When pressed to make predictions, pundits sometimes retort that they are “not in the prediction-making business.” They say this, of course, because they don’t want to leave their results-disoriented business. The trick is to make a prediction so far in the future that no one could check if you were right anyway. With that in mind, I predict that there will not be an independent Palestinian state by 2040.
Three major events happened over the last month in Palestine: Gaza and Israel waged an eight-day battle, Palestine became a non-member observer state at the United Nations, and Israel simultaneously cut their aid to the Palestinian Authority and expanded the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem. Collectively, these actions symbolize another lost generation on the never-ending path to peace and Palestinian statehood.
Let’s look at each event individually.
There are a couple of very bad ways to understand the conflict in Gaza. Unfortunately, these are also the most popular ways. The first one is to count dead bodies and then use them to make an argument about “ethics.” If you are seeking the laziest moral standard possible, just remember, whichever side had the lowest number of people die is automatically the bad guy!
Another fallacious way to understand the conflict is to ask who started it. Israel technically broke a peace agreement when it killed Al-Jabari, Hamas’s military commander. But Hamas is officially committed to Israel’s destruction, so all peace deals are temporary. Al-Jabari himself led an operation that smuggled hundreds of rockets from Iran into Gaza through Sudan and Egypt.
The latest battle between Gaza and Israel really revolves around the development of military technology over the last 10 years, not to mention Iran’s pivotal role in that development. Whereas Gaza’s rockets in the 2008 engagement with Israel were highly inaccurate and faulty, often with a range under 10 miles, the new Fajr-5 rockets weigh more than 2,000 pounds and are capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Although Israel and Gaza arrived at some sort of peace agreement, Hamas’s new access to high-level Iranian military technology raises the stakes both within Palestine and across the region.
Unlike the conflict in Gaza, the “achievement” of non-member observer state status by Palestine’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, could probably be described as a charade. Crowds in the West Bank greeted Abbas like a conquering hero, which a cynical observer could describe as the only concrete goal of the vote at the United Nations.
Abbas claimed that his effort to receive non-member observer state status for Palestine was motivated by the stalled status of peace negotiations with Israel and the continued developments of settlements. That’s half nonsense. The Palestinian Authority’s long-time president desperately sought public support as Gaza slipped further from his sphere of influence and he appeared helpless in the face of Israeli settlement construction. Regardless of whether one wants to attribute Abbas’s move to Israeli intransigence or his own motivation to stay in power, the move unequivocally sets back the peace process.
Regardless, Abbas will need all the public support he can garner in the West Bank, too, if the International Monetary Fund’s economic predictions are correct. The IMF’s mission chief for the West Bank, Oussama Kanaan, predicted in September that the Palestinian economy would soon experience an economic slump and a spike in unemployment. He blamed Israel’s limits on Palestinian trade and a severe drawback in donor money from the Arab world.
This brings us to the latest event. In the aftermath of the vote at the United Nations, Israel quickly responded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the planning and zoning for construction in the area of West Bank town, Ma’ale Adumim. Building in that area would “make it nearly impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state.”
Yesterday, Israel chose to withhold its transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, accusing them of violating peace deals by upgrading their status at the United Nations. This will only exacerbate the social unrest engendered by the West Bank’s economic slump.
In the coming decades, observers will ask themselves how the region slid from the promise of the Oslo Accords to these lows. They may discover that this last month’s events were the watershed moment when both sides committed their next generation of youth to the never-ending conflict.
As someone with close Israeli and Palestinian friends, I sincerely hope that the passing of time will prove me wrong. History may prove once again that pundits should avoid the prediction-making business.
Eric T. Justin ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.