Friedman: We Need State-Building in the West Bank


Thomas Friedman writes about the idea that building the possibility of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires substantial capacity-building on the Palestinian side:

That said, once Obama is able to think afresh about the Middle East, he will find that the Bush team has left an interesting legacy here: 140,000 U.S. soldiers doing nation-building in Iraq and one U.S. soldier — actually a three-star U.S. Army general — doing nation-building in the West Bank. We need a better balance. […]

Palestinians need the same chance. You can’t have a two-state solution without two states, and today the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which still supports a two-state deal, doesn’t have the institutions of a state, particularly an effective police force. Therefore, my hope is that Obama will focus not only on peace plans from the top down, but also on institution-building from the bottom up. The best way to isolate Hamas in Gaza is to build the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank into a decent government with steadily expanding control over its territory.

He goes on to describe a promising initiative in this regard that’s already under way. And it certainly sounds like a good idea to me. But on another level, this goes back to the centrality of the Israeli settlements to the situation. Israel doesn’t just let its citizens wander out into Palestinian land and build houses. It also takes action to protect them. That means a series of security barriers, checkpoints, special no-Arabs-allowed roads, and other restrictions on Palestinian movement. Those are not only inconvenient for ordinary Palestinians and offensive to their dignity, they make it impossible for the Palestinian Authority to exercise effective authority over its territory.

And recall the issue I raised in my “cycle of excuses” post. One needs to recall that the lack of Palestinian Authority efficacy is not just a result of settlement activity, but of a deliberate U.S.-backed Israeli strategy of degrading Palestinian Authority institutional efficacy back in the “isolate Arafat” period. Back then, the U.S. endorsed the view that Israel couldn’t negotiate a final settlement deal until it had finished destroying Fatah’s security organs. Now we’re in danger of endorsing the view that Israel can’t negotiate a deal until we build them back up again. The truth is that we need to move on all these fronts. We need to freeze settlement activity. We need to start working on building Palestinian capabilities. And we need to move forward on finding again on top-down political agreement.