Palestine and the Palestinians in the 21st Century

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Recent developments in Palestinian political, economic, and social life have resulted in greater insecurity and diminishing confidence in Israel's willingness to abide by political agreements or the Palestinian leadership's ability to forge consensus. This volume examines the legacies of the past century, conditions of life in the present, and the possibilities and constraints on prospects for peace and self-determination in the future. These historically grounded essays by leading scholars engage the issues that continue to shape Palestinian society, such as economic development, access to resources, religious transformation, and political movements.

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1. The Zionist Colonization of Palestine in the Context of Comparative Settler Colonialism

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GABRIEL PITERBERG

To deeply understand Zionism and the state of Israel, one must engage with the field of comparative settler colonialism. The expansion and conquest by Europe that began in 1500 produced two kinds of related but clearly distinguishable forms of colonialism. One was metropole colonialism, in which Europeans conquered and ruled vast territories but administered and exploited them without seeking to make them their home; British India is a good example. The other type was settler colonialism, in which the conquest by European states brought with it substantial waves of settlers who with the passage of time sought to make the colonies their national patrimony. This process entailed a relationship with the indigenous people that ranged from dispossession to elimination, or from slavery to cheap labor, depending on the land and labor formations of a given settler society. Settler colonialism can be said to have begun in earnest with the English—and later Scottish-Presbyterian—settlers in Ireland in the second half of the sixteenth century, and continued with the settler colonies in what would become Virginia and New England in the seventeenth century. It is within the burgeoning field of comparative settler colonialism that I seek to place the Zionist colonization of Palestine and the state of Israel.1

 

2. Colonial Occupation and Development in the West Bank and Gaza: Understanding the Palestinian Economy through the Work of Yusif Sayigh

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Understanding the Palestinian Economy through the Work of Yusif Sayigh

LEILA FARSAKH

The Oslo peace process initiated in 1993 brought hopes for the emergence of a vibrant economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS), one that would provide a solid foundation for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Yet Palestinian economic growth since 1993 has been marked by major fluctuations and unsustainability. Palestinian real GDP per capita income in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007 was 30 percent lower than in 1999. Poverty touched 49 percent of Gaza and 25 percent of the West Bank in 2007.1 The 2008–2009 Israeli war on Gaza destroyed whatever remained of Palestinian economic activity there, demolishing major social and economic infrastructure at a total estimated cost of $1.4 billion. The siege imposed on it since 2006 further severed its links to the West Bank, putting in jeopardy the unity of the Palestinian economy. Although real GDP grew by over 5 percent in the West Bank and by more than 9 percent in the Gaza Strip from 2009 to 2012, it was mainly fueled by international assistance, which amounted to over 20 percent of GDP.2 Poverty rates still stood at 33.7 percent in the Gaza Strip in 2010, where over 71 percent of the population receives some form of aid.3 The Israeli war on Gaza in November 2012 further proved the unsustainability of growth in the Occupied Territories.

 

3. War, Peace, Civil War: A Pattern?

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A Pattern?

TAMIM AL-BARGHOUTI

Since 1974, there has been a pattern of war, peace or appeasement, and then civil war or dissent in the ranks of the Palestinian national movement. After the wars of 1971 in Jordan and 1973 between the Arabs and Israel, the PLO adopted the Step-by-Step Program, which opened the door for a two-state solution. This was followed by the establishment of the Rejection Front within the PLO.1 After the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Fatah leadership of the PLO accepted the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative, which was followed by the first Palestinian civil war in Tripoli, Lebanon. After the 1987 Intifada and the 1990–1991 regional war in which the PLO sided with Iraq, the Palestinian leadership openly accepted the two-state solution. This was followed by the creation and the consolidation of the Islamic Resistance Movement—Hamas—as an alternative manifestation of the Palestinian struggle against Israel. The Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank in 2002 was followed by the election of a moderate Palestinian leadership, one that was openly endorsed by both Israel and the United States. This move toward appeasing Israel triggered a chain of events that included a Hamas electoral victory in 2006 and a short military confrontation with Fatah forces in Gaza that left Hamas in control of the Strip.

 

4. Palestinians Following the 2006 Legislative Election: A Critical Election?

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A Critical Election?

ASʾAD GHANEM

Elections and change of government are part of the democratic process. Following every democratic election, a government continues its performance as the executive branch or is changed. Such a change is a reflection of the changing preferences of the people, the collective of citizens. The change can be reflected in two ways. The first, in which the new government continues the policies of the previous one, is common and can be considered regular or gradual change, with minor alterations that reflect the guiding principles of the new ruling party or parties or the personal preferences of the newly elected leaders. These elections can be classified as “regular elections.”

