Two weeks ago the Palestinian Authority issued a detailed budget for thestate and institution-building programme it adopted last August. The programme calls for Palestinians to unilaterally build the administrative, economic and institutional framework of an independent state in spite of the Israeli occupation and as a peaceful, constructive means of countering it.
This agenda might be conceptualised as the Palestinian answer to Israeli settlement-building by creating positive, unilateral new facts on the ground that restructure the strategic equation, but with the crucial difference that, unlike settlement activity, it is consistent with international law, welcomed by the international community, and promotes rather than hinders prospects for a peace agreement.
The new document, Palestine: Moving Forward, Priority Interventions for 2010, spells out priorities for the Palestinian government in the coming year, and includes cost estimates and funding status. Building on the August cabinet document, this detailed financial agenda is a clear guide to what the Palestinian government seeks to accomplish and how this can be supported financially, technically and politically by all those seeking to promote peace based on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The major priorities outlined emphasise “the building of central and local government institutions that are essential to the establishment of a modern and sovereign state of Palestine”, upgrading of public services, the development of “strategically significant infrastructure”, and measures to “improve and promote the image of Palestine internationally”. The programme is ambitious, but those who closely follow events on the ground in the occupied West Bank will know that projects are already under way and things are beginning to happen in both the public and private sectors. Among numerous examples are the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank and the first private equity fund aimed at developing small and medium-sized Palestinian businesses. However, as a new document demonstrates, too many items are either unfunded or have funding pending.
The Palestinians require international support to succeed in their attempt to prepare for successful independence and changed the strategic landscape in favour of peace. Financial and technical assistance is indispensable, as is political protection for the programme from the United States. In a recent Cif article, Ben White outlined the obstacles to this programme posed by the Israeli occupation, and these serious concerns demonstrate the extent of political protection, as well as financial and technical support, the plan will require if it is to succeed.
International interest in the agenda as a parallel track to diplomacy is growing, but the programme deserves a good deal more attention than it has received thus far. Billions of dollars have been pledged in international support for the PA but little has been delivered and the Palestinian government continues to live hand to mouth. This is utterly unacceptable, and contributes to both instability and lack of progress towards peace.
The Palestinian ability to transform international support into serious governmental programmes has been demonstrated by the success of the new security forces, a model of cooperation that needs to be extended to all levels of administration and institution building in the occupied territories. Israel was initially deeply suspicious of the new security forces, however the programme received financial, technical and political backing from the United States and went forward nonetheless. There is now an Israeli consensus that the security force programme was a positive development, and this process can be repeated in sector after sector.
For Palestinians, a crucial challenge has been to put meat on the bones of the skeleton released in August, and the new priorities document is a creditable and timely second step. Now, however, as they seek international funding and support, almost every item in the new budget will eventually require its own detailed outline if donors, funders and partners are to be fully engaged.
While it is essential for all parties to continue to pursue the top-down diplomatic agenda that will shape the terms of peace, it is just as important for the international community to move quickly to support this bottom-up state and institution-building plan that will complement, reinforce and protect the diplomatic track, and ensure that the Palestinian state, when it is established, will be functional and successful. It can also serve as an alternative source of momentum in the direction of peace if diplomacy is at an impasse or yielding too few results too slowly.
The PA has provided the international community with an unparalleled opportunity that is also a test of its commitment to peace in the Middle East. If the real commitment is there, international actors must launch a multi-year, coordinated and global effort to help the PA build the infrastructure of the Palestinian state everyone says is the key to peace.
The question is: do we really mean what we say about the importance of peace based on the creation of a Palestinian state, and are we willing to act on it?