Nothing makes a person more uncomfortable than visiting their home country and feeling very helpless. As a Palestinian-American, visiting the West Bank, where I was born, forces me to taste the burdens of daily life, as well as feel the despair of an entire population. No matter how long the Palestinians walk, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. When I visit Palestine, I become more and more determined to support a just end to this Palestine/Israel debacle. Countless attempts and rhetorical speeches over policy solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been made for decades, but yet, one thing is for sure: so far, none of these attempt (whether genuine or not) result in a plausible solution to the conflict. If anything, this shows that the traditional formula for a solution is futile. I sadly offer you no working formula, but I can show you that the current one—once again—will not offer solution.
In recent years, the policies of the Salaam Fayyad-led government have been attracting a lot of attention. The policies focus primarily on economic development in Palestinian cities, with less emphasis on providing solutions to the political questions. As much as I have been skeptical, I cannot help but be honest: people seem to like the lack of confrontation with the Israeli army; they seem to like the relatively easier checkpoint crossings; they seem to take the Palestinian Authority more seriously—to the point that people in my own town of Hebron willfully comply with the mandatory seatbelt law, though the stereotype about Hebronites is that they are hard-headed, and never like to change.
Needless to say, the core political questions of Palestine are still untouched. In fact, Palestinians seem to be in deeper trouble than they have ever been. The Gaza Strip is more than geographically separated from the West Bank. Not only do I fear that the animosity between Hamas and Fatah has grown so large that any prospect for reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions is in doubt, but what I fear the most is that the cleavages have taken root in the societies of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thus making reunification (regardless of who controls the state) not without serious social divisions.
Aside from the Hamas-Fatah divide, new political players seem to emerge in Palestinian politics in recent years. The business elite, who have been very supportive of Salaam Fayyad’s policies, are willing to become part of the institutional structure of a future state. This is rather unique in post-1948 Palestinian politics: where the business elite taking an active role in formulating policy to enhance their economic opportunity and interests. Interestingly enough, these influential individuals claim to be apolitical, but as a group, support a political climate that would ensure the tranquility of their business affairs. How do Palestinian business interests interact with shaping the political future of Palestine, especially when business-minded individuals consciously made decisions to support the pro-business Salaam Fayyad government?
The most problematic issue of all, however, has not changed in the West Bank. The devastating policies of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank are well and alive. If the economic burden is lifted, checkpoints still remind Palestinians that Israel calls the shots. If Palestinians pass checkpoints without much hassle, they will be reminded by the settlers-only bypass roads of illegal Israeli settlement; leaving Palestinians to feel as if they are the colonizers in their own land. If a just solution is to ever be implemented, the true predicaments to a just solution need to be dealt with first.
No one should expect that a two-state solution would be achieved in the traditional formula. Even more importantly, economic recovery that is not connected (both in theory and practice) to a political process would lead Palestinian society to nowhere, with just a few extra Israeli Shekels in their pockets. For all we know, the first Intifada was a product of lack of political rights for Palestinians. Economic development does not replace the simple, universally accepted right to self-determination. Palestinians, instead, rejected the Israeli occupation and wanted solutions. My worry is that the Fayyad policies, though providing some economic recovery and possibly building some of the necessary institutions for a future Palestinian state, would bring us back to the political picture of 1987, right before the first Intifada.
Every time I visit Palestine, I pick up my smoking habit again. As I find myself stuck at a checkpoint, I feel the urge to smoke. I have finally given up smoking, because the situation is not getting any better. If I find my comfort to the terrifying reality of Palestinian life in a cigarette, then I will always continue to smoke. Instead, I thought I should explore new avenues to alleviate my stress. Giving up the traditional formula for a solution to the debacle, I thought, is like giving up cigarettes that have been proven to cause cancer. New thoughts are crucially needed. “Peace needs no cigarettes” should be the new slogan!