Looking at the last year through new eyes
Having shivered my way through subzero temperatures in Vienna last week for the purposes of knocking heads and putting together a research proposal that will hopefully see funding for up to three years, I also had time to reflect on public perceptions to the first outing of the paper related to the conflict and development project I’ve spent the best part of a year working on. The report itself is very long and full of quotes, but the version I read and we discussed was a fifth of the size.
Essentially, the two main options that I proposed facing international donors in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) are a choice between working to end Israel’s occupation or finding programmes and projects that tinker at the edges. The latter is clearly sub-optimal, but it’s probably also the most likely.
What was most striking for me was the extent to which I’ve internalised some assumptions from nearly a year on these issues and seeing how a European audience reacted to some issues that now seem ‘normal’ to me. For example, I felt that there was a bit if a struggle from my student and faculty audience regarding Hamas’s position as part of the furniture. Too often the party is seen as out of the ordinary in Europe. At the same time, because of the Fatah-Hamas split, I was asked whether it was possible for the two – and by implication, both wider Palestinian society and foreign donors – to find some areas where possible consensus was achievable. This might provide scope beyond the one area of joint thinking, namely an end to the occupation – and which is arguably least likely.
It brought it home to me that I feel that I am finally starting to get a real sense of how things are perceived by the community as a whole here, rather than trying to make a set of externally developed assumptions fit from without. So in a strange way, I found that instead of journeying to Europe in my trip to Vienna, I was actually brought back to the OPT.