The Day After

By Amin Howeidi – Cairo

Barring any unexpected developments, the Palestinians may have a state before the end of 2008. It will not be the best of states in the best of worlds. It will not match the historic realities of the region, nor will it reflect the true interests of all those involved. But it will give everyone something they wanted. It will leave much undecided, but it is the ambiguity that will make it possible, and we’ll have to get used to living with the ambiguities and contradictions. That will be the easy part.

Some would be pleased to see the name of Palestine put on the map once again. Some will be less excited about it. But that’s not what matters really. States do not live on promises or guarantees alone, but on the wisdom of their leaders and the hard work of their citizens.

Theodor Herzl didn’t like the Balfour Declaration at first. In his memoirs, Herzl admitted that he was disappointed because the declaration spoke of a national homeland rather than a state. But the newborn state managed to grow and became a power to contend with. This happened because its inhabitants managed to turn the promise into reality.

Following the Evian Agreement that gave Algeria its independence, Karim Belgacem, member of the Algerian Revolutionary Command Council, stopped by to see me. Following a quick dinner, he said, "the easy part is over now and the hard part is just beginning." We were never to meet again. He was killed briefly afterwards in Europe; assassinated in the power struggle that followed.

The biggest challenge for the new state would be to hold together. See how Lebanon had to endure months without a head of state. See how Palestine is divided ahead of becoming a state. Once the Palestinians have a country to run, things may get harder than they already are.

Before Israel became a state, it had multiple of terrorist outfits running their separate shows. Then the Haganah, Zvai Leumi and Irgun became political parties and elected a terrorist, David Ben-Gurion, as prime minister and minister of defence. For a while, the paramilitary outfits of the gangs continued to co-exist. Then Ben-Gurion called a conference in April 1948 and had everyone agree to disband the militias. A state needs to have one army, he said.

Irgun had second thoughts about it. Ben-Gurion had banned all arms shipments ordered by the paramilitary outfits and Menachem Begin didn’t exactly see the point. So he ordered his militia to unload a shipment of military hardware from the ship Altalina. Without blinking, Ben-Gurion ordered the ship sunk. Dozens of Israelis died in the attack and hundreds of Irgun members were rounded up and thrown in prison. This action arguably saved Israel.

I am recalling this episode for the benefit of our Palestinian brothers. The hard part is what comes after the creation of the state. You cannot run a state in the same way you run a militia. A newborn state can be forever traumatised by a power struggle. For the new state to survive, the Palestinians must have one army. And that army should take orders from one political leadership and from that leadership alone.

– Amin Howeidi is former Egyptian minister of defence and chief of general intelligence. (This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service, CGNews and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org. Originally published in Al Ahram Weekly, 31 July-6 August 2008, www.weekly.ahram.org.)

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