Despite the hiatus on this blog, I have been writing elsewhere, for the LSE Ideas Centre and the online Spanish magazine, Global Affairs. Much of the reason for the silence here is the absence of any seminars or presentations that I have gone to over the past few months. Much of this is the result of bad timing for me, having other commitments, visitors, etc. In fact, when I arrived at the Kenyon Institute last night for Naseer Aruri’s and Mandy Turner’s presentations, I noticed that the last event I had attended was back in August – at least one where I took notes (there was also a conference at the end of September where I was both participant and scribe – I hope one day to write something more substantial than a blog piece on those issues there).
The Kenyon event took place last night and was a follow on from their own two day conference on Monday and Tuesday – which I wasn’t able to attend for the above reasons. That said, I suspect that both Aruri and Turner were able to give a flavour of what that event must have been like, since both presented there as well.
Aruri chose not to present the same paper that he had done at the conference – a great shame for me, since it was sought to put Palestinian development in historical and political context. Instead, he offered an alternative paper called ‘The Ongoing Erasure of Palestine’ which was extremely bleak. Essentially his argument was that there can be no two-state solution when Zionism is the Palestinian’s adversary. Zionist colonialism he considers to be unique as a movement, offering no territorial concessions and expanding Israel’s control of historic Palestine. He talked at length about ‘politicide’, the term that Baruch Kimmerling had fashioned to describe what was happening to the Palestinians, with the dissolution of Palestinian political identity through the use of ethnic cleansing.
Aruri was scathing both about external actors such as the US (who he has called a ‘dishonest broker’ in a previous book and who has gone against the global consensus fashioned after 1967 – i.e. end of occupation, withdrawal to the Green Line, East Jerusalem to be Palestinian, etc) and the Palestinian leadership. The latter he deems to have colluded in its own destruction, offering no alternative. Ultimately, the diplomatic paralysis that currently exists is embedded in the failed Oslo peace process for him.
Turner also presented a very compelling argument with her paper on ‘Creating “Partners for Perace”:Aid, humanitarianism and the international donor community in the OPT’. The term ‘partner for peace’ has become increasingly used and she has tried to understand what it means. Essentially, there are three elements associated with the concept: (1) an attempt by donors to support and impose the ‘right’ type of Palestinian political elite, (2) pressure the ‘right’ type of Palestinian elite to make peace with Israel on the grounds set out by Israel and (3) marginalise and/or remove the ‘wrong’ type of Palestinian elite.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that what this means is the fragmentation of Palestinian politics and society, a process has been in place since 2006 and Hamas’s electoral victory that year. Whereas Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah and Salam Fayyad are seen as ‘partners’, Hamas are clearly not. Turner believes that the Road Map period which emerged in the wake of the Second Intifada met its end in 2006 and has been replaced with the ‘partners’ paradigm, whereby the US has increased its financial commitment to the PA (as have all donors – although interestingly, this may be more to do with better tracking than actual sums) and sought to isolate and defeat Hamas by focusing on building up the West Bank.
For me as a development analyst (!), Turner’s presentation was extremely useful, since you can see a double-edged game being played in the present period. On the one hand donor aid is being used to reduce the impact of the occupation for all Palestinians, but there are differences between that provided to ‘partners’ in the West Bank and the ‘wrong’ type in Gaza. That to the West Bank aims to promote ‘appropriate’ actors while that in Gaza is more humanitarian is scope, being designed to take care of those who do not comply with the ‘partners’ model. Borrowing from a researcher in Africa (whose name I missed), Turner ends up with donor aid as a means of managing a surplus population, where Palestinians are fed but not free. (indeed, Turner also commented on the shift in conceptualising sovereignty in the Palestinian context, away from natural rights of statehood for a nation and the creation of governments to one that is primarily concerned with state capacity and governance – i.e. statehood only comes if you can prove that you can carry it out rather than demanding it as a right)
Both presentations present very bleak prospects in my view. For neither presenter is there a visible alternative to the prevailing situation, whether internal or external. Internally, the options looks extremely limited. The choice seems to be either one of being on the quisling side of supporting the US/Israeli Oslo model or being against it. In the subsequent Q&A I asked where domestic resistance was to come from and Aruri was unable to provide an answer. He said there were three choices, neither of which were realistic: (1) end the current peace process and internationalise it (but this won’t work because the Palestinians are too insignificant to challenge the international balance of power and force participants to the table), (2) maintain the status quo (which is not attractive – and besides the Palestinians are running out of any more concessions they can make) or (3) another intifada (which is not really an option given the demobilised nature of Palestinian society).
Externally, the prospects are not great either. Both Aruri and Turner concluded that the US position is unlikely to change. Turner offered some suggestions as a British and European citizen for the EU (we had a few representatives last night). She said that the EU should consider the following: (1) sue Israel for damages as a result of its destruction of EU-funded projects, (2) pull the EU (and the UN as well) out of the Quartet, since it’s effectively an American enterprise) and (3) make effective use of the human rights conditions within the EU-Israel agreement.
While this may all seem like too proposals though, what are the chances of that happening? The more I think about it, the more I feel that the current situation is like the calm before a storm – yet I don’t know what form the storm will take. It can’t be another intifada since neither the first or second achieved the removal of Israel. If anything it brought about excessive and disproportionate violence in a effort to break Palestinians’ will. In neither case did that happen, but neither did it achieve its goals of an end to occupation. So here we remain, both sides circling and eyeing each other suspiciously, with no clear end in sight. A rather grim vision.