Friday, August 28, 2009

"Springtime for Hamas and Palestine..."

I've often responded to the delusional hatred of Israel, stemming from white guilt at observing scenes of Palestinian suffering, with arguments like "yes, well, of course Gaza is a hell hole, but this is the fruit of a culture that has spent sixty years doing little but brooding how to destroy its more successful rival".

A recent column from Spengler has me rethinking my rhetoric: is it smart to acknowledge the hell hole in an attempt to move the argument on?
... data confirm that Palestinians enjoy a higher living standard than their Arab neighbors. A fail-safe gauge is life expectancy. The West Bank and Gaza show better numbers than most of the Muslim world
Without disputing Obama's claim that life for the Palestinians is intolerable, it is fair to ask: where is life not intolerable in the Arab world? When the first UN Arab Development Report appeared in 2002, it elicited comments such as this one from the London Economist: "With barely an exception, its autocratic rulers, whether presidents or kings, give up their authority only when they die; its elections are a sick joke; half its people are treated as lesser legal and economic beings, and more than half its young, burdened by joblessness and stifled by conservative religious tradition, are said to want to get out of the place as soon as they can." Life sounds intolerable for the Arabs generally; their best poet, the Syrian "Adonis" - Ali Ahmad Said Asbar - calls them an "extinct people".

Palestinian Arabs are highly literate, richer and healthier than people in most other Arab countries, thanks to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the blackmail payments of Western as well as Arab governments. As refugees, they live longer and better than their counterparts in adjacent Arab countries. It is not surprising that they do not want to be absorbed into other Arab countries and cease to be refugees.

If the Palestinians ceased to be refugees, moreover, it is not clear how they would maintain their relatively advantaged position. They cannot return to farming; for all the tears about bulldozed olive groves, no one in the West Bank will ever make a living selling olive oil, except perhaps by selling "Holy Land" products to Christian tourists. Apart from tourism, the only non-subsidy source of income the Palestinians had was day labor in Israel, but security concerns close that off. Light manufacturing never will compete with Asia, and surely not during a prolonged period of global overcapacity.

An alternative is for the Palestinians to continue to live off subsidies. But why should they? Why should Western taxpayers subsidize an Arab in Ramallah, when Arabs in Egypt are needier? The answer is that they represent a security concern for Western countries, who believe that they are paying to limit violence. That only makes sense if the threat of violence remains present in the background and flares up frequently enough to be credible. One cannot simply stage-manage such things. A sociology of violence in which a significant proportion of the population remains armed [is necessary].
About one out of four Palestinian men between the ages of 20 and 40 makes a living carrying a gun.

That is, the economic structure of "pre-state" Palestine is heavily skewed towards the sort of institutionalized means of violence that is supposed to disappear once a state has been established. This is absurd, and creates a double disincentive for the Palestinians to maintain a low boil of violence. Just how this violence-centered society is supposed to make the transition to an ordinary civil society is an unanswerable question.

Once the problem is diagnosed with this kind of clarity, the solution becomes obvious:
# Cut Western support to the Palestinians with the aim of reducing living standards in the West Bank to those prevailing in Egypt, as an incentive for emigration.
# Demilitarize Palestinian society: offer a reward for turning in weapons, seize them when necessary, and give newly-unemployed gunmen employment weaving baskets at half pay.

Like many obvious solutions, this one never will be put into practice.
Well gee, Spengler, basket weaving, when there's so much more money in Jew hatred?
The Palestinians cannot form a normal state. They cannot emigrate to Arab countries without accepting a catastrophic decline in living standards, and very few can emigrate to Western countries. The optimal solution for the Palestinians is to demand a state and blackmail Western and Arab donors with the threat of violence, but never actually get one.
But does Obama want what's optimal for the Arab cousins of Bill Ayers and the ACORN mob? What's more, can the Palestinians really be so rational given their "sociology of violence"? What about their religious imperatives to destroy Jewish power?
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truepeers said...

I don't know what others think, but it seems to me Spengler is a little too quick to write off the possibilities for the Palestinians developing an economy that would not be completely lost in the global marketplace. If the "Palestinians" are ever to join the global economy in a serious way they are obviously going to have to find some niche in which to specialize. ONe can quickly dismiss the possibility of their competing in industry with China, or in olive growing with Greece. But can we really know what an intelligent nation, should they ever become one, could do in developing some kind of agricultural, industrial, or service niche?

The problem, of course, is that none of their leaders seem to think in those terms today.

maccusgermanis said...

One doesn't need to overwhelm competition in order to profit. For instance, Greece is third in overall production of olives.

truepeers said...

I was wondering who would be first in olives - Spain? Italy?

maccusgermanis said...

Spain by quite a margin. Although most of the statistics that I've been sifting through tend to confuse and conflate Oilve oil production with raw fruit production. I would at least think the two to be indicative of one another. Anyway the point -without getting into the specific squandered opertunity of Gush Katif hothouses damaged by the now normal behavior- is that departing from self destructive behavior is bound to reap benefits, even if not to the magnitude of eclipsing other producers.