What is a Palestinian State Worth?
by Sari Nusseibeh
Harvard University, Press, 256 pp., $19.95
On June 14, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a historic speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which he declared his support for the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with the Jewish state. Netanyahu was not the first Israeli prime minister to make such a statement—that honor belongs to Ehud Barak. But he was the first right-wing prime minister to do so, and his speech marked the consolidation of a consensus that has emerged in Israel over the past decade that a two-state solution is, for the long term, the only viable and just outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Unmoved, however, by the Obama administration's determination to quickly wrap up a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to bring a Palestinian state into existence, a majority of Israelis doubt that what is necessary and right for the long term can safely be implemented in the short term. Their doubts are rooted in a sober assessment of the security challenges that confront Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad lack popular support in the West Bank, where they are currently in charge. How, Israelis wonder, can one entrust such insecure leaders with sovereignty over a territory from which Iran-sponsored Hamas and other terrorist groups could launch rocket attacks and more against the heart of their country—the greater Tel Aviv area, Ben Gurion International Airport, and Jerusalem? The majority is convinced that Israel cannot afford to have an independent neighboring state that might be even more menacing than the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where an unremittingly hostile regime already possesses missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. While Fayyad has made real progress in the past several years in expanding the West Bank economy and forming a Palestinian Authority Security force, it has not persuaded most Israelis to let down their guard.
In What is a Palestinian State Worth? the estimable Sari Nusseibeh, a professor of philosophy, the president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, and the author of the political memoir, Once Upon a Country, also comes to the conclusion that prospects are dim for achieving a separate and independent Palestinian state any time soon. Yet contrary to Netanyahu, the Israeli consensus, the Obama administration, and indeed the weight of international opinion, Nusseibeh contends that a separate and independent state, desirable as it may be in theory, is probably the wrong answer. Owing to Israeli settlements and (though here he is less explicit) a Palestinian Authority that "has managed to rob the people of their wills," Nusseibeh thinks that the time has passed in which a viable Palestinian state could be established in the West Bank. Instead, the political logic of the current contours of the conflict and philosophical reflection on justice point to a one-state solution.