Last week I watched a webinar hosted by the New Jersey Israel Commission, among others, on leveraging economic opportunities between New Jersey, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. Abdalla Shaheen, the UAE consul general in New York, explained how the UAE became an economic and innovative power in the Arab world. When artificial pearls were developed, destroying one of the mainstays of the UAE economy, we had to develop a more diversified economy, he reported. So now, with Israel as the “start-up nation” and the UAE, with its financial and logistical assets, becoming the “scale up nation,” development opportunities between these two former enemies and the entire region abound.
This change was fostered because the UAE faced a geopolitical threat across the Gulf from Iran and recognized the strategic fit with Israel in technology, military intelligence, and the like. So the UAE adapted to the new reality by making peace with Israel. It didn’t hurt that the United States wielded the carrot — F-35 fighter jets.
While I in no way comparing the UAE’s situation with the Palestinian Authority’s, the latter, quoting from Abba Eban’s famous quip, “never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
For example, it’s understandable why the PA rejected the Trump’s peace plan when its opening position potentially would have given 30 percent of the West Bank to the Israelis. But why did it reject the possibility of even talking about its $50 billion economic development plan for the region? Similarly, the PA vehemently attacked the Gulf States for pursuing their own economic and geopolitical interest by making peace with Israel. The PA said the Gulf States were abandoning the national aspirations of the Palestinians. What the Gulf States abandoned, instead, was being anchored to a decades-long cause that would impede their future by being chained to an anachronistic narrative.
Seventy-two years after the formation of Israel, the PA stills calls its establishment the nakba — the catastrophe. It persistently advocates for the return to Israel of the refugees displaced by the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East considers the number of refugees eligible for support , descendants of the 750,000 who left Israel in 1948, as 5,000,000.Three generations later, millions are eligible for support from UNWRA in refugee camps. mostly in surrounding states. Why haven’t they been integrated in other countries, like the tens of millions displaced after World War II or by the establishment of Pakistan and India? Largely because it feeds into the narrative of victimhood and grievances against Israel. As such, the refugees become political fodder against Israel and dependent on the good will of UNWRA donating nations.
Playing the victimhood card has become part of the PA’s diplomatic toolkit. Witness the false claims of vaccination genocide by the Israelis when the Oslo Accords assigned public health responsibility to the PA. Or the war crime claims filed with the International Criminal Court against Israel in the Gaza War, when Israel sought to protect civilians when Hamas used them as either shields or cover for their missile launchers.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas is entering the 16th year of his five year elected term, and with one third of Palestinians living under Hamas’ control in Gaza, hopes for effective governance is chimerical. And the Biden administration will need a waiver to allow the PA to open an office in Washington, because it violates the terms of the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits the funding of terrorists. The State Department estimated that the PA paid $151,000,000 in annual annuities for terrorists or their families in 2019.
Former PA Authority and trained economist Salaam Fayyad praised David Ben-Gurion for creating the infrastructure for an independent state under the British mandate. In fact, more than 20 percent of its population in 1948 were survivors of the Holocaust. Within five years, Israel resettled the equivalent of its population from Jews fleeing Arab countries.
The British Mandate over Palestine lasted 25 years, from 1923 to 1948.It’s been more than 25 years since the Oslo Accords granted autonomy for most of the Palestinian inhabitants in the PA’s jurisdiction. Unfortunately. progress in governance and economic development has been disheartening.
Now, with the possibility of an economic and technological renaissance propelled by this new Arab-Israeli spring, it’s time for the Palestinian Authority to embrace this opportunity for the betterment of its people.
As noted diplomats and Oxford professors Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi wrote in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “Palestinian leaders promised their people a path to freedom and empowerment. Yet in the last two decades, they developed a culture of dependency rather than resourcefulness, an expectation of eternal salvation rather than self-reliance. This sapped their will to build and develop their society and stymied their willingness to explore new thinking.”
The Abraham Accords represent new economic and development opportunities that can benefit the entire region, including the Palestinians. Their leadership needs to shed their victimhood narrative and embrace new and unfolding possibilities as the region seeks to maximize its potential.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.