Planning for Palestine


May 22, 2005

This commentary originally appeared in Baltimore Sun on May 22, 2005.

Governments in the Palestinian territories, Israel and around the world agree that the long-sought goal of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement will require the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Yet nation-building, as witnessed in Iraq, is a complex task that is made harder without detailed planning.

A Palestinian state faces many obstacles: a doubling of population over the next 10 years; a government legacy of corruption and failure to provide basic services; a collapsed economy; 60 percent unemployment; and the presence of armed groups opposed to peaceful coexistence with Israel. There's great uncertainty about how Palestine can avoid becoming a failed state mired in poverty, dependency and instability and locked in continued conflict with Israel.

President Bush and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were expected to discuss some of the challenges involved in creating a Palestinian state at their scheduled meeting in Washington this week.

Until now, many people have considered detailed post-peace planning for a Palestinian state to be premature. But with prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians better than in many years, it's time to start thinking seriously about what comes next.

Post-peace planning boils down to a basic question: What is needed for a Palestinian state to succeed? Two RAND Corp. studies recognize that a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians wouldn't be the end of the peace process but only a step in a longer journey to peace. The studies describe proposals to create:

A state that is secure within its borders, provides for the safety of its inhabitants and is free from subversion or foreign exploitation.

A government that would fight corruption and authoritarian practices, promote the rule of law and empower the judiciary, give more power to a parliament, promote meritocracy in the civil service and delegate power to local officials.

New jobs, an improved school system to produce trained workers, improved health care for those in and out of the work force and substantial freedom of movement of people and products across Palestine's borders, including the border with Israel. Economic activity would be strengthened by investment in the transportation, water, power and communications infrastructure.

A link called the Arc between the West Bank and Gaza that would open the way to dramatic new development. The Arc would support a high-speed 140-mile interurban rail line, highway, aqueduct, energy network and fiber optic cable linking Palestine's cities and major towns. This would be a catalyst to generate housing, jobs and businesses. Construction of the Arc would create an estimated 100,000 to 160,000 jobs a year for Palestinians over five years in addition to thousands more jobs in new businesses built along the corridor.

An increased supply of water available for domestic consumption, commercial and industrial development and agriculture. This would be achieved by managing water more efficiently, capturing rainwater, renegotiating water rights with Israel, building desalination plants and improving the water transportation infrastructure.

There are three issues that will strongly influence prospects for a new state's success: whether the state's territory (apart from the separation of Gaza from the West Bank) is contiguous, how freely people can move between a new state and Israel and the prevailing degree of security and public safety.

Recommendations in the studies could be implemented for about $33 billion in capital investment in the first 10 years of a new state. This represents an annual average of about $760 per person — a level that is broadly comparable with other recent nation-building efforts. An estimated $6 billion of the total would be used to build the core rail and road infrastructure of the Arc. Billions of dollars would need to come from international assistance and investment combined with Palestinian and private investment.

The most difficult political challenge facing a Palestinian government may well be the half-million or more refugees longing to return. Their sudden influx into a new state, already at the edge of viability, could be catastrophic. But imposing quotas — and selecting who can move to Palestine and who should wait — would be politically explosive and create a grievance that extremists can exploit.

The proposals give Palestinian leaders a way to begin overcoming the huge challenges they face and absorbing a growing population. No one expects every recommendation to be implemented as suggested, but the proposals provide innovative ideas for a successful Palestinian state that could make a peace settlement a more attractive goal.

Steven Simon is a senior analyst at the nonprofit RAND Corp. C. Ross Anthony is co-director of the RAND Center for Domestic and International Health Security.

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