Both Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip agreed to an Egypt-brokered ceasefire on May 21. Many see it as the calm before the storm, or ‘hot peace’, to quote former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Peace in the Holy Land seems ephemeral. Israel often blames Hamas militants for starting the provocation, but that seems to be a symptom and not the cause.
To elucidate, let me begin with this example.
Not many would have heard the town Nogales. In fact there are two towns with the same name. The two Nogales are identical: both towns have a Spanish-speaking Hispanic majority, both towns have an identical arid weather, they have the same culture and even celebrate Cinco de Mayo. That’s where the similarities end — and the difference start to widen when it comes to economic indicators.
One of the Nogales’ has a higher purchasing power parity, it has better health facilities, lower crime rate, better infrastructure and is high on the human development index. That Nogales is a town in Arizona, in the United States, while the other Nogales, the weaker twin, is in Sonora, Mexico. This is how economists Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail opens.
Their belief is that institutions and their efficacy and robustness are a precursor for economic success. Transpose this argument to the Korean peninsula, where North Korea and South Korea share a certain homogeneity with language, culture and climate and yet the differences are stark.
Nogales or the Korean peninsula are good examples to explain Palestine’s current political and economic quagmire.
For those who advocate a two-state solution, pointing out that Israeli settlements are illegal as per international law, a constant pushback is that the bogeyman Hamas is to blame for everything — and yes, Hamas is problematic. However, the Hamas was created only in the late 1980s and now remains in control in the Gaza strip and not in the West Bank. The Israel-Palestine conflict predates the Hamas.
Another argument is that if Israel were to vacate the West Bank and remove its troops, what guarantee is there of the West Bank not turning into a Gaza or Lebanon with hostile actors? Then one is reminded of how even the Fatah is corrupt, and that Mahmoud Abbas is in the 16th year of his four-year term, all the while enriching his personal coffers.
The arguments from Tel Aviv allude that if only the Palestinians had more decisive, effective leadership, there would be a stronger prospect for peace.
The harsh reality is that Palestinians today don’t have full rights, proper citizenship and can’t avail the land’s full benefits. A wall, a throwback to Berlin Wall days, separates most of the West Bank from the Israeli side. Take the example of Dabaa, a village where schools and homes were removed to make way for the wall. Palestinian villagers are not given access to harvest their olives once their main source of livelihood. The annexation of the fertile Jordan Valley means the Palestinians can’t get access to water from the Jordan River, hurting their agriculture, while Israeli settlers get twice the amount of water.
As evinced in Sheikh Jarrah, the wall and the occupation has led to more Palestinian families losing their homes, and their livelihoods. The economy is further suffocated as more illegal settlements result in more land grabs.
The frustration of losing one’s land, of being treated as second-class citizens in their own country, and the frustration and angst of being under constant occupation has turned the region into a tinderbox.
Coming back to the ‘Why Nations Fail’ argument: if the Palestinians — who have been under occupation for three generations now — are deprived of their own resources, their movements are restricted, are often left with little legal redress, have a US that is apathetic to their plight and a rubber-stamp UN, then how will they be able to produce the sagacious stalwarts, intellectual thinkers and nation builders?It’s been well-evinced that years of constant oppression and racial injustice to members of the African American community and other minorities in the US has skewed the demographics of most of the incarcerated and members in the lower income earning groups. Today, the effects of these racial injustices in the US are an understood and accepted fact. It is the same elsewhere where there is systemic oppression, such as in South Africa then, and in Palestine now.