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‘We’re On A Trajectory Toward Failure’: An Interview with Middle East Expert Jonathan Schanzer

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer

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That Mahmoud Abbas is corrupt and presides over a corrupt Palestinian Authority is no secret to right-wing Israel activists. It is apparently a secret, however, to most of the world that prefers not to know of Arab malfeasance.

And yet, if the Palestinians are ever to have a viable state, their supporters must face this fact, argues Jonathan Schanzer in his new book, State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State (Palgrave Macmillan). If they don’t, any future Palestinian state will likely “collapse under its own weight,” he writes.

Schanzer, who holds a doctorate from King’s College London, is currently vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and has testified before Congress on Middle East affairs on several occasions.

The Jewish Press: Why do you argue that a future Palestinian state will “collapse under its own weight”?

Schanzer: You wouldn’t have an immediate collapse tomorrow. But the book raises questions about whether the Palestinians are able to sustain themselves over the immediate to long term [with] a government that isn’t transparent, is mired in corruption, and is overly dependent on foreign aid.

Over the last two decades, the United States has poured $5 billion into the Palestinian Authority, the Europeans have done roughly the same, and the Arabs have also contributed billions. But after 20 years, one sees a very ossified and brittle Palestinian Authority that might be no better prepared for statehood today than it was when we flipped the switch in the early 1990s.

Which begs the questions: Why do the United States and so many other countries donate so much money to a corrupt entity? Over the last several years alone, the Palestinian Authority may have “misspent” over $3 billion, according to a European Union audit.

I think this is a big question and one that I have never really been able to get a satisfactory answer for. I’ve talked to people like Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller, and Elliott Abrams, and Palestinians involved in the negotiation process, and I think the big takeaway is that the U.S. and the international community continue to pour money into the Palestinian Authority in the hope of just getting a deal done.

In other words, we’re not interested in what the Palestinian state will look like, only the fact that there will be a Palestinian state. We keep looking to get that deal done – that handshake on the White House lawn – without thinking about how we can transform the Palestinians into a government that will be able to look after itself.

In writing this book and urging the Palestinians to reform, you’re assuming that the Palestinians actually want a state. But do they? Many have argued that the Palestinians don’t want their own state so much as they want to destroy the Jewish one.

What you’re getting at is essentially the question of the goal of Palestinian nationalism. There is a good argument to be made that Palestinian nationalism has been more focused on the destruction of something, i.e., the state of Israel, than the creation of something, i.e., a viable Palestinian state.

That said, we have seen in the UN over the last three years a concerted effort on the part of Mahmoud Abbas to establish the state of Palestine. You’ll recall that last year the state of Palestine received overwhelming support from the UN General Assembly and that this year they have begun to cast votes in the General Assembly as the state of Palestine. They’re also looking to upgrade their status at a bunch of UN member agencies.

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About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.


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