Palestinians forge ahead with UN statehood push. Are they ready?
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas yesterday confirmed a push to seek full membership at the UN as a sovereign state. But despite support for recent Palestinian Authority reforms, the UN move could backfire.
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Like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians employed by the government, Omar Deek – an employee in the PA's Education Ministry – only got half his salary for July because the government didn't receive funds pledged by Arab donor nations.Skip to next paragraph
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Looking ahead to the UN vote, and the possibility that the United States and Israel may withhold key funds in retaliation, Deek is worried about more salary problems since the PA is heavily dependent on foreign aid. He's already looking for a second job as a driver.
"I hope that the Palestinian Authority will become aware of the dilemma of its citizens more before it takes political decisions that deter the international donors," he says.
Together, Osaily and Deek represent the dilemma facing Palestinian leaders – and their Western backers – at a time of tremendous upheaval in the Arab world. Winning international recognition at the UN of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be a historic victory with far-reaching symbolic, diplomatic, and possibly legal implications.
But trying to establish a state prematurely – one that is completely dependent on outsiders and unable to control all its territories – could discredit PA leaders at home, exposing the secular government in Ramallah to a number of potentially disastrous consequences, including economic crisis, a challenge from the Islamist militant group Hamas, or a popular uprising inspired by Arab revolutions elsewhere in the region.
"The Palestinians don't have the ability to stand on their own if Israel says, 'Do it yourself,' " says a senior Israeli official. "It's an international illusion. They have no currency, no tax system, and they have no ability to deal with Hamas."
Preparing for statehood
In August 2009, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad launched a two-year initiative to prepare for statehood. His emphasis on reform restored the confidence of the international community after widespread corruption in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Foreign donors underwrote his state-building project to the tune of nearly $2 billion a year.
Today, at the conclusion of the initiative, Mr. Fayyad and Mr. Abbas point to achievements such as the overhaul of the Palestinian security forces, the reestablishment of law and order in towns, and increased transparency of key ministries like the treasury.
Proponents of "Fayyadism" say it marks a paradigm shift in Palestinians' thinking: that they have the freedom to build a state rather than seeing themselves as handcuffed by Israel's military occupation.