A Too-Modest Proposal

Inbar_36.4_palestine Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon review Sari Nusseibeh's What Is a Palestinian State Worth?, in The Boston Review:

In the summer of 1988 Israeli authorities arrested Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian leader of East Jerusalem. The arrest came after the Israelis discovered in Husseini’s office a draft proposal for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. The document was part of an effort by the West Bank leadership to chart a political path following the eruption of the popular uprising, the intifada. Asked for his opinion of the Husseini document, the distinguished Palestinian philosopher and peace activist Sari Nusseibeh said, “The idea of declaring independence is becoming more necessary by the day. Our state will not arrive by registered mail to the main post office on Salah-al-Din street. It has to be created in stages.”

Almost a quarter century and many such stages later, the Palestinian leadership is better prepared than ever for independence. The Palestinians have been steadily building political and economic institutions in the West Bank, and just a few weeks ago Hamas and Fatah agreed to end a five-year feud and unify control of the West Bank and Gaza. Recent statements by the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund declaring that the Palestinians are ready for statehood verify the success of these efforts. Given his past positions, Nusseibeh—now President of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem—could be expected to support these developments and the declaration of Palestinian independence scheduled for September. Yet his new book, What Is a Palestinian State Worth?, defies such expectations.

That same summer of 1988, Israel arrested and deported another Jerusalemite Palestinian, Mubarak Awad. The offense in this case was the promotion of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation. A Jerusalem-born, U.S.-educated psychologist who adopted Gene Sharp’s strategies of non-violent resistance, Awad returned to Palestine in 1985 to promote his philosophy among Palestinians. Two violent decades later, the practice of non-violence has spread widely among Palestinians. Every Friday hundreds of Palestinians join hands with Israelis and others to protest peacefully in the West Bank villages Bil’in, Ni’lin, Nabi Salih, Ma’asara, and Beit Ummar and in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. Following the lead of their Egyptian counterparts, young Palestinians have been taking to the streets in Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron, Nablus, and Gaza demanding political unity and freedom. One would expect to find Nusseibeh hailing the Palestinian popular struggle, too. And once again, his new book defies expectations.