Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fragmenting Palestine and Palestinians

A good article, complete with references

By Ben White

"As 2006 begins to draw to a close it is useful to take a step back from the daily horrors in Gaza or the arrest raids in the West Bank, to assess three broad Israeli strategies vis à vis the Palestinians, and how they might be resisted.

The most readily observable Israeli policy is the fragmentation of what is left of Palestine, as across the West Bank and East Jerusalem the occupation aggressively pursues an accelerated process of fragmenting Palestinian territory. Fragmenting Palestine has always been a core Zionist strategy designed to weaken, divide and demoralise the colonised Arab population, yet one could say that this is reaching its zenith in the West Bank.

While Israel continues its relentless colonization, a second parallel strategy is required to divert the international gaze – I will call it the development-ization of the Palestinian question, or, its corollary, depoliticization. Regrettably, Israel finds willing collaborators for this scheme from the ranks of the international community, the NGO sector itself, and even members of the Palestinian middle classes. There is historical precedent of course, for this strategy, going right back to when the refugee victims of the ethnic cleansing in 1948 were reduced to a humanitarian, rather than a political, issue, an approach reflected in UN resolutions and official documentation.

Since the Oslo Accords, a NGO industry has taken root in the Occupied Territories that undoubtedly plays a vital role in Palestinian civil society as well as keeping life just about tolerable for impoverished, jobless, and besieged Palestinians. Yet there has always been a tension between a humanitarian imperative to meet the obvious needs of ordinary Palestinians, and the extent to which NGO’s effectively subsidies the Israeli occupation.

This last point leads us to the third Israeli strategy, that of the division of the Palestinian political class. This too has historical precedent, though with notable differences. Like the pre-Oslo negotiations conducted in secret while the First Intifada still raged, the Hamas-Fatah split, and even Fatah-Fatah splits, are being encouraged and provoked in order that compliant – or ‘moderate’ – Palestinian leaders may once more have an unrivalled authority over political and resistance policies. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ natives are familiar categories, from empires of old to the classification of moderate/extreme Muslims in the ‘war on terror’, and in Palestine, it is Mahmoud Abbas and prominent (though by no means all) Fatah elements on whom Israel, as well as the US and its Arab allies, pin their hopes.

A superlative analysis of this effort to execute a coup comes from Joseph Massad, writing in Al-Ahram recently9. “The plan”, Massad summarises, “is that the Fatah/PA rulers would do their utmost to provoke Hamas to start the war at which point Fatah, with the aid of the intelligence services of friendly Arab countries, as well as assistance from Israel and the US, would crush Hamas and take over”.

Although co-opting Fatah to topple the Hamas government has been the primary tactic, attempts at dividing Hamas itself have also been made, as Ramzy Baroud reported in Palestine Chronicle two weeks ago: “the 'discussions' in London were clearly geared toward wooing Hamas to reveal its moderate face, thus to offset and perhaps challenge the extremists in Damascus, therefore, creating yet another rift within the Palestinian camp”. Such a rift, Baroud wrote, “carries all the symptoms of Oslo: good Palestinians singled out and groomed for a photo op to be scheduled later, secret 'dialogue' followed by 'memorandums of understandings,' then treaties, then VIP cards to those involved in the positive engagement and lonely prison cells to those who dare defy it”10. "

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