When you mention the phrase “Palestinian state” to Israelis, in the best case many imagine another failing and resource-poor Arab country. In the worst case, they expect that the day after the declaration of independence the West Bank will turn into another Gaza and that Tel Aviv residents also will have to become accustomed to the “red light” siren warning of rockets falling.
For many years, especially in the recent years of right-wing rule, the words “Palestinians,” “Palestinian state” and “Palestinian authority” have been synonymous in Israeli consciousness with “terrorists,” “boycott” and “incitement.” Although more than four years have passed since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his support for a two-state solution in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, surprisingly (or maybe not), the government has not held even one discussion about the ramifications of the establishment of a Palestinian state. No official research institute has closely examined models of relations between Israel and Palestine or comprehensively evaluated the expected regional effects of the change on the future diplomatic, economic and security balance of power. As far as we know, there is no plan of action for the day after the establishment of the new state.
A team of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian researchers has picked up the orphaned gauntlet. It came together under the joint sponsorship of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College (headed by Reuven Pedatzur), the Data Studies and Consultations company from Ramallah (headed by Samir Hazboun) and the Center for Peace and Development in Amman (headed by retired Gen. Mansour Abu Rashid). The project was funded by the European Union and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. For two years, the three of them coordinated five research groups of 15 researchers from the three countries. Together, each of these groups examined data from different sources, analyzed it and formulated recommendations. The joint work demanded that they confront gaps in worldviews and bridge between different narratives. The working assumption was that the Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (with territorial exchanges), and that East Jerusalem would be its capital.
One of the most interesting findings was a high likelihood of the natural formation of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Another central finding points to a change in the view of the status of Palestinian refugees — the establishment of a nation-state would enable them to change their self-definition from “exiles” to members of the Palestinian nation living in the “diaspora.” The researchers found that contrary to the common understanding, which sees the refugee question as one of the main stumbling blocks for peace and reconciliation between the two peoples, the creation of a Palestinian state could actually resolve it.
The research shows that the creation of the new state would have a positive effect on all the areas that were studied: the strengthening of Jordan, the stability of whose regime has been undermined by the Arab Spring and the waves of refugees from the civil war in Syria; the weakening of the “anti-normalization” movements, which derive their strength from the lack of a solution to the Palestinian problem; the formation of an anti-radical Islam axis with the participation of most countries of the region; the increase of regional stability through bilateral and multilateral security agreements; an improvement in the quality of life and economic prosperity in all three countries and an opening of markets with additional countries, for example with Gulf states; the flourishing of tourism; a change in the positions of Palestinian citizens of Israel and their political integration.
A detailed summary of the teams’ work, titled “The Regional Implications of the Establishment of a Palestinian State,” includes a plan formulated by retired general Udi Dekel for the creation of a regional security organization (RMEC, or Regional Middle East Cooperation). Dekel, who was the head of the Strategic Planning Division of the IDF and headed the professional negotiations team that was formed following the Annapolis Conference [November 2007], suggests a framework similar to NATO for operational and intelligence cooperation. Its aims would be the prevention of terror and arms smuggling, monitoring the spread of weapons of mass destruction, early warning of ballistic missile attack and joint planning to combat potential “spoilers” of regional peace. The RMEC would strive for coordination and cooperation with the United States, the European Union and NATO.
Dekel argues that the greater security in the Middle East resulting from the window of opportunity afforded by a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is a necessary condition for the improvement of the social and economic situation in the entire region. A document authored by the economist Avichai Snir of Netanya College and Amjad Qasas, director of Pal Professionals Consulting and Investment Services in Ramallah, details the potential for growth of central market sectors in the Israel-Palestine-Jordan triangle.
The two authors recall that the number of tourists who visited Israel in 1993, following the Oslo Accords, doubled in comparison with 1991. According to them, the main explanation for this growth was the improvement of security in the region, as well as greater access and ease of travel between the countries. The researchers estimate that a replication of the same trend can be expected to encourage business activity in Israel and double tourism traffic. The doubling of Israel’s income in this field would raise the share of its profit from this sector from 1.5% of GDP to 3%, or in dollars, $3.435 billion. These findings would make its situation comparable to similarly sized member states of the OECD, like Switzerland and Denmark, and would bring about the creation of new jobs for Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.
The researchers estimate that at least half of the visitors who visit Israel for Christian religious reasons (about 65% of all tourists have described themselves as pilgrims) would add the holy sites in Jordan and Palestine to their itinerary. This is expected to increase the number of tourists in Jordan by 50% (compared to 2011) and to triple their number in the Palestinian Authority. These are minimalist projections, which do not take into account possible cooperation with other states in the region, such as the Gulf states.
Other fields in which all sides are bound to profit from the conversion of the Israeli occupation of the territories to regional cooperation are communications and high-tech. Instead of importing engineers from distant India, Israel could offer desirable jobs for thousands of unemployed and frustrated graduates of computer science departments in Jordan and Palestine (35% of all graduates in Jordan and 24% among Palestinians). In 2011, the average salary of Jordanian and Palestinian ICT employees was $600-$800, less than a fifth of the salary of their colleagues in Israel. Such outsourcing would decrease expenses for Israeli companies and develop local economies. In addition, Israel could replace about 24,000 foreign workers in agriculture with Jordanians and Palestinians, and thus diminish employers’ expenses in importing and housing foreign workers. Cooperation between the three countries would also allow Israeli farmers to sell their produce to new markets in the region.
All that these diligent researchers can hope for is that the product of their labors would not rot on the shelves of academy, but would be used by decision-makers, and perhaps even change the feeling of the Israeli public when it comes to the word “Palestine.”
Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.