The second mode of change, in which a deep and fundamental change occurs in the agenda or the political, economic, or social situation of the state or in its international status, is “critical elections.”1 Such critical elections occurred in the United States in 1860, after which the Civil War started around the question of the future of the union. Such elections also occurred in Germany in 1933, when the National Party and Hitler took power democratically and promoted a revolutionary change in German internal and external policies. Another example is the South African elections of 1989, which signaled the end of the apartheid regime. Smooha and Peretz consider the 1992 Israeli elections as critical elections, in that following those elections Israel entered a new phase in its relationship with the PLO.2

 

5. Before Gaza, After Gaza: Examining the New Reality in Israel

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Examining the New Reality in Israel/Palestine

SARA ROY

In the nineteen years since the Oslo process began, Palestinians have suffered losses not seen since the beginning of Israeli occupation and arguably since the Nakba, the losses of 1948. The scholar Joseph Massad has compellingly argued that it is wrong to think of the Nakba as “a history of the past”; rather, it is “a history of the present,” a historical epoch that remains a living, ongoing reality without end.1 Yet, what has changed is the conceptualization of loss itself, which has assumed altogether new dimensions. For now it is less a matter of defining losses that demand redress than of living in an altered, indistinguishable, and indeterminate reality in which those losses have no place, no history, and no context, where reclamation is, in effect, meaningless, without purpose or justification. This altered reality has been shaped and defined over the last few years by certain critical paradigmatic shifts in the way the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is conceptualized, understood, and addressed. I will touch upon some of these shifts, ending with a brief reflection on the changing socioeconomic reality in Gaza.

 

6. The Legal Trajectory of the Palestinian Refugee Issue: From Exclusion to Ambiguity

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From Exclusion to Ambiguity

SUSAN MUSARRAT AKRAM

At the end of 2011, out of a total Palestinian population of about 11.2 million persons, some 7.4 million were refugees or internally displaced.1 The Palestinian people constitute one of the largest and longest-standing unresolved situations of displacement in the world; about one in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian.2 Given the size and protracted nature of this refugee flow, one would imagine that a great deal of energy would be expended on adapting international legal principles to craft a durable solution for this problem. Instead, it is often said that the Palestinian refugee problem is unique, that existing principles are inapplicable, that existing legal instruments do not cover Palestinian refugees, and hence that the problem is intractable.3

Since the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1945, both widespread state practice and a codified body of law have developed that address almost every aspect of refugee and displaced persons’ rights.4 A central premise is that all refugees, without distinction, have certain rights, and that states have concomitant obligations to respect, protect, and implement those rights. The core legal principles applicable in the search for durable solutions for mass refugee flows are: the right to return to one’s home and place of origin in safety; the right to voluntarily choose among available resettlement options; the right to full restitution of property left behind; and the right to compensation for loss or damage to refugee property.5 The right to protection for refugees and stateless persons, and the engagement of the international community in providing the benefits that are lost from failure of national protection, have been spelled out in explicit terms in several of the most widely ratified treaties that exist today, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1954 Convention on Stateless Persons.6 These treaties broaden the fundamental customary international law rights of return and restitution, incorporate what are considered binding international definitions of refugees and stateless persons, and expand international obligations to implement fundamental refugee and stateless persons’ rights.7

 

7. The Debate on Islamism and Secularism: The Case of Palestinian Women’s Movements

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The Case of Palestinian Women’s Movements

ISLAH JAD

Conflict over the construction of gender and the ideal woman is not a neutral or primarily religious concern. Nationalists and Islamists alike seek to establish an ideal society that depends on a particular conception of womanhood.1 The difference between the two conceptions is that religious or Islamist groups seek to restore a mythical age in which women were guardians of tradition,2 whereas the nationalists tout the fertile, modest peasant as their epitome of the feminine. In both cases, the ideal woman embodies a past when “traditional family and moral values [built] ‘our nation.’”3

Despite the similarities between them, the Islamist ideal woman is opposed to the “modern” ideal woman constructed by the secular nationalist discourse.4 While nationalists consider the society Islamists strive to build as reactionary and antimodern,5 Islamists view secularism as an unwanted colonial imposition, a worldview that gives precedence to the material over the spiritual, to a modern culture of alienation and unrestrained hedonism. The nationalists counter that secularism is central to universal humanism, a rational principle that calls for the suppression or restraint of religious passion so that intolerance and delusion can be controlled, and political unity, peace, and progress secured.6

 

8. Other Worlds to Live in: Palestinian Retrievals of Religion and Tradition under Conditions of Chronic National Collapse

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Palestinian Retrievals of Religion and Tradition under Conditions of Chronic National Collapse

LOREN D. LYBARGER

Today, perhaps more than ever, the question of Palestinian identity has become obvious and urgent. The always-fragile national consensus has ceded to open schism. In the wake of devastating interfactional bloodletting, the Islamic political movement, Hamas, now dominates the Gaza Strip while the weakened secular-nationalist Fatah movement putatively controls the West Bank. The choice for Palestinians, as it comes across in media analyses and think-tank position papers, seems stark: either an embattled secular-nationalist Fatah movement reasserts itself, or Palestine becomes “Hamastan.”1 But, even the very possibility of Palestine, or, for that matter, “Hamastan,” seems ever more unrealizable. Israel, backed by the United States and the European Union, relentlessly presses its advantage. It has expanded its settlements and road networks while extending a system of walls, fences, and checkpoints that have isolated Palestinians within their towns, villages, and camps, and in the case of Gaza, within a besieged coastal strip subject to punishing bombardments from air, sea, and land. Negotiation and armed resistance have seemed to yield little more than cynicism, despair, and death. The parties backing these diverging approaches—Fatah and Hamas, primarily—have failed to galvanize consistent broad majority support. Neither secular nationalism nor Islamism in their current forms appear to offer any clear basis for political unity and collective action.2 But if not these, then what?

