If the United Arab Emirates can take such a dramatic and historic step as entering Holocaust Studies to its school curriculum, why can’t the Palestinians recognize the historical connections between the land of Israel and the Jewish people? Regrettably, if the Palestinian leaders and those who run its institutions dwell on hatred and on the destruction of Israel rather than improving the lives of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, their lot won’t be much better than that of Afghanistan. The Palestinian-Arabs are the most educated people in the Arab world. With the right mental attitude and with a focus on the betterment of life in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestine could become a Middle Eastern Singapore.
Singapore is a tiny city-state, 283 square miles in size and with a population of 5.9 million. Like Gaza, it is one of most densely populated states on earth, but it has reached the second highest per capita income in the world with over $79,000. It was considered one of the four Southeastern Asian economic “tigers,” with a multicultural population and respecting the cultural identities of the major ethnic groups within the nation (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian). Multiracialism is enshrined in the constitution and continues to shape the national policies in education, housing, and politics. Singapore is a parliamentary republic based on the Westminster system. The constitution is the supreme law of the country. The President is the head of state and has many executive powers. The Prime Minister is the head of the government and is appointed by the President from among the members of Parliament.
Singapore has no natural resources, but after its independence in 1965, the former British colony was transformed into a major manufacturing and financial center. The late economist Milton Friedman described Singapore as an example on how to do development the right way. “If you compare the conditions of people in a place like Singapore with the conditions of people in a place like Red China or for that matter Indonesia, you will see that economic freedom is a very important component of total freedom.” This is naturally applicable to the Palestinians.
Given its size and population, Singapore could serve as a perfect model for the Palestinians on how to build a successful nation state. It requires first and foremost the acceptance of the “other,” in this case, Israeli-Jews. Although Jewish-Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) are citizens of Israel, they could serve as a major stimulant in the development of the Palestinian economy. The Ariel University in the city of Ariel in Samaria, could serve as an incubator for future Palestinian-Arab entrepreneurs, scientist, and teachers and cooperation with Israel.
Unemployment among Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank stood at 25% in the last quarter of 2022, and it is projected to stay the same in 2023. In the Gaza Strip, it is much worse. In the last quarter of 2021, unemployment stood at 50.2%, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of statistics. If it were not for Israel allowing Palestinians to come to work in Israel, the situation would be catastrophic. The solution must be internal development in the West Bank and Gaza, and that requires investments. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, foreign investors will not touch an area laden with endemic terrorism and violence, where the leadership is counting on foreign charity rather than seeking to create a fertile climate for investment and job creation. Serious corruption within Palestinian leadership is another factor for the paucity of investments.
The story of the Israeli company SodaStream is a case in point. It opened a factory in the West Bank in 2014 with the openly expressed purpose of its chief, Daniel Birnbaum, to create equal employment opportunities, amity, and peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Roughly equal numbers of Palestinians and Israelis were employed with equal salaries and benefits provided regardless of background. The factory employed over 500 Palestinians. SodaStream soon became a target of the pro-Palestinian BDS campaign to shut it down because it was owned by an Israeli Jew. Intolerance and hatred by “pro-Palestinian” westerners, and some Palestinians in the West Bank, caused the company to move away with a loss of 500 good paying Palestinian jobs.
If Palestine is to become a Singapore-like state it must not continue to fuel the intolerance (i.e. self-destructive anti-Jewish racism) that pushed SodaStream out of the West Bank. Many likely investments into the Palestinian economy would clearly be Israeli companies. Expanding markets and geographic proximity would incentivize Israelis to invest in the West Bank and vice versa if terror ceased to be a factor. Israelis are, moreover, comfortable with the Arabic language, which might be a barrier to American or European investors. Foreign investors though are obviously concerned with a climate of violence, corruption, and terror in the West Bank, which reminds them of Afghanistan. It is regrettable, because in West Bank universities, unlike Afghanistan, there are as many young women as men. Intolerance for non-Muslims is, however, about the same.
In Islamist ruled Gaza, Hamas is the senior terror partner, and its junior partner is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). They care even less about the suffering of their people than the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Hamas and PIJ provoke conflict with Israel by deliberately firing rockets into Israeli cities while at the same time anticipating workers from Gaza going to work in Israel. Israeli retaliation, while taking maximum care to avoid harming innocent civilians, inevitably causes further disruption to the already economic misery of the Gazans.
A truly caring leadership in Ramallah could transform the reality in the West Bank. With foresight and providence, they could emulate the United Arab Emirates, and begin to implement tolerance toward their Jewish neighbors in their school curriculum, end incitement to violence, and present to the people the value and benefits of peace and partnership, regardless of whether Palestine becomes a state or a confederation with Jordan. Most crucially, the numerous Imams persistently preaching intolerance of the non-Muslim and jihad when needed, must instead preach peace, cooperation, and respect of the fellow Abrahamic faiths. The leadership must end the all or nothing outlook about the conflict with Israel and consider sincere mutual recognition. Instead of cultivating and praising Shahids (martyrs) as the symbol of manhood and the path to Jannah (heaven), cultivating scientists, entrepreneurs, and peacemakers as societal heroes can be the admired norm.
Once the world sees a transformation in Palestinian society, turning into a democratic system with gender equality and religious moderation, tolerance, and a decisive resolve to end terror and violence, the Singapore model would become real and investments will pour in from all over, especially from Israel. Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat, as well as Aqaba and Gaza could become ports for exporting Palestinian goods. Trade with the Arab world, Europe, and Africa will flourish, and Israeli-Palestinian partnerships would become commonplace. Palestine turning into a Middle Eastern Singapore will no longer be a far-fetched dream.