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The Palestinian State and Neo-Liberal Capitalism

Shir Hever: The declaration of a Palestinian state in September will face
impossible borders and a neo-liberal capitalism economy

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In the Middle East, Israel is preparing–and so is the Palestinian Authority–for what is an expected unilateral declaration by the Palestinian Authority of a Palestinian state. It’s expected this fall at the United Nations. Now joining us to discuss the possibility and what might be the consequences of this is Shir Hever. Shir is a researcher at the Alternative Information Center. He’s also the author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation. He’s now working on his PhD in Germany. Thanks, Shir.

SHIR HEVER, THE ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Hello, Paul.

JAY: So talk a bit about what’s happening with the Palestinian state and how Israel might react to it.

HEVER: The Palestinians have been fighting for an independent state for decades, and the Palestinian Authority seems to come closer than ever to a declaration of a state. But we have to be very careful about whether a declaration of a state is really going to create a truly viable state, a truly independent state. This is something with massive economic ramifications and political ramifications for the Palestinians and for Israel.

JAY: Well, how serious is this? Our journalist Lia Tarachansky in Israel, she’s been talking to Palestinians in the West Bank about this, and she says people are just thinking, considering it just a bunch of more rhetoric from the PA, that this is not a very realistic development.

HEVER: Yeah. Well, first of all, the PA is–we have to ask ourselves: who do they really represent? The Palestinian Authority was seen more and more and is seen by a large proportion of the Palestinian population as almost as subcontractors for Israeli occupation, because they’re keeping the peace, and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are not allowed to protect Palestinian civilians from the aggression of the colonists living in the West Bank or from the Israeli army, so they’re actually only a force that is allowed to use–they’re only allowed to use force against Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority also, the current government, has not been democratically elected. After the elections of 2006, when Hamas won the majority of the votes, the massive international pressure on the Palestinian Authority to change the result of the elections and to choose a different government ended up in splitting the Palestinian Authority between Gaza and the West Bank. And in the West Bank, government was appointed, not elected, headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Salam Fayyad has a very clear, a very interesting policy, and I think he believes that he is promoting an independent Palestinian state, but a lot of Palestinians don’t really see how his rhetoric can transform into a state.

JAY: If this comes to the United Nations, I think they’re talking about doing it in–as early as September has been the talk. What does it mean? Like, they make a declaration, but for a state, you need to have some revenue, you need to be able to defend the state borders. I mean, to be a sovereign state would mean that you would have to tell the Israelis you can’t occupy here anymore, and then be able to do something about it. I mean, is it a realistic thing? Or is this mostly symbolic?

HEVER: Well, I think that the Palestinian leadership currently sees this diplomatic success that they’re having in convincing more and more countries to support Palestinian statehood as a very, very important step forward. But beyond the diplomatic success, there is very little other success to be talked about. The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said that Palestinian statehood could be recognized by many countries around the world. And that could be what he called a diplomatic tsunami against Israel, because Israel would be under a lot of pressure and censure by the international community. But when it comes to controlling the situation on the ground, when it comes to the [incompr.] the economic configuration, Israel remains in complete control. I think a lot of Israeli officials, especially from the army, from the security services, are hoping for a Palestinian state. They see that as something in their own interest, because they would then be able to say that they have no more responsibility towards the Palestinians–they don’t have to care anymore about the standard of living of Palestinians, about employment, about health services, about education services, and they can just close the borders, finish the wall of separation, leave the Palestinians in a state of prison very much like they are in Gaza right now, without any borders, without any access to the outside world, and say, well, they have their state, so it’s their problem now.

JAY: What is the plan for Gaza within this vision of what this new Palestinian state might be?

HEVER: If you read the documents that were published by the Palestinian Authority, they take the best-case scenario. They say, well, we assume that we’re going to have an independent state on the ’67 borders, that all the illegal colonies from the West Bank will be removed, and that Gaza will be reunited with the West Bank. And based on that assumption, they explain their process by which they hope to build a viable state and how they’re going to run that state. But, of course, this assumption is not realistic. And I think there’s something to be said for a political statement that takes the best-case scenario, because they want to refuse to accept Israel’s occupation as a given. They don’t want to see it as a kind of force of nature that you have to contend with. They demand the removal of the colonies, and they’re completely right in doing so. But on the other hand, they don’t exactly explain how they’re going to bring about the change from the current situation, where Palestinians have access only to a very small area of the West Bank. And even in that area there are severe limitations, or into this new situation where they have control over their own borders.

JAY: And does this process include some kind of referendum across–amongst the Palestinians? Because Hamas has said many times in the past they would actually respect a referendum if the referendum called for a two-state solution.

HEVER: The Palestinian Authority does not mention a referendum, but they do mention elections. And I think–well, elections could be seen as a kind of referendum. The problem is that these elections would only be for Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza, and it’s not really a representation of the entire Palestinian people, because there are more Palestinian refugees living around the world in the diaspora than the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. And you can argue, okay, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have a right to their own independent state, and that does not detract from the right of the Palestinian refugees around the world. But if the Palestinian Authority will sign any kind of agreement that they are willing to make compromises on the right of return of Palestinian refugees, even though this kind of compromise will not have legal significance, it will have a diplomatic significance that Israel can use against them. But we live in a capitalist world–most of the world is capitalist. And a lot of the decisions that are made by governments actually take authority away from the people and towards the realm of corporations and the private sector, and that turns our societies into less democratic. And the Palestinian Authority’s been doing that very rapidly over the past few years when they privatize services, when they demand that the population will be required to pay for all basic services that they used to get as a kind of welfare before. So even if at some point there is going to be free democratic elections and Palestinians will be able to voice their opinions on what happens, it’s not clear how much power they’re going to have to retrace and to change the decisions that were already made by the PA before a state was even founded. And so a lot of Palestinian economists are saying that the Palestinian Authority is already selling its sovereignty through privatization, even before it is sovereign.

JAY: Of course, one could say if there was an independent Palestinian state, there might be a possibility of electing a party that would undo the privatization.

HEVER: Sure. But it’s very difficult for governments to undo the privatization, because then they’re going to be under a lot of pressure from the corporations that are already profiting from the situation. One of the points that the Palestinian Authority is extremely proud of is bringing a very large corporation, Wataniya, which is a telecom company, into the Palestinian territories to start offering cellular services to the population. And they’ve given a lot of benefits to these corporations in order to entice them to come over. If a new government will think about communication as more a basic right of the population which has to be more accessible, and perhaps they would like to encourage more competition between different corporations, Wataniya would have a very strong argument that they only came because they were given incentives, and they could make it very difficult for any future government to take back these promises and benefits.

JAY: That’s a fight that’s going to take place not only in Palestine but in many countries of the world. Thanks very much for joining us, Shir.

HEVER: Thank you very much, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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