Alaa Tartir and Timothy Seidel (eds.), Palestine and Rule of Power: Local Dissent vs. International Governance (Palgrave Macmillan, Middle East Today Series, 2019).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you edit this book?
Alaa Tartir (AT) & Timothy Seidel (TS): There were three main reasons why we edited (and contributed to) this book: to address gaps in the scholarly literature regarding the lived experience of Palestinians impacted by the logics and regimes of settler colonialism and neoliberal governance, to engage in a collective intellectual endeavor, and to showcase the work of a new generation of scholars working on Palestinian studies. Although numerous books were published over the last few years on Palestine, we still felt a gap remained in the literature that concerns the inward-outward diffusions that link and contrast local dissent with international governance, hence the selection of “rule of power” as the main theme of our book.
The book, with its ten chapters, does not only address and tackle major gaps in the literature, but it also offers a wealth of original empirical evidence and opens up new avenues for further research. This edited volume is not merely a collection of chapters; it has been a joint project and a collaborative scholarly effort over the past few years. It is the collective intellectual scholarship and ownership of this book that led us throughout its different production phases and guided us in our reviews, debates, and discussions. Furthermore, the book presents the arguments and analysis of a new generation of scholars working on Palestinian studies, who have spent years researching for their PhD degrees in outstanding academic institutions. We argue that through these intellectual contributions we have offered distinctive, original, and much-needed analysis and knowledge. It is our hope that advancing scholarly knowledge on Palestine and beyond will contribute to imagining new ways of being and drawing new paths that will bring future generations closer to freedom.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
AT & TS: Palestine and Rule of Power explores how the rule of power relates to the case of occupied Palestine, and examines features of local dissent and international governance. The book considers expressions of the rule of power in two particular ways: settler colonialism and neoliberalism. As power is always accompanied by resistance, the authors engage with and explore forms of everyday resistance to the logics and regimes of neoliberal governance and settler colonialism. The book investigates wide-ranging issues and dynamics related to international governance, liberal peacebuilding, and development, the claim to politics, and the notion and practice of resistance. In particular, and through its ten chapters, the book tackles three interconnected themes, namely: 1) resistance, steadfastness, and mobilization against settler colonialism and repression in Palestine; 2) impact of neoliberal external aid and intervention; and 3) security-sector reform and Palestinian authoritarianism.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?
AT & TS: Palestine and Rule of Power is our first joint scholarly effort, but it is builds on our individual records of research and publications. For Tartir, this book builds on his extensive research and publications on the links between state-building, governance, security sector reform, and international aid. In particular, it builds on Tartir’s work that examined the consequences of security sector reform on resistance in the West Bank over the last decade, as well as on the role of external actors in sponsoring the authoritarian transformations of the Palestinian Authority under the pretext of the state and peacebuilding. It also builds on his work that problematizes the role of donors, the aid industry, and the framework that accompanied the Oslo Accords.
As for Seidel, this book builds off his research on development, peacebuilding, and resistance generally, and in Palestine in particular. His current research explores ways in which Palestine has taken an increasingly central role in mobilizing global, transnational solidarities by exploring shared experiences of racism, settler colonialism, military occupation and dispossession that separate and divide and the possibilities for transnational, anti-colonial solidarities that cross boundaries and defy those separations. In Palestine and Rule of Power, Tartir and Seidel connect the dots and capitalize on their previous work and research, joined with seven other scholars “noted for their thoughtful analysis and insights to join them in examining not just the force of power, but also the power of resistance,” as was argued by Nadia Hijab, president of al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, in her endorsements of the book.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
AT & TS: Primarily, the book will be of interest for academics focusing on modern Middle Eastern politics, international relations, as well as for courses on contemporary conflicts, peacebuilding, and development. However, beyond academia, the book is also relevant to different local and international policy circles and domains that could utilize the analysis presented in the book to critically assess their policy prescription and intervention and alter their future policy recommendations. As Professor Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, professor of international history at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, stated in his endorsement of the book, “the work deftly draws on penetrating conceptual insights to offer remarkably fresh policy perspectives.” In addition to academic and policy circles, and due to the diversity of its inter-connected chapter, the book is suitable for general readership and for anyone interested in the Palestinian struggle for rights and freedom.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
AT & TS: In addition to engaging in outreach and dissemination tasks related to Palestine and Rule of Power, we are devoted to our teaching duties and research tasks. In particular, Tartir just finalized another edited volume entitled Outsourcing Repression: Israeli-Palestinian security coordination that will be published by the South Africa-based Afro-Middle East Centre in spring 2019. He is also working on a book manuscript entitled Policing Palestine to be published in 2020 by Pluto Press, a book chapter entitled Palestine: An Intelligence State in the Making to be published in the Handbook of Asian Intelligence Cultures, and a book chapter (jointly with Professor Benoît Challand) for the fifteenth edition of The Middle East edited by Professor Ellen Lust.
