A NEW POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY FOR ISRAEL/PALESTINE? FROM COLONIAL CONTROL TO CONFEDERATION
By Mimi Kirk
Earlier this month, MEI hosted Professor Oren Yiftachel of Israel’s Ben Gurion University to speak on the topic of “A New Political Geography for Israel/Palestine? From Colonial Control to Confederation.” Professor Yiftachel began with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2009 quote, “We have managed to create a national agreement about the concept of ‘two states for two peoples’ as our strategy for peace.” Yiftachel questioned this statement given the fact that two states have not been achieved in Palestine/Israel, with Israel continuing to add settlers and nationalize Palestinian lands.
Yiftachel addresses the situation in Israel/Palestine through the discipline of political geography, which investigates the dynamic links between power and space, thus exposing colonization and settler societies. Though Israel has retreated from certain spaces, such as the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, such movement has not been coupled with reconciliation. Instead, Yiftachel argued that a process of “creeping apartheid” is underway in which spaces in Israel and Palestine are “separate but not equal.” He also pointed to the idea of “gray space,” in which undocumented and unregistered people are “floating.” “In Israel/Palestine,” he noted, “half the population exists in this gray space.” Through such phenomena Israel is revealed as an “ethnocracy,” or what Yiftachel defines as a state that has formal democracy but continues a project of ethnic expansion and domination. Yiftachel has studied other ethnocracies that have turned toward democratization, such as Northern Ireland. “In all cases,” he said, “the land system is key.”
Yiftachel concluded by explaining how in the last year he and a group have developed the idea of “confederation” between Israel and Palestine. They see the confederation as consisting of a sovereign Israel and a sovereign Palestine with a joint council to manage joint interests such as land, trade, and currency, with Jerusalem as an open and autonomous shared capital. A more just redistribution of resources through the arrangement would be vital, particularly in terms of land.
Though the idea of a binational, secular democracy (the “one state solution”) has gained currency with intellectuals recently, Yiftachel argued that the majority of Israelis would not support it because it in effect dissolves the state of Israel. “Confederation is gradual binationalism,” he said. “We feel that it could mobilize Jews and Palestinians.”
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A New Political Geography for Israel/Palestine? From Colonial Control to Confederation from Middle East Institute, Singapore on Vimeo.
A New Political Geography for Israel/Palestine? From Colonial Control to Confederation
On 2 October 2012, Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben Gurion University spoke about the idea of confederation between Israel and Palestine as an alternative to the two-state and one-state solutions. He addresses the situation in Israel/Palestine through the discipline of political geography, which investigates the dynamic links between power and space.
Citations from the lecture:
The first Jewish immigrants to Palestine were not nationalists; later immigrants were refugees, having been driven into their mythical homeland and what occurred thereafter was brutal. The British hurt Arabs by carving-up the land and “giving it to someone else” c/o of the Balfour Declaration.
Indigenous Palestinians in Israel comprise 80% of the population; they existed prior to the influx of Jews during the post-WW II decades and have political clout.
Jews comprised more than half of the original Israeli population, having lived in Arab countries. Ethnic-cleansing occurred when 2/3 of the Palestinian Arabs became refugees. A civil-war erupted after Israelis (but not the Arab League) accepted the UN Partition Plan. The “Nakba” [“catastrophe” in Arabic] transpired on 5/15/1948, but it’s not irreparable. This occurred shortly after WWII and carries-over to today’s “stable, non-peace.” Indeed, that there have been no world wars (albeit skirmishes) is due to the influence of the U.N. This trauma occurred to both Israelis and Arabs, but only the Jews constructed a homeland. The great imbalance is the fact that the Palestinians (not Israelis) remain stateless, today. Meanwhile, Jerusalem was supposed to have become a separate, self-governing entity.
In 1967, Israel conquered the West Bank and settled beyond its internationally recognized borders (yielding the current stalemate, whereby both parties func'tion worldwide). Yet, Israeli retraction (from Gaza, Lebanon, West-Bank cities) has not been coupled with relaxation of tensions, land redistribution or efforts to keep Palestinians on an equal status (“consolidation without reconciliation”). Stalemate is Bibi’s policy.
“The Israeli Land System” is reflected in “Ownership, Control and Allocation” policies that only exclude granting land to Druze and Bedouins; it shows arrows depicting the flow of land led from “Arab-Controlled” to “Jewish-Controlled.”
The increasing population of Jews in the West Bank illustrates an ongoing process of colonization. There is a wide disparity between the GDP between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, which is unsustainable; disparity between Western and Eastern Jews exists, but dwarfs the Arabs, who are now confined to enclaves. This amplifies the dangerous stalemate, illegal and unfair.
Ethno-class polarization (Ethnocracy) allows for ethnic expansion/domination, carrying merely a democratic façade; this distinct regime type allows the dominant group to control the state, and its trajectory is for “creeping apartheid.” Radicalization, since the mid-
1990s, is a new dangerous stage, dashing hope on both sides.
Confederation would “square the circle” while settling this festering conflict; it would
reminiscent of UN Resolution 181, which suggested creation of an economic union. This Confederation would be run by a Joint Council to achieve gradual bi-nationalism; Sovereign Israel (including Orthodox Jewish, Hebrew and Palestinian Arabs) would be joined by Sovereign Palestine (Gaza and West Bank) plus a Capital Region (recognizing that Jerusalem is a quintessential global city and must be a stable entity, calm and inviting). The model could first be employed to manage an economic entity jointly (such as labor, industry); this could then create better relations between nations. And it would be elected by subentities; joint-management of localities (ranging from Haifa to Beer Sheva) would become a bonding experience. It would not do away with sovereignty. Bedouins living in the Negev (200K) are Israeli citizens, albeit the weakest group. Thus, reversing colonization could start with them. Multiculturalism is desirable in many respects, because this proposal tends to institutionalize existing politics.
IAM wishes to thank Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D., F.A.C.P. for bringing in the citations.