Palestinian State-Building Requires Comprehensive Approach

Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, Research Associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Conflict continues in war-torn Middle EastYesterday, President Obama met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, where they discussed all the distressingly typical topics relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Obama reiterated the necessity for the Israeli government to halt settlement activity, which Abbas seconded. While news coverage focused on the growing rift between the United States and Israel over new settlement construction, both leaders referenced the work Gen. Keith Dayton, the United States Security Coordinator, has done in building effective and professional Palestinian security forces.

While Gen. Dayton’s security work is critical for the success of any future Palestinian state, professional Palestinian security services alone cannot guarantee the success of a either a two-state solution or a viable Palestinian state. A more comprehensive effort to build Palestinian state institutions across the board and deliver basic services to the Palestinian population needs to be undertaken under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority. President Obama recognizes this on a basic level, stating yesterday that “a two-state solution is in the interests of the Israeli people as well as the Palestinians.”

And certainly that’s how the United States views our long-term strategic interests — a situation in which the Palestinians can prosper, they can start businesses, they can educate their children, they can send them to college, they can prosper economically.

Despite this general recognition that a successful two-state solution requires broad-based Palestinian economic development, the United States has not yet engaged in an effort to build economic institutions in the West Bank comparable to its effort to build security institutions.

Instead, U.S. concerns have focused on short-term issues that would have a more immediate impact on the Palestinian population. Easing freedom of movement for Palestinians by removing checkpoints, for example, is a step that falls under President Obama’s statement yesterday “to alleviate some of the pressures that the Palestinian people are under in terms of travel and commerce” along the way to broader economic development.

There is nothing inherently objectionable to this building block approach to Palestinian economic development. Checkpoints and freedom of movement are critical issues to both near-term and long-term economic development. But the United States hasn’t made the same commitment to economic institution building in the Palestinian Authority as it has to developing the PA’s security forces and institutions. Since both the economic situation of average Palestinians and the ability of a potential Palestinian state to deliver basic services will be critical to a successful two-state solution, the United States doesn’t have much time to waste.