The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Arab Awakening – Joel Beinin
For Mahmoud ‘Abbas at least, the bid for Palestinian UN membership is based in large measure on Prime Minister Fayyad’s successful management of a highly constrained and territorially circumscribed neoliberal economic revival. This project has some popular support, especially in the northern West Bank, because it has improved security and infrastructure and provided jobs, though disproportionately in the security forces. According to a public opinion poll conducted by telephone in April-May 2010, 82 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip believed that Fayyad’s policies “served the Palestinian interest” and 72 percent thought he “would be capable to be the next president.” Fifty-four percent, however, did not believe that his plan for statehood through economic development would succeed.
Israel’s relentless settlement expansion has always been and remains the main obstacle to Palestinian statehood. Today, it has all but destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict, and there are no prospects for a more conciliatory Israeli government in the foreseeable future.
Beinin explores the realities of the Salam Fayyad’s neo-liberal economic policy in the West Bank and how this relates to both the Arab Spring (focusing on Egypt) and the Palestinian UN bid. Importantly, Beinin concedes that the Palestinian Authority does not exercise sovereignty over all of the areas within its proposed state, but unlike Steven Rosen (see below), Beinin recognizes the role of the Israeli occupation in preventing Palestine from fulfilling all of the requirements for statehood set out by the 1933 Montevideo Convention. The author then goes on to compare the consequences of the neoliberal economic agendas of Israel, Egypt and Palestine, noting similarities between the three.
Personally, I found the most important part of this essay to be the description of how the occupation is compounding the weaknesses of Fayyad’s economic policy. The growing gap between the rich and the poor in Palestine is partially caused by the same forces that created the tent city in Tel Aviv (protesting housing prices) and the sit-in in Tahrir. Yet this is complicated by the inability of the Palestinian government to reach most of its territory.
The Palestinians’ Imaginary State – Steven Rosen
The General Assembly will make a remarkable decision about all this in the next few weeks. Instead of recognizing either of the two state-like entities that already exist, each having many of the attributes of statehood required by international law, the General Assembly will create an imaginary state that has two incompatible presidents, two rival prime ministers, a constitution whose most central provisions are violated by both sides, no functioning legislature, no ability to hold elections, a population mostly not under its control, borders that would annex territory under the control of other powers, and no clear path to resolve any of these conflicts. It is a resolution that plants the seeds for civil and international wars, not one that advances peace.
Rosen’s essay is an odd one. On the one hand the author is clearly writing a piece meant to do no more than delegitimize the Palestinian UN bid and in the same breath reaffirm that the only true path to peace is through bilateral negotiations with Israel. Rosen, here, is no more than a propagandist for Israel. He downplays the disruptive role of Israel in Palestinian politics and attempts to blame all of Palestine’s political problems on the ineptitude of Fatah and Hamas. Rosen goes as far as to state that any future Palestinian state would be based on Area A and B of the West Bank with appropriate swaps of Area C – keep in mind that Area C is approximately 60% of the West Bank. This semantic trick assumes that Israel has a right to the Palestinian lands in Area C – which includes 95% of the Jordan Valley – and that Palestinian statehood should not be based on 1967 borders.
Yet, on the other hand, Rosen’s essay helps to clarify exactly how useless the Palestinian government(s) have become. Despite the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, Gaza and the West Bank remain two separate entities governed by two separate groups (the Israeli blockade that isolates Gaza was conveniently left out of Rosen’s argument). Rosen helps clarify how divided the Palestinian ruling elite are, but also refuses to acknowledge Israel’s divisive role. A main issue of contention between Fatah and Hamas, for example, how exactly to resist against the occupation. Were Israel to end the occupation, true reconciliation between the two parties would be far more likely.
Occupation Law and the One-State Reality – Darryl Li
And this challenge is not merely a theoretical one. After decades of fruitless negotiations and unceasing colonization, there is a growing awareness of the limitations of partition in addressing the Israel/Palestine conflict. Some celebrate this as a step towards building a single non-colonial state for all of its citizens. Others mourn this development, either because they wish to preserve the Zionist project or because they fear that the demise of the partition option will only herald more bloodshed and suffering without respite. My point here is not to argue that the end of partition is a good thing or a bad thing. My point is that as partition recedes as a viable option, the evolving situation on the ground raises difficult legal questions that require sustained consideration.
Israel has skillfully deployed multiple juridical categories while physically reshaping the territories and populations under its control. Grappling with this situation requires more than reliance on static categories such as those of occupation law, or other approaches described as “apolitical” or technocratic. Instead, jurists, legal scholars, and activists would be well-served to also engage core questions of political belonging, responsibility, and equality in a manner that creatively engages the evolving spatial dynamics of this regime.
This is a fabulous piece that concurrently undermines the viability of a one state solution, questions to legality used to justify segregation and discrimination in Palestine and encourages legal explorations of the unchartered one-state territory. The author has reoriented the focus of Israel and Palestine to ignore the semantics of the Green line and focus on Israel/Palestine as one single entity that has been governed by the Israeli government since 1967 (Li notes that Israel’s borders have been defined by the Green Line for only one third of its existence).
These three pieces should be read together. Beinin’s economic argument and Rosen’s attempt to discredit the PA simply reinforce Li’s eulogy of the one state solution. Economically and politically, the Palestinian territories are divided and ruled by an Israeli state that is expending resources (needed to stabilize the Israeli economy) colonizing and geographically dividing Palestine. The UN bid in September – whatever the outcome – is unlikely to change much on the ground in Palestine. The divisions – both organic within the Palestinian political elite and those imposed from above by Israel – will continue to render Palestine incapable of creating an independent state. The colonization of the West Bank only compounds this issue. As Li concludes, the death of the two state solution may be upon us and it is time for jurists and politicians to start looking at alternatives.
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