Seidel is guest co-editor (with Alina Sajed) for a forthcoming special issue of the journal Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies titled “Escaping the Nation? Anti-colonial Imaginaries and Postcolonial Settlements.” He is also working on a book manuscript that examines and interrogates dominant categories of nonviolence and civil resistance mapped onto Palestine by outside observers (expressed through questions like “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”) and explores the late modern-colonial constitution (and discursive function) of the violence/non-violence binary.
Excerpt from the Book
From “The Rule of Power in Palestine: Settler Colonialism, Neoliberal Governance, and Resistance” in Palestine and Rule of Power: Local Dissent vs. International Governance (pp. 9-14).
The book is divided into three parts. Part I “Resistance and Mobilization Against Apartheid, Settler Colonialism, and Repression,” discusses and illustrates how the settler colonial present, the framework and structures of apartheid, as well as the failure of the Palestinian state-building project, are all resisted and confronted.
Chapter 2, written by Ben White, sets the settler colonial context and contextualizes the state-building project of the PA within a de facto condition of apartheid imposed by Israel. White shows that the defacto status quo of a single state in all of Mandate Palestine—which is being increasingly identified as matching the definition of apartheid in international treaties and conventions—is unlikely to change soon, as none of the Israeli political parties who either currently hold power, or who could conceivably form an alternative government, recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination or sovereignty. Given these realities, White argues that the PA leadership especially in the occupied West Bank and Palestinian political factions more broadly, are facing difficult and significant questions, including whether a focus on “state-building” under occupation has, in fact, laid the foundations for a Bantustan.
Illustrating how sovereignty and its rules can be challenged through the everyday practices of colonized people and through steadfastness and resistance is the focus of Chapter 3 written by Timothy Seidel. In his chapter, Seidel demonstrates that despite the significant constraints imposed by the fragmented political and economic geography of Palestine, the story of many Palestinian communities is not one of resignation but of steadfastness and resistance. In particular, the chapter explores ways in which this resistance is rendered visible or invisible by interrogating the violence of Israel’s settler colonial occupation with the concepts of sovereignty, and claims that a focus on bodies helps us visibilize, helps us see the violence and the resistance as embodied subjectivity. In conclusion, Seidel argues that attention to embodied subjectivities not only challenge the centrality of the state in our political and geographic imaginations but also takes the embodied experiences of Palestinians as a starting point for talking about political claims and resistance.
The concept and practice of steadfastness (Sumud) is further explored in Chapter 4 written by Nijmeh Ali through focusing the analysis on the actions and perceptions of the third generation of Palestinian activists in Israel. In her chapter, Ali reveals an alternative approach to understand Sumud that moves away from the dominant passive and cultural understandings of Sumud toward a forward-looking approach that adopts active and transformative Sumud to alter social and power relations in Israel. The chapter presents four patterns that characterize that transformative Sumud: practical, personal, cultural, and active. It argues that challenging the monopoly of Sumud as cultural resistance and demand moving to active Sumud as political, allows the Palestinians in Israel to fulfill their potential away from romanticizing their physical remaining in their homeland. The ultimate aim of the chapter is to offer new openings as they relate to the debate about resistance, its terminology, its nature, and its potential, through the perspectives of third-generation Palestinian activists in Israel.
The thematic focus on resistance continues in Chapter 5 written by Dana El Kurd. “Who Protests in Palestine?” is the main question tackled by El Kurd, and addressed through a class and social strata lens. The chapter utilizes an original dataset on daily mobilizations in the West Bank, from 2007 to 2015, to assess the pattern of mobilization quantitatively, and illustrates that mobilizations occur overwhelmingly in rural areas and refugee camps. The chapter argues that the middle class does not mobilize precisely because its interest is tied to the status quo; mainly, the retrenchment of the PA and, unwittingly, the occupation. And therefore, the relation of individuals in society to the status quo regimes determines mobilization, hence why mobilization is concentrated in areas that are more rural with less organizational capacity and with members that do not necessarily have more education or information. The chapter concludes that future research on this matter would benefit from bringing class “back in” to the analysis, as well as looking at a class in novel ways and considering new resources.
Part II of the book, “External Intervention and International Aid,” examines the uniqueness of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict in European Union (EU) discourse, and discusses the impacts of international aid regimes driven by neoliberal logics as well as the expressions of solidarity in the international donor community that seeks to accompany popular education in the occupied West Bank.
