This principle is now being demonstrated by the collaborative efforts of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Tony Blair and Israeli, American and Palestinian military and police forces. In small steps, they have shown West Bank residents that a few months of building an infrastructure and laying down the fundamentals of an economy have served them far better than 63 years of trying to break Israel.
As Einat Wilf has pointed out in the Jerusalem Post, we may actually be witnessing cultural change among the Palestinians, and the short term rewards enjoyed by West Bank society are likely to deepen and accelerate this change.
We now have two very different processes occurring that affect the future of Palestinians and Israelis. The first is the external pressure to have a fruitless “peace process.” Among the reasons for its fruitlessness is the fact that, regardless of any progress which may be made in negotiations, no Palestinian state can emerge while Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist group which will never be a meaningful partner in that process.
Simultaneously, we have meaningful infrastructure-building in the West Bank, which, if it survives its infancy, can form the basis of future statehood in a post-Hamas world. Plans for Palestinian statehood become much more viable if there are “facts on the ground,” such as realistic national institutions, to support it.
What implications do these processes have for the policy-making of Israel, America and the West? Several come to mind: First, it is vital to continue to support Palestinian self-reliance and responsibility, including careful monitoring of the uses to which western aid to the Palestinian Authority is put, and support of Fayyad’s positive efforts.
Second, we should turn our attention away from wasted efforts at the peace process and towards the removal of Hamas from power in Gaza. This should be implemented by continued isolation of Hamas, support of home-grown opposition to that regime, and, most importantly, by dealing more effectively with the source of Hamas’ strength, Iran. If the improved quality of life we are seeing in the West Bank can be brought to the attention of Gaza residents, the seeds of cultural change may be planted there as well.
Finally, we must proceed with care. Recall the glee with which we approached the apparent change on the part of Palestinian leadership in the early 1990's. The result was the Oslo accords disaster. While supporting positive change, we should temper our optimism with caution, lest the state which Palestinians are preparing turns out to be one whose mission is state-building now and state-breaking later.
That being said, the importance of the change in the West Bank should not be underestimated. It is clear evidence that radical Islam can be overcome by the responsible exercise of non-violent power by moderates.