Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Selling of Palestine

The recent, though not unexpected, revelations that the Palestinian Authority has failed to advance the aims of the Palestinians has once again opened the Middle East peace process to intense scrutiny.  In fairness, this is hardly the first case of colossal failure of leadership on the part of the Palestinian powers that be at the expense of the hostage population that it serves.  Arafat may have earned the disdain of the late Edward Said - who famously called him the 'Petain of the Palestinians' in an Irish Times interview - this due to Arafat's naked corruption and willingness to effectively give-up Palestinian claims to legitimacy during the Oslo Talks of the early 90s.  However, the current Palestinian leadership appears determined to go even beyond this in it's willingness to bend to Israeli wishes.

The whole business had an air of predictability about it.  That the United States refused to acknowledge anyone but the ineffective and slack jawed Mahmoud Abbas for leadership (despite the slightly brisker tones now taken with Israeli leadership)- promising to cut funds in the event of Hamas ascendancy or that the previous regime offered up the crass proposed move of Palestinians to South America, likely resulting in their further ghettoization.  The selling out of the estimated 2 million Palestinian refugees living sub-human and stateless existences in refugee camps by Palestinian  leadership feels like something or a forgone conclusion.  And this taken with the effective selling East Jerusalem.  After all, these people were never going to be accepted by Israel due to their demographic considerations and, even if their return could be secured, would have proven a resettlement headache for Fatah and the PLO - which has problems of it's own: notably retaining it's ongoing Kleptocracy while fighting a civil war with the Islamists.

Further, the ability of Israel to pursue hard line positions and to still reject peace agreements, even when aided and abetted by their partners in negotiation.  Indeed, the niggardliness of spirit extended on the part of Israel to the Palestinians remains as galling as it ever has.  Meanwhile, the human costs of these transactions are, as always, borne almost exclusively by Palestinian civilians who have seen civil society collapse, who have seen the repeated de-development of their lands in the face of ongoing colonial expansion by Israel, who have been deprived of water, arable soil, markets and worse.

Israeli policy over the years has been nakedly transparent in it's aims: land-use has been leveraged as a weapon to advance Israeli colonial aims and to destroy Palestinian autonomy, and economic and social vitality.  The outcome of this policy has repeatedly been the conversion of Palestinian  lands into suburban strip development for Israeli settlers.  The rationale defending these actions has always been one of self-defense with the perennial underlying irony being that Israel has most frequently acted the aggressor.  This has further been re-affirmed by, as Gershom Gorenberg has noted in his excellent The Accidental Empire, an Israeli fetish for rural, bucolic ideals and rejection of the 'urban' - rooted in the Torah  - that further serve as a justification to colonize the countryside in the name of Zionist self-determination.  The Palestinian leadership meanwhile has been reduced to an ever splintering mass of fundamentalism, vulgar anti-Semitic violence and cronyism  since well before Arafat died, however, the impetus remains firmly upon Israel to 'make' peace as it is Israel alone who has the power to do so.

Not that they will.  The ongoing conflict has no end.  Much like the Russian conflict in Chechnya, the war is far too lucrative for the interested leadership structures to end.  Both the Israelis and the United States benefit economically through defense spending and various arms agreements.  It is also the rationale for the United States to provide to Israel upwards of $4 billion a year in direct aid, and for frequently fundamentalist Christian congregations in the United States - believing the reoccupation of the whole of the 'holy land' by the Jews to be a necessary doctrinal condition to bring about the rapture - pour an additional $4-6 billion into Israel's coffers.

Similarly, it is too lucrative for surrounding plutocratic Arab states who need Israel as a perpetual bogeyman and the Palestinians are repressed Arab brothers in the region who can be pointed towards when questions are asked of their own leadership.  This socio-economic-psychological situation is such that the involved parties will continue to conspire in one way or another to propagate the cycle of violence.  When Nicholas Kristof asked several years ago if the then still-alive Arafat was 'capable of peace', he more accurately should have asked if any of the involved parties are capable of peace?

The answer, of course, is an almost certain no.  That is not to say that many Israeli and Palestinian citizens (or perhaps 'residents' is the better term in the Palestinian case - as they, for all intensive proposes remain stateless and thus without concrete nationality) it is more that leadership in the Leventine, with the foreign governments (most notably the United States) providing the funding that are incapable.  What is most debilitating about this whole process may well be the pugnacious intractability of the situation for those that would genuinely seek peace.  This has resulted in the failure of humanism and indeed, of humanity within the region.  The outcome has had a brutalizing effect upon Jew and Arab alike.  As positions further harden and atrophy, the willingness to embrace common strains of humanism and pluralism continues to diminish and the all that will remain is, as T.S. Eliot famously put it, 'fear in a handful of dust'.

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