The two-state solution is one of the shibboleths of the Arab-Israeli conflict, accepted as the end-game (at official level at least) by the Israeli government, by the PLO and by the vast majority of the international community.
Acres of newsprint are expended each week on physical conflict – confrontations between the various sides and analysis of the latest tit-for-tat. Yet very little is reported on one of the great strategic challenges for the region: a two-state solution requires action to be taken to allow for the birth of a viable Palestinian state. This is an obvious, yet oft forgotten or overlooked, truth.
The economic challenges are formidable. Palestinian GDP is equivalent to just 3% of the Israeli economy. A significant wage differential exists between the two countries which provides incentives for people to leave Palestinian territory and attempt to find work illegally in Israel, rather than complete the education that the Palestinian people will need if they are to compete in the new global economy.
Action is needed on the ground to break down the barriers to trade. In Hebron, we saw first-hand row upon row of closed stores. Closed, we were informed, either as the result of military order or in frustration with the conditions.
More broadly, progress needs to be made on improving arrangements for access to the Israeli and foreign markets, as well as movement of goods and services within the West Bank – a view shared by both the Office of the Quartet Representative and by the Palestinian leadership.
This situation is complex, and even the solutions to economic issues often require political answers. The economic success or otherwise of a future Palestinian state has deep repercussions for other dimensions of the conflict. For example, if economic failure results in delays to the pay of Palestinian civil employees, we could see security personnel abandon their posts. Similarly economic problems which worsen civilian conditions run the risk of strengthening more radical elements of the Palestinian political spectrum.
However, there is recognisable optimism. Senior figures in the Palestinian leadership called for the Palestinian diaspora to provide the expertise needed for nation-building and shared with us a vision for a Palestine capable of harnessing new technology to provide services which can compete with the likes of both India and, even, Germany. The Quartet is working hard with the Palestinians in their efforts and the Israeli Government is clear that “we don’t want a failed state.”
An opportunity for the world’s press arises in the next few weeks – on September 20th the UN General Assembly will assess Palestine’s application for membership of the United Nations. The economic situation is ripe for consideration.
Joel Mullan is a member of the Young Fabians and a delegate on the Young Fabian Middle East Trip 2011.