Clinton's trip raises hopes for a 'Palestine'
Palestinians already have many trappings of sovereignty. Will the visit by Clinton help Arafat declare a state?
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Clinton will instead address Knesset members and other Israelis at a Jerusalem convention center. But that has not stopped the snowballing of negative comments from right-wing politicians, unhappy about a visit they fear will swing open the door to Palestinian statehood.Skip to next paragraph
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Observers see very different pictures when they step back from the messy and often tragic road toward Israeli-Palestinian peace - its difficulties highlighted by a recent backslide toward violence and mutual recriminations. Israel is warning that it won't proceed with the next land pullback unless the PA does more to control violence.
Some say that not only is a Palestinian state inevitable, but the basic infrastructure for the would-be state of Palestine is already settling firmly into place.
Others argue that Palestinian statehood is still an eon away - and that to suggest otherwise is nearly a hoax.
Stacked up to existing states
Israeli political scientist Hillel Frisch, author of the recently released book "Countdown to Statehood: Palestinian State-Building in the West Bank and Gaza," contends there are more tangible facets of statehood in the Palestinian Authority than there are in many other struggling nations.
"I think it's a state, but states are all relative. It's more of a state today than at least 20 states out there in the world which are recognized by international organizations," says Dr. Frisch, a research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
While critics who had hoped for a more democratic Palestinian regime may be disappointed by its shortcomings, Frisch says, the world does not deny a nation independence simply because it lacks a rule of law, violates human rights, or operates on a system of patronage and nepotism.
"So much of this exists in other third-world countries that Arafat can't really be singled out for being unique in this respect," he says.
Frisch cites the formation of Palestinian military forces among the hallmarks of statehood. Though the Oslo peace accords allowed for 30,000 police officers, the reality has become a force of 45,000 troops, many of them trained as soldiers.
"It's an army. In manpower and training, it compares to at least 10 [other] states. And it's worrisome to Israelis who discuss May 4 [the date on which Arafat has said he will declare a Palestinian state next year], through the lens of possible confrontation."
Still more facets of statehood loom. The International Olympic Committee has given the Palestinians permission to compete in the next summer Games, and they have a national soccer team recognized by the Federation Internationale de Football Association. The Palestinians have also been assigned a country code for international telephone dialing - and phone service from the Palestine Telecommunications Company is up and running.
The flip side is how Palestinian society still operates in many ways at the mercy of the Israeli government. Those shiny green passports the PA issues? They have the same identification numbers the Israelis used for keeping track of Palestinians during the occupation. Want to use the new Gaza airport? The Israelis will make a security check first and veto those they don't want to let travel. Trying to move yourself or your goods between the West Bank and Gaza? The Israelis still hold the hard-to-get permits for such trips. Promises to open two "safe passage" routes have yet to be realized.