In Chapter 6, Anders Persson reviews 820 EC/EU statements published in the Bulletin of the European Communities and Bulletin of the European Union between 1967 and 2009 and asks: why has the Palestinian–Israeli conflict dominated European foreign policy discourse for over five decades now? And what were the major policy departures that induced the shifts in the views and positions of the European Union over the decades? The chapter argues that while the EU proved to forward-thinking in promoting Palestinian claims as legitimate demands, however the Israeli accusation that the EU is inherently anti-Israeli has little merit. The chapter ends with an open question that remains to be answered: with an EU in relative decline and disunity, and with the rise of various right wings, nationalist or populist governments and parties in Europe in recent years, would the EU continue to be a “normative power” in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict?
External intervention takes different shapes and forms, however since the Oslo Accords international aid comprises a major tool that has been used and abused by multiple local and foreign authorities and actors at stake. In Chapter 7, Jeremy Wildeman describes how Western donors have used their power to radically refashion Palestinian institutions and the economy while building a state based on neoliberal Western values. However, this approach was flawed from the onset because it adopted an ahistorical and decontextualized neoliberal approach to Palestinian development that specifically ignored Israel’s aggressive behavior as a settler colonial entity. So rather than nurture economic growth and peace, donors have ended up feeding into a process of de-development, dispossession and violence. In other words, this chapter describes how neoliberal development aid has contributed to the settler colonization of Palestine. The case of Palestine, this chapter argues, is far from being without precedent as Western liberalism has had a long history of acting in tandem to, and often been the handmaiden of, colonialism.
Chapter 8, written by Melanie Meinzer, examines other dimensions in the Palestinian aid industry to illustrate how popular education can be used to counteract the depoliticizing and demobilizing tendencies of the donor liberal development paradigm. While some argue that the dependence of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on donor funds diminishes their ability to challenge the Israeli occupation, Meinzer explains in her chapter how aid recipients can resist depoliticization by collaborating with “solidarity” donors on popular education programs. In particular, Palestinian educational NGOs and membership-based organizations in the West Bank work in the informal spaces around the donor-funded official Palestinian curriculum to reinsert Palestinian historical narratives into education. In other words, this chapter demonstrates how these actors’ shared visions of education and development as long-term, grassroots processes of sociopolitical change challenge the depoliticizing and demobilizing tendencies of the donor-driven development paradigm. Consequently, the chapter contributes to new theorizing on popular education as a means of cultivating the values and knowledge that support political resistance and ensure cultural survival.
Part III of the book, “Security Sector Reform, Resistance, and Authoritarianism,” examines and problematizes the trajectories of security sector reform and the accompanying emergence of, and resistance to, authoritarianism in Palestine, by focusing on donor-driven security reform and its ramifications on criminalization of resistance and the professionalization of authoritarianism.
Chapter 9, written by Alaa Tartir, argues that security sector reform under the PA’s post-2007 state-building agenda did not only aim to enhance the PA security forces functionality and effectiveness and to ensure stability and security for Israel, but it also sought to tame resistance to Israel’s occupation and colonial domination by criminalizing militancy and stripping it of its basic infrastructure. In particular, the chapter tackles the consequences of the post-2007 PA’s security campaigns in Balata and Jenin refugee camps in the West Bank from the people’s perspective through a bottom-up ethnographic methodological approach to illustrate how and why resistance against Israel has been criminalized. The chapter concludes by arguing that conducting security reform to ensure stability within the context of colonial occupation and without addressing the imbalances of power can only ever have two outcomes: “better” collaboration with the occupying power and a violation of Palestinians’ security and national rights by their own security forces.
The thematic focus on the consequences of security sector reform on the sustainability of the status quo and the denial of Palestinian democracy extends to Chapter 10, written by Alaa Tartir. As the PA’s state-building process has atrophied, Tartir argues, securitization has found a renewed impetus, being elevated at the expense of initiatives that seek to promote democratization. In particular, Security Sector Reform (SSR), far from being a neural process, has strengthened the foundations of Palestinian authoritarianism. In focusing upon the development of the EU’s police mission in the West Bank (EUPOL COPPS), this chapter argues that EU-sponsored “reform” has directly contributed to the “professionalization” of Palestinian authoritarianism. The chapter therefore suggests that the EU has consistently failed to acknowledge the political implications that extend from its technical mandate and interventions. The EU has become, to the extent that its interventions extend Israel’s colonial project, part of the problem, the chapter concludes.