The only viability problem is national will

Viability is a badly abused term. If all the states that are not, or were not, viable in the eyes of some important external actor were eliminated, the world would be much the poorer.

Let’s start with ourselves, Israel, which was deemed by the departing British in 1948 incapable of absorbing more than 100,000 Jewish refugee immigrants without collapsing, and which has required an annual influx of billions of dollars from the United States and world Jewry in order to develop and protect itself. Viable?

In neighboring Egypt, possibly the world’s oldest nation at 7,000 years, a senior economics minister told Israelis 20 years ago that all he could ever aspire to was to keep the "water level" of rising poverty and misery below the country’s figurative chin. Some of the immensely wealthy Arab emirates in the Gulf, two thirds of whose population are disenfranchised expatriate workers, occasionally look a lot less viable.

In Africa, many states are often deemed non-viable basket cases because they are artificial colonial creations whose borders hopelessly cross tribal lines that might otherwise have developed into viable nations. Yet the one ethnically and linguistically uniform country in black Africa, the one that should be the most viable– Somalia–is the most miserable of all.

So we should be very careful in discussing another nation’s viability.

Some detractors argue that Palestine, whatever its final configuration of borders, is bound to be non-viable because it is hopelessly overcrowded, bereft of natural resources, wracked by internal tensions, lacks national cohesion and "people-ness", and will be non-contiguous. Yet the only one of these criteria that has never been applied to prosperous and relatively stable countries like Singapore and, yes, Israel, is the contiguity problem.

Lack of territorial contiguity is indeed a potential impediment to Palestinian national viability. Even if the borders are eventually configured so as to provide reasonable contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank, the Gaza Strip will still be separated from the rest of Palestine by forty-some kilometers of Israeli territory. A lack of territorial contiguity proved disastrous for pre-1971 Pakistan/Bangladesh. Only the US, with distant detached states in Alaska and Hawaii, appears to be able to afford this luxury.

Yet 40 kilometers is an easily bridgeable distance in the 21st century: by highway, railway, fuel and water pipes. Under conditions of peace and stability, Palestine’s dis-contiguity looks problematic but manageable.

This means that the future state of Palestine can be viable if it wants to be; if it has the national will. This is the true challenge for Palestinian "viability".

Palestine has one of the best-educated citizenries in the Arab world. It can make up in human resources for whatever it lacks in natural wealth. The real test of its viability is whether it has the collective will to live at peace with Israel; to opt for pragmatic coexistence instead of insisting on demands, like the right of return, that are based on a narrative and a unilateral definition of "justice" that are totally incompatible with Israel’s existence; to stop bargaining over that additional one percent of territory before there’s nothing left to bargain over. In short, in national viability terms, to "grow up" and deal with the real world.

Israel, whose viability as a Jewish and a democratic state depends at least in part on the Palestinians’ success in establishing a viable state, has an interest in helping by holding out a reasonable vision of a Palestinian state–something Prime Minister Sharon unfortunately refuses to do. But the Palestinians do themselves a grievous disservice by continually blaming Israel for their lack of "viable" statehood prospects. Here what is of greatest concern about Palestine’s future is the proven lack of viability over time of its national leadership, which turned down the 82 percent of Palestine offered it by the British in 1937, then the 48 percent offered by the UN in 1947, then the autonomy throughout the West Bank offered at Camp David I, then the 21 or so percent offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David II–and in each case opted instead for violence. I don’t know how much territory President Bush envisions offering the Palestinians every time he talks about a viable Palestinian state. But if they reject the offer, their problem will not be viability. It will be relevancy.

Palestine’s only real viability problem is national will and national leadership. All the other talk about viability–on all sides–reflects hidden agendas.