinian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world. It argues that by giving them a center of Palestinian national identity to which they can connect, they would begin to see themselves as a “people in Diaspora” rather than as “exiled people.”
The report discusses a theoretical “model” that might be used to solve the refugee conundrum, which would link Israeli settlers’ “Right to Remain in Palestine” with the “Palestinian Right of Return to Israel.”
Asked about this model, Friedman said that since the researchers expected that parts of the West Bank heavily populated by settlers would become part of Israel, with corresponding land swaps to Palestine, implementing such a model would not involve a lot of people. He added that the researchers also expect the demographic profiles of both Israel and the Palestinian state would not be significantly altered under a peace agreement.
As for regional security, the report suggests that Israel, Jordan and Palestine would form mutual defense pacts and that a NATO-like regional grouping would be created encompassing Israel, Palestine, most Arab League states and Turkey.
A lot of skepticism about the report’s predictions was expressed at the Wilson Center discussion. The researchers were peppered with questions about the likelihood of a Palestinian state any time soon given the distrust between the parties, the regional environment of chaos and uncertainty, and the hard lessons of history, namely how the landmark Oslo agreement was destroyed by hardcore ideologues on both sides.
Speaking in his personal capacity, and not for the group, Jerusalem-based Palestinian political scientist Munther Dajani, one of the researchers, responded to the skeptics: “People must be allowed to dream because if they are not allowed to dream, they will get into an abyss,” he said. “We are talking about a win-win-win situation,” he added. “Why not think of what can be the future?”
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.