 

9. Palestine in the American Political Arena: Is a Reset Possible?

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Is a “Reset” Possible?

MICHAEL C. HUDSON

There are two competing narratives about America and Palestine. One derives from the Protestant missionaries who early in the nineteenth century went to the “Holy Land” to convert the “natives” (an impossible task) and who ended up as educators. The descendants of these hardy and talented people not only established impressive schools and colleges, many of which thrive today, but also went on to become diplomats—the fabled and maligned “State Department Arabists”—as well as business-people and development professionals. They were genuinely attached to the Arabs of Palestine. After World War II, when the United States elected to support the Jewish nationalist, or Zionist, project in Palestine, which led in 1948 to the forced displacement of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, they supported the Palestinian cause. But these people constituted a small minority.

The other narrative, which has come to frame America’s collective understanding of the Middle East, is the story of Zionism, which from its European origins succeeded in establishing Israel in historic Palestine. This is a story, celebrated in novels and films, of European Jews fleeing discriminatory European pogroms and ultimately the Holocaust, braving callous British officialdom, and creating a safe haven for a people uniquely persecuted in the West. To most Americans the Israelis were pioneers (like American whites) settling undeveloped territory, making the desert bloom, and fighting off or educating the “backward” natives. Israel became an extension of the “Judeo-Christian civilization” of which Americans were a part. It is this narrative to which most American elected politicians have subscribed up to this day.

 

10. Human Rights and the Rule of Law

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NOURA ERAKAT

Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, Israel embarked on an unprecedented aerial and ground offensive against the Gaza Strip. In a span of twenty-two days, Israeli ground and aerial forces demolished 2,400 homes, 21 schools, and 60 police stations, and killed approximately 1,300 civilians, 280 of them children. The onslaught was particularly egregious because of the means employed. For eighteen months prior to the attack, Israel had imposed a debilitating naval blockade and ground siege that increased food dependency for survival to 56 percent and increased unemployment to nearly 40 percent. Moreover, Israel prevented Palestinians from fleeing the attack by sealing the borders, thereby preventing Palestinians from becoming refugees. Finally, Israeli forces obstructed the movement of medical personnel and used white phosphorous against heavily populated civilian areas. The horrific stories documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and the National Lawyers’ Guild confirmed that war crimes were indeed committed and that the rule of law had been subverted in the name of national security underpinned by international complicity.

 

11. Lessons for Palestine from Northern Ireland: Why George Mitchell Couldn’t Turn Jerusalem into Belfast

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Why George Mitchell Couldn’t Turn Jerusalem into Belfast

ALI ABUNIMAH

I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted, and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings. I saw it happen in Northern Ireland, although, admittedly, it took a very long time. I believe deeply that with committed, persevering, and patient diplomacy, it can happen in the Middle East.

—George Mitchell, Obama administration Middle East envoy, 22 January 2009

During Israel’s December 2008/January 2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians,1 veteran Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn reported that Israeli society reminded him “more than ever of the unionists in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.” Like Israelis, he wrote, unionists were a community “with a highly developed siege mentality which led them always to see themselves as victims even when they were killing other people. There were no regrets or even knowledge of what they inflicted on others and therefore any retaliation by the other side appeared as unprovoked aggression inspired by unreasoning hate.”2

 

12. One State: The Realistic Solution

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The Realistic Solution

SAREE MAKDISI

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, declared in April 2009 that Israel is not bound by the commitments it entered into at the Annapolis summit in November 2007.1 He was followed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the then freshly minted prime minister, in a policy speech in June of the same year, which categorically ruled out the possibility of the creation of a genuinely independent Palestinian state.2 These declarations came as close as we are likely to get to an official announcement of the end of the two-state solution to the Zionist conflict with the Palestinians. And in essentially renouncing the two-state solution, the Israeli government effectively committed itself to the only other realistic alternative—a one-state solution. Of course, the one state that Lieberman and Netanyahu have in mind is not a state of equal citizens, but rather a state in which the Jewish inhabitants of historic Palestine would continue to enjoy rights and privileges denied to—and founded at the expense of—the land’s non-Jewish (that is, Palestinian) inhabitants. Far from being something radically new, this represents the continuation of a status quo already in place for several decades, in which Jewish inhabitants of the land (and new Jewish immigrants, like Lieberman himself) have been coming and going freely, while Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself—not to mention those who have lived in involuntary exile for six decades—have been subjected to draconian forms of control, blockade, confinement, and worse, for no other reason than that they are not Jewish.3

 

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