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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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For all the ways in which Palestinians may be running their own lives more than ever before, they still lack two key things most countries take for granted: territorial continuity and economic sovereignty.

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After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu completes implementation of the Wye accord, Arafat will be in control of about 40 percent of the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip. But with the two areas disjointed - and the probability that the West Bank land he will control will not constitute one contiguous piece - it would be hard to call Palestine a state per se. And without direct control of any of its borders, its access to outside markets will always be severely curtailed.

"The viability of a Palestinian state, economically, would be tied to control over its national resources, and dependent on control over its borders so it can export and import freely," says Salem Ajluni, the chief economic analyst at the Gaza-based Office of United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories.

Mr. Ajluni cites a number of factors that add up to a shaky economic climate: Israeli limits on imports and exports, internal Palestinian problems of government monopolies, and lack of legal recourse for investors who lose money in sour deals.

The situation is not ready to support the introduction of a Palestinian currency, he says. The Palestinian economy operates on Israeli shekels, Jordanian dinars, and American dollars and still lacks a functioning central bank or monetary policy.

The Palestinian economy will remain dependent on providing Israel cheap labor for years to come, Ajluni says, but that does not really present any barriers to Palestinian statehood.

"The link [with Israel] itself is not necessarily a bad thing," he says. "No one I know argues that it should be an autarchy and totally cut off from Israel."

Statehood skeptics

The flag of statehood may wave brightly on Dec. 14, but many others will quietly wag their fingers.

Ghassan Khatib, a leading Palestinian analyst who runs the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, suggests that some officials are trying to hoodwink Palestinians into believing they have achieved independence.

To say statehood is around the corner is utterly dishonest, Mr. Khatib says. "I look at the visit of Clinton as a bribe to the Palestinian leadership," he says. Arafat, in return for softening some of his positions, won a symbolic gesture from the United States that would in turn help bolster his domestic and international image.

Khatib, though a proponent of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, offers a critique reminiscent of Arafat's harshest opponents: Some Palestinians feel the Oslo accords aren't a way to reach Palestinian independence, but rather a way to get Arafat to control Palestinians in order to provide Israelis with more security and alleviate the burden of military occupation.

"The Palestinian Authority is only playing an administrative role, not a decisionmaking role. I can get a Palestinian passport, but I can only use it if my trip is approved by Israel," Khatib says.

"This is exemplary of everything," he continues. "It's an administrative authority that cannot be tantamount to a state by any means. Let's call things by their name. Autonomy is better than an occupation, but it's not independence."