Like a Good Neighbor
State 194 bears some resemblance to 2012 The Island President. Both documentaries are one-sided in favor of their subjects, and each concerns topics so current that except by means of end-text add-ons its release form is unable to keep up with the divestiture of that male politician, the latter’s ex-Maldivian president reputedly at gunpoint and the newer one’s Palestinian prime minister by a resignation possibly in disgust.
With archival and recent news footage, Israeli director and co-producer Dan Setton’s Toronto- and Berlin-selected film covers the more than sixty-five years since the proclamation of Israel as a nation state -- indeed, reverts today to Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, where independence was declared -- and before but is structured around Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s progressive 2009-11 program. That campaign aimed at building up West Bank physical and economic infrastructure in order to bolster Palestinians’ reputation and lead to a solution through non-violence.
It is nigh impossible to clarify through summarizing the situation in the area and its ramifications for the world arena, much less in ninety-eight screen minutes. A millennium of passing conquerors, Ottoman rule and British mandate is advisedly not even attempted, but the few quick post-1948 maps and remarks on various wars in a continuing state of war, do not explain much for the non-expert.
Israel long ago accepted a two-state solution, which was rejected out of hand by its neighbors since such carried with it recognition of the newborn nation. Whether muscled out by Israel or fleeing on their own, especially following the 1967 Six-Day War, hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Palestinians wound up trapped within the West Bank, west of the River Jordan although east of Israel proper. A political football, like many an unwanted refugee group they seemed incoherent and dumb in impoverished camps, and the First World dismissed them as irresponsible, incapable, hopeless and violent.
U.S. Ph.D.-educated Fayyad reasoned that heretofore irreconcilable independence for them and security for the Jews could be achieved through an agenda of construction, education and health care, which in turn would usher in prosperity, foster self-respect and counter stereotypes, thus bringing about political recognition and détente.
While such initial proposals were convincing enough to attract IMF and World Bank funding, they are shown as inadequate in the face of Israeli settlements’ pushing Palestinians off their lands and, externally, Hamas intransigence in Gaza and its power struggle with the Fatah party.
Selected footage of ongoing construction and of Fayyad’s cheered visits to villages -- tossing a soccer ball instead of kissing babies -- gives a picture of more going on than in actuality, for the area remains destitute in what advocates and militants call its “occupation.” More important, too many people appear, representing too many points of view, from too many local, national and international organizations. Though they do reflect the Gordian knot of the Palestinian Question, they become indistinguishable and the multitude of takes on things does not bring clear focus. Oddly, the most cogent of these speaking faces is George Mitchell, at that precise time our Special Envoy to the Middle East but -- indicative of the pass that things have come to -- better known for his report on performance-enhancing drug use in professional baseball.
Amidst the welter, nothing is brought out about Fayyad the man. Is, for instance, that woman who cooks him a meal wife, sister, friend, lover?
The thrust is politics. Therefore, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ seeking the United Nations imprimatur as its 194th nation member gets tacked on near the end. The General Assembly’s granting of no more than non-member observer state status may have had much to do with Fayyad’s resignation several months afterwards but within this film is no more than another episode among already too many.
(Released by Participant Media and rated “PG” for thematic elements, smoking and brief language.)