In the past few years, the annual economic growth rate in the West Bank has been 7 percent. The wages have recently risen 24 percent and the level of tourism is increasing. The well-executed economic policies of the Palestinian Authority have produced impressive results.
However, when looking at the past decade, two elements of the Palestinian attitude toward Israel remain constant: the unwillingness to reconcile and the insistence on supporting terrorism to reach political goals. It is revealing that improved economic conditions and strong economic growth in the West Bank have not resulted in significant improvement in political attitudes toward Israel. According to a recent survey commissioned by the Israel Project, two-thirds of the people living in Gaza and the West Bank believe that Palestinians must work to get back all of Palestine for a future Palestinian state. The millions of dollars in foreign aid, pumped into the economy, have done nothing to significantly change the Palestinian view of Israel.
This November, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah party held its Fifth Revolutionary Council in Ramallah. Setting the tone for the proceedings were speeches proclaiming admiration for Amin al-Hindi, the mastermind behind the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes. Getting down to business, the Fatah council rejected the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Such unwillingness to reconcile seems odd, considering the substantial improvement of the standard of living in the West Bank. Could it be that when the idea of an independent Palestinian state became attainable, but not yet concrete, radical attitudes increased? In his important 1951 book The True Believer, Eric Hoffer, one of the great American thinkers of the past century, writes:
Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach. A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed [...]. The intensity of discontent seems to be in inverse proportion to the distance from the object fervently desired.
What looks evident is that the vision promulgated by Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and many in the Israeli political elite — a vision in which economic cooperation will eventually lead to political cooperation, and, ultimately, to peace — seems like a fantasy.
Hoffer’s analysis illustrates that moderately improved economic conditions do not always lead to positive shifts in political attitudes.
Palestinians are at a crossroads: institutional, all-encompassing enmity toward Israel — or a complete and total institutional and cultural change that will lead to a possibility of peace? The latter option seems unlikely. As Hoffer observes: “Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some.” In the context of Hoffer’s insight, having more would mean that the Palestinians would continue to pursue their goal — the destruction of Israel.
Perhaps a step towards resolving the conflict can be taken when the Palestinians are made to understand that getting more isn’t an option.