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Countdown to Statehood: Palestinian State Formation In the West Bank and Gaza. (Book Reviews).

Countdown to Statehood: Palestinian State Formation in the West Bank and Gaza, by Hillel Frisch. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.221 pages with notes, bibliography and index. $19.95, paperback.

This well-researched book traces the development of Palestinian nationalism from the diaspora to autonomy in parts of Gaza and the West Bank. Other studies, such as Barry Rubin's Transformation of Palestinian Politics, David Schenker's Palestinian Democracy and Governance: An Appraisal of the Legislative Council and Rashid Khalidi's Palestinian Identity, provide valuable historical perspectives on the formation of the Palestinian national movement and the Palestinians' drive toward statehood. Hillel Frisch's work, while relying on historical data, is a political analysis of events with a specific set of propositions that he attempts to prove. It is not intended to be a historical reference but an explanation, through comparisons with Zionism, of how the Palestinians transformed two movements, one external and one internal, into a nascent state.

Frisch asserts that most studies on national liberation and revolution focus on institution building rather than state building. He makes a distinction between the institution building that sustained the Palestinian uprising and the institution building that is a direct contribution to state building. Frisch endeavors "to sketch the historical development of institutions within the Palestinian national movement in its diaspora and within the Palestinian community in the occupied territories, to highlight the relationship between the two, and to link all of this to the process of creating and sustaining a Palestinian state" (p. xi).
 Frisch poses the following questions:

 "What relationship is there between the politicization of Palestinian
 society and state formation? What is the relationship between the mode of
 struggle and state building? How did the structural properties of
 Palestinian nationalism, its division between diaspora and local
 Palestinians, impact upon state formation? How was this reflected in PLO
 policies of institution building in the West Bank and Gaza? Are the
 'national' institutions created under Israeli rule developing into
 efficient state bureaucracies? Have conflict-resolution mechanisms
 developed that can sustain pluralism?"


Frisch employs three conceptual mechanisms to evaluate these and other questions about the Palestinian national movement: comparison with the Zionist experience, the tensions between internal Palestinians and those in the diaspora, and Yasser Arafat's management style.

Frisch claims that the Zionist and Palestinian movements "contain striking structural parallels" (p. xi). He then cautions, "Of course, while the Zionist and Palestinian experiences are similar, they were also significantly different" (p. xii). The author provides an excellent discussion of the literature on institution building in his concluding chapter. However, Frisch makes selective use of facts in comparing the Zionist experience under British colonial rule with the Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation. One might have expected him to compare the systematic British attempt to eliminate various leaders of the Zionist movement with Israel's handling of Palestinian leadership in the territories and the diaspora. He could also have considered how both the Israelis and the British attempted to dismantle any trace of institution building that challenged their control. There is a significant body of literature on these issues that Frisch has ignored.

The tension between Palestinians under Israeli occupation and those in exile is also exaggerated throughout Frisch's analysis. This is the major weakness of the book. In examining the decline of Palestinian institution building, Frisch attributes too much importance to the tensions between the two groups while completely ignoring Israel's systematic policy of retarding Palestinian efforts to advance their economy, community and polity. In the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, Frisch characterizes Israel's harsh control of Palestinian life as "a laissez-faire occupation" (p. 35).

Frisch quotes the PLO on why it opposed the building of Palestinian institutions under Israeli occupation, but he ignores the importance of the statement:
 The Palestinian National Council in its resolutions warns of dubious calls
 to establish the fake Palestinian entity that will emerge on the basis of
 giving legitimacy and according persistence to Israel, something which
 contradicts completely the right of the Arab Palestinian people to its
 homeland in Palestine in its entirety.... The resolutions of the council
 pointed out that the fake Palestinian entity is in reality an Israeli
 colony, and it will liquidate the Palestinian problem to the benefit of the
 Israeli entity ... in addition to the establishment of a quisling Arab
 Palestinian administration which Israel will rely upon against the
 Palestinian revolution. The National Council denounced in the most precise
 manner the idea of the fake Palestinian entity on Palestinian occupied
 territory after June 5, 1975, and it announces that any Arab individual or
 circle, Palestinian as well as non-Palestinian, who calls for such a
 quisling entity or who supports it, are the enemy of the Arab Palestinian
 people and the Arab nation (p. 40).


Those who attempted to supplant the PLO with Israeli-controlled institutions rejected for decades the assertion of the Palestinians that the PLO was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Frisch understates the importance of the PLO's efforts to block the development of these substitute institutions. Instead he blames the PLO for obstructing the development of institution building (to support a future state) when Israel's policy was to create such institutions in order to negate the PLO.

Finally, Frisch assesses the PLO's efforts to build state institutions in the light of Arafat's management style. There is no area of analysis on contemporary Palestinian history that has received more attention. But Frisch, along with many other writers, fails to properly appreciate the difference between management and leadership. Arafat has led the PLO through a generation of tortured attempts to destroy the movement; he has traversed a wide expanse of political terrain, from leader of a ragtag group of guerrillas to Nobel Peace Prize recipient and finally to president of a nascent Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank. Arafat's talent for survival is impressive, yet analysts, including Frisch, continue to condemn him for a lack of proper management technique. It is well known that Arafat prefers loyalty to merit in his subordinates, that the finances of his organization are shrouded in secrecy, and that he tolerates unsavory practices by those around him. The author calls Arafat's style "neopatrimonial," which "relates to the process of acquiring power, not just the exercise of it" (p. 10). Frisch and others continue to analyze the Palestinian leadership in terms of how it has managed rather than what it has done to overcome attempts to destroy it and the Palestinian movement.

Frisch goes on to describe the need to "territorialize" in order to achieve statehood. Arafat, while not finished in this regard, has transferred the apparatus of Palestinian nationhood to the occupied territories, with the help of Israel and the international community. This is a significant achievement that the author fails to include in his analysis, but it was not a feat of management. And a lack of accountability and democracy will not hinder Arafat in negotiating a state with Israel. Arafat's great achievement was his ability to adapt the movement to whatever circumstances resulted in the limited success the Palestinians have thus far gained. Anyone familiar with Arafat's organizational style knows he is not a candidate for a management award, but he has proved exceptionally adroit in meeting challenges to the Palestinian effort to achieve statehood and to his leadership. It is precisely his long tenure that gives him a unique ability to negotiate a final agreement with Israel.

With its detailed analysis of national liberation movements and state formation, Frisch's book is intended for students of comparative politics and Middle East studies. Those interested in policy will find it useful for its treatment of the effect of international diplomatic efforts on the internal workings of the PLO.
Omar M. Kader
President and CEO of a consulting firm providing training and technical
assistance, primarily in the Middle East; member, National Advisory
Committee, Middle East Policy Council
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Kader, Omar M.
Publication:Middle East Policy
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Words:1310
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