Geopolitics

“Are They Ready?” Questions Loom Ahead Of UN Showdown On Palestinian Statehood

Making the Palestinian economy and civil society function are key steps toward statehood. A current snapshot shows very mixed results, though continued border checks by Israeli are blamed for choking back progress.

Young and old on a Ramallah street (gregor.schlatte)
Young and old on a Ramallah street (gregor.schlatte)
Benjamin Barthe

RAMALLAH - The offices of the Palestinian Ministry of Planning, in Ramallah's upscale Al-Masyoun neighborhood, were all abuzz last week. The civil servants on staff were just finishing a much anticipated report due to be submitted at the end of September, just in time for the meeting in New York of the United Nations general assembly.

The report is an assessment of what is known as the Fayyad plan, named after the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. This middle-aged man is well-liked by Western government leaders, who never miss the opportunity to praise his talents and integrity. In August 2009, Fayyad had announced that he would give himself two years to build the foundations of a legitimate nation, which could then be promptly proclaimed to the international community.

"The main message of this report is that we are ready to run our own country," explains Bashar Jumaa, a senior executive at the Ministry of Planning. "We follow the lines of the reports made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which have acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority made progress and which have concluded that we deserve to have a real State."

The text's submission is supposed to match the diplomatic push being made by the Palestinian leadership, which wants the UN to review and upgrade Palestine's status from simple observer to a full member-state status. There is no doubt that President Mahmoud Abbas will brandish the report so as to win support from most countries. "We've been ready for decades now," explains Bashar Jumaa. "Our misfortune, as Palestinians, is that we have to prove it. We are not as lucky as the Southern Sudanese whose state has been recognized by the international community last July just after they proclaimed it."

The Palestinian Authority is particularly proud of its progress in the area of governance. The public deficit has dropped from 29% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 to 16% last year, resorting to tough incentive measures in the payment of water and electricity bills, as well as improved tax collection that has increased revenue by 50% between 2009 and 2010.

Last spring, a French diplomat claimed that "to have such results in such a short time was unprecedented, particularly for a non-State. The Israelis' arguments according to which Palestinian people are either terrorists or corrupt or incompetent are not valid anymore. Fayyad has laid the foundations for a real State."

Israeli checkpoints choke growth

However, those measures were not enough to stabilize the budget of the Palestinian regime, which faces a significant deficit. In July, employees only received half of their salary because of a delay in the payment of promised financial assistance.

Economic performance is also disappointing. It was supposed to be the main strong suit of Salam Fayyad, who used to work at the IMF. According to a recent report made by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the standard of living in the West Bank had dropped at the end of 2010, while unemployment was rising from 23.5 to 25%.

According to the World Bank, the building and investment frenzy in Ramallah, as well as the GDP's 8 to 9% growth rate, confirmed these past two years by the World Bank itself, don't really reflect the actual state of development, which is still choked by the continued strain of Israeli checkpoints. Instead, it is more a reflection of the growth of aid from the international community.

Such assistance exceeded $7 billion between 2008 and 2010, which corresponds to the world's highest allocation per inhabitant after the one granted to the tiny republics of the Pacific Ocean such as Palau and the Marshall Islands. "In a country that nearly has no control over its economic resources, whether it's earth, air, water, or borders, it is complete nonsense to talk about development," admits Sam Bahour, a management consultant.

When it comes to the country's institutions, despite visible progress in terms of transparency, Salam Fayyad's efforts were never truly made a reality. Even if the European Union invested tens of millions of dollars in the creation of Palestinian custom officers, the Jewish State still refuses them to deploy to the Allenby Bridge border between the West Bank and Jordan, like they did in the 1990's.

"On paper, we've achieved many things and we've trained ourselves to be as perfectly operational as any other state, but the problem is that Israel won't give us the space to put our skills into practice," says Hatem Yousef, the Palestinian Prime Minister's economic adviser.

"Building a state in Palestine is a virtual experiment," adds a foreign expert. "No matter how hard you try, reality always threatens to crush your efforts."

The continuing cleavage between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which runs the West Bank, has undermined the implementation of the Fayyad plan. In the absence of a working Parliament, dozens of laws were not passed, hindering the modernizing task undertaken by the prime minister, especially in the justice department.

In parallel, by associating security reform, one of his big projects, with anti-Islamism, and by turning a blind eye on the abuses made by his pro-Fatah police officers, Fayyad greatly contributed to the maintaining of the intra-Palestinian divide. "We often feel like the efforts we make end up protecting Israel rather than helping our own people," criticizes Azem Kawasmeh, a popular citizen leader.

In an article published last June, the American academic Nathan Brown, who knows the Palestinian political system very well, concluded on a half-satisfying note: "Western countries have always had high expectations of Salam Fayyad. Unfortunately, he's never been really able to meet them." As talented as he is, Fayyad can only aspire to be the prime minister of an "artificial" State.

Read the original article in French

Photo - gregor.schlatte

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Society

Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.


Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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