What Is a Palestinian State Worth?

Harvard University Press , Sep-2011.

As the world prepares for the possibility of a U.N. General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood recognition, we should revisit the question of Sari Nusseibeh's recent work, What Is a Palestinian State Worth? The book is a tight, philosophical examination of what's actually at stake in the quest for Palestinian statehood. Nusseibeh, president of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, structured the book around a series of questions: How did we come to this? What makes life worth living? Can values bring us together? How can we move the world? And, centrally, what are states for? To address that last question, and to help us remember what's being overshadowed by the diplomatic jockeying surrounding the possible U.N. vote, we offer the following excerpt from Nusseibeh's What Is a Palestinian State Worth? The passage examines the question from a variety of Palestinian perspectives in an attempt to highlight what's shared.
Imagine that you are a Palestinian asking the grand political question “What is a state for?” and examining your feelings about a possible Palestinian state. Perhaps you are already a citizen of some other state, belonging to that state and enjoying the basic advantages— security, work, education, property ownership, services, and so on—that states are supposed to provide for their citizens. If so, you may not feel an urgent need for the creation of a specifically Palestinian state. For you, instead, the most important felt need may be the opportunity to exercise your “right of return”: to return to your original home, Palestine, now Israel. Or perhaps you are a refugee, or a descendant of refugees, and are not a citizen but a mere resident of a nearby country, such as Lebanon. If so, you may share with other refugees and exiles the longing to be allowed to return, and you may also wish, in the meantime, to be provided by your country of residence with all the benefits of citizenship short of actual political citizenship, acceptance of which would signal (to others and to yourself ) that you have forfeited your right and claim to return to Palestine. Now imagine that you already live west of the Jordan River, in what you regard as your real country, and hold Israeli citizenship—but that as a Christian or a Muslim, you feel semi-disenfranchised by the predominantly Jewish state, and also feel short-changed as a Palestinian whose people “lost out” to Israel. If so, you may be of two minds. You may wish to be granted full rights as an Israeli citizen, equal to those enjoyed by members of the religious majority, while also wishing for the establishment of a self-sustaining and independent state for your fellow Palestinians who, living in the occupied territories, are not citizens of Israel. You may not want to move into that new state, nor may you want the Arab areas within Israel to be annexed to it, but you may feel that a state for the Palestinian people would address the national as well as the quotidian needs of your non-Israeli fellow Palestinians, and also that it might aid your own struggle to co-own the State of Israel, which you now feel by right belongs to you . And now imagine that you are one of those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, the territories occupied by Israel more than forty years ago. You too want the benefits that states are supposed to provide for their citizens, and you also may be of two minds about how to achieve those rights. Perhaps, for a period of time, the need to have your own state, to be free of occupation, seemed pressing, and perhaps you still see your very own state as the natural source of the benefits you crave. At the same time, you may wonder whether a separate state is really the best of all solutions; weighing your national desire for a state against your citizenship need for a state, you may begin to think that your best course would be to join your fellow Palestinians who are already citizens of Israel by acquiring Israeli citizenship yourself. The state would not, then, be exclusively yours: you would share it with Jewish Israelis. But its geographic space would be the entire country that you feel is yours. Whichever of these Palestinians you may be, wherever you may live, in the present situation you are likely to feel your life is incomplete or defective. As you network with other Palestinians and attempt to navigate through the complex political landscape that surrounds you, you are searching for the best way to realize yourself as a Palestinian, as a citizen, and as a human being. Of course, in any political situation where a question like “What is a state for?” has practical consequences, it is not necessarily considered by every person affected by those consequences, let alone considered in the same way. Nor are the conclusions reached by various individuals typically congruent or even similar to one another. But the departure points for contemplating change in such situations do seem to be similar: the individuals' immediate life conditions and concerns, such as how well they feel the state under which they live is treating them and what changes they feel would improve that treatment.