The Arab Street’s Dream


Published January 19, 2011, issue of January 28, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The speech that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered January 13 at a forum in Doha, Qatar, has been rightly lauded for its bold and direct push for governmental reform in the Middle East. Her argument was not based on a civics lesson, nor on the need to embrace democracy for democracy’s sake, but instead on the urgency of confronting the dire economic situation in the region, where one in five young people is unemployed, jobs are scarce, official corruption is rife and vital resources are rapidly depleting.

She challenged the assembly of Arab leaders to “create more economic opportunity, encourage entrepreneurship, give citizens the skills they need to succeed.” Her audience reportedly greeted these exhortations with stony-faced silence.

But if these leaders needed more evidence of the overriding attractiveness of economic reform, they need only to read the fine print of a recently released opinion survey of more than 1,000 Palestinians in 19 neighborhoods in East Jerusalem conducted by Pechter Middle East Polls and the Council on Foreign Relations. The poll (conducted in Arabic) found that, given the choice to live in Israel or a new state of Palestine, 35% of the respondents chose Israel, 30% chose Palestine and another 35% said they didn’t know.

And why would a third of the Palestinians, who elsewhere in the survey overwhelmingly say they are discriminated against in Israel, not follow their nationalistic instincts? Because for many, economic necessity is a much more powerful force.

The top 10 reasons that Palestinians preferred the option of Israeli citizenship, in descending order, were: freedom of movement and transport, higher incomes, health insurance, job opportunities and so on. “Political situation” was number eight.

When the survey asked Palestinians to list their concerns if their neighborhood were to become part of a new Palestinian state, the top worry was losing access to the Old City and Al-Aqsa mosque. But after that, all the concerns were economic: employment, movement, health care, benefits.

“The prevailing view emphasizes practical issues,” confirms David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who designed, supervised and analyzed the poll. “Even though they express they are not fully equal under Israeli rule, the practical benefits are enough to push them toward Israel.”

From Pollock’s perspective, the message here is that a simple division of Jerusalem along sectarian or nationalistic lines may not be what Palestinians actually want, and that the freedom to move, to work, to participate in the kind of vibrant economy they see in Israel must be protected if the city is to be shared.

There’s also a broader message that echoes Clinton’s warnings: Arab leaders who have spent decades stoking a nationalistic agenda elsewhere would do well to attend to their real economic challenges at home. The violent street demonstrations roiling Tunisia as Clinton spoke have not abated as of this writing, in part because the mere change in governance was not enough to satisfy protesters hungry for political and economic reforms.

As one protester reportedly said of the life under the now-exiled Tunisian leader: “It was peaceful. It was a comfortable life. He made the city look good,” she said. “But poor people didn’t have any chance to live.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.