Israel and its Western and Arab allies have for decades been claiming that, one day, the Palestinians will have a state of their own. The premise is based on Israel withdrawing from the land it has occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, which would be the capital of the proposed state. What would such a “State of Palestine” actually look like?
When the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), dominated by the secular Fatah movement, recognised Israel’s “right to exist” on 78 per cent of historic Palestine, the resulting Oslo Accords established the Palestinian Authority to have nominal control of the remainder of the land ahead of the creation of the State of Palestine. There is major opposition among Palestinians to such a deal, not least due to doubt about whether it would meet the internationally-recognised elements needed for a sovereign state to exist.
The first element required for an independent state is a population over which the state governs. The territory “allocated” by the international community for the future Palestinian state includes not only Palestinians but also more than 600,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel insists that it is never going to evacuate the settlers — whose presence is illegal under international law — but how can a state exist with a huge number of alien residents living in major settlement blocs which destroy the contiguity of its territory?
The presence of the settlers doesn’t just create a demographic problem, but also a massive environmental issue. Every settlement bloc disposes of its rubbish and sewage on the farmland of the neighbouring Palestinian population; no plans have been prepared for how the proposed Palestinian state will deal with this. What’s more, the settlers carry out numerous crimes against the local Palestinian population and they are not accountable to the Palestinian Authority at the moment, so what will happen with the government of a state?
Just last week, Jewish settlers attacked the convoy of the PA Prime Minister, wounding his wife and two bodyguards. Rami Hamdallah could not even announce that these settlers had attacked him. Two months ago, the PA governor was obliged by Israeli troops, who are tasked with protecting the settlers, to change the tyre of their jeep. He did it. Four years ago, the Prime Minister’s bodyguards could not protect him from a settler attack and he was obliged to seek the help of Israeli soldiers. That is the situation now; what will it be like with a sovereign state of Palestine? Does anyone really expect lawless settlers to respect its sovereignty and institutions?
The territory of an independent state has to be defined by clear borders, and it must have full sovereignty over its land, persons, organisations, associations, institutions and places therein. “Territory” includes territorial waters and airspace as well as land. The proposed Palestinian state has no definite borders, not least because the occupation state of Israel has never declared where its border is. The “State of Palestine” would have a lot of non-contiguous land, with large swathes encircled by Israel’s Apartheid Wall. None of the deals or “peace” talks have ever identified the borders of the proposed state, precisely because Israel continues to colonise ever more Palestinian land on a daily basis. Unless and until it declares where its borders are, we shall never know what is left — if anything — for the State of Palestine.
Furthermore, the proposed state will not have full control of its land. The Oslo Peace Accords signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993 divided Palestinian territory into three parts, with 61 per cent under full Israeli military and administrative control, 22 per cent under Israeli military control and Palestinian administrative control and 17 per cent under Palestinian security and administrative control. Unless that changes, which is unlikely given Israel’s ongoing belligerence, the supposedly independent state will have another state controlling most of its territory.
Israel’s “security” concerns have been the priority for all “peace negotiations” to-date, and no doubt will continue to do so. Hence, it will continue to control Palestinian territorial waters and airspace. There are massive natural gas fields off the Gaza coast, but the Palestinians are unable to exploit them, even though the Gaza Strip has serious power shortages and has done for more than a decade.
The only airport available for Palestinians and thus, presumably, the “State of Palestine” lies in ruins in Gaza; it was opened in 1998 and destroyed by Israel in 2000 having never really been used to its full capacity. Israel, therefore, can control the movement of all Palestinians and, it is assumed, for “security” reasons, will continue to do so by opening and closing border posts and military checkpoints at will. In this it is supported by the government in Egypt, which opens or closes the Rafah Border Crossing according to what Israel wants. Several Palestinians who have left the Gaza Strip through Egypt have reported that they were approached to give information to the Israeli authorities. Israel continues to maintain a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, which would be the only territory of the proposed State of Palestine with direct access to the sea. Plans to develop the port of Gaza gather dust in an office somewhere.
The government of the state will be the current PA in another form. It is currently unable to collect its own taxes and relies on Israel to carry out this important function of a sovereign state. Israel can and does withhold payment of the taxes to the PA as a means to ensure that it toes the line for the benefit of the occupation state.
The current Palestinian government is punishing the Palestinian people. In the West Bank, it deprives them of their basic rights, including the right to protest or participate in demonstrations, while in Gaza, it is punishing the people for not standing up to Hamas, which has controlled the coastal enclave since winning the last free general elections in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2006. Such punitive measures by the PA include the withholding of medicine and food for patients in Gaza’s hospitals and the withdrawal of security officers from the Rafah Crossing as part of a tightening of the 12-year-old siege imposed by Israel and carried out in coordination with the Palestinian government, Egypt and other countries.
A little-reported aspect of the PA’s mismanagement of its affairs is the overlapping of the legislature, judiciary and executive. Instead of the PA executive being at the disposal of the legislature and judiciary to govern in the interests of the population, it is the body which uses the other two to serve its own factional interests. The legislature and judiciary have their work disrupted if they refuse to work for the interests of the PA. There are no guarantees that this will not continue in a nominally independent state government which will, in fact, depend on the same international sponsors as the current PA who turn a blind eye to its corruption.
Sovereignty is arguably the key element of any state, without which it cannot stand alone. The state must have full internal and external freedom and this can only be achieved if it has an army for its defence and to protect essential freedoms. At Israel’s insistence, the promised Palestinian state must have no army.
All things considered, therefore, it is hard to see how the proposed “State of Palestine” will, under current circumstances, ever have the notional requirements for a sovereign state. It will have no armed forces, no freedoms, no land, no borders, no contiguous territory, no water, no resources and, quite possibly, no actual existence. What, we are entitled to ask, will this state promised by the “peace negotiations”, or even Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, actually look like? I suspect that it will be a state in name only, and that the occupation status quo will become even further entrenched. Whatever happens, we can be certain of one thing: it will be for the benefit of the State of Israel, not the fictional State of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.