March 2012 Archives

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It takes someone of the wisdom of Uri Avnery – a great Jewish statesman and peace activist – to help us understand anti-Semitism, and to distinguish what is real from what is manufactured.

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Uri Avnery

March 24, 2012

The Ghetto Within

RACIST HATE crimes are particularly ugly.

If the victims are children, they are even more so.

If they are committed by an Arab against Jewish children, they are also incredibly stupid.

This was demonstrated this week again.

IF INDEED an Arab al-Qaeda sympathizer is guilty of shooting three Jewish children and an adult in Toulouse, after killing three non-white French soldiers nearby, he caused not only extreme grief to their families, but also extreme harm to the Palestinian people, whose cause he claims to support.

The world-wide shock found its expression in a demonstration of solidarity with the French Jewish community, and indirectly with the State of Israel.

The French foreign minister flew to Jerusalem, where the Jewish victims were buried. President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the middle of the fight for his political life, appeared everywhere where an ounce of political capital could be extracted from the tragedy. So, even more shamelessly, did Binyamin Netanyahu.

Just when calls for boycotting Israel were heard in many places, this act reminded the world of the ravages of anti-Semitism. One had to be very brave to demand the boycott of the “Jewish State” at such a time. It is easy for advocates of Israel to recall the Nazi battle-cry “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” (“Don’t buy from Jews”).

Lately, Netanyahu has been mentioning the Holocaust in every speech he makes in which he calls for an attack on Iran. He prophesies a Second Holocaust if Iran’s nuclear installations are not bombed to smithereens. This has been criticized inside Israel as cynical exploitation of the Holocaust, but in the atmosphere created by the Toulouse outrage this criticism has been muted.

SOME MAY think that these responses are overreactions. After all, the outrage was committed by a single 24-year old deranged individual. The victims were not only Jews, but also Muslims. Has this act not been blown out of proportion?

Those who say so do not understand the background of the Jewish reaction.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz,  an observant Jew, said years ago that the Jewish religion had practically died 200 years ago, and that the only thing that unites all Jews now is the Holocaust. There is much truth in this, but the Holocaust must be understood in this context as the culmination of centuries of persecution.

Almost every Jewish child around the world is brought up on the narrative of Jewish victimhood. “In every generation, they stand up to annihilate us,” says the sacred text that will be read in every Jewish home around the world in two weeks on Passover eve, “They”, as is well understood, are the “goyim”, all goyim.

Jews, according to our generally accepted narrative, have been persecuted everywhere, all the time, with few exceptions. Jews had to be ready to be attacked in every place at any moment. It is a continuous story of massacres, mass expulsions, the butchery of the Crusaders, the Spanish inquisition, the Russian and Ukrainian pogroms. The Holocaust was only one link in that chain, and probably not the last one.

In Jewish historiography, the story of victimhood doesn’t even start with European Christian Jew-hatred, but goes back to the (mythical) story of Israelite slavery in Egypt, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and again by the Romans. A few weeks ago the jolly feast of Purim was celebrated, in memory of the Biblical (and mythical) story of the plan to annihilate all Jews in Persia, today’s Iran, which was foiled by a pretty and unscrupulous young woman named Esther. (In the end, it was the Jews who killed all their enemies, women and children included.)

The narrative of unending victimhood is so deeply embedded in the conscious and unconscious mind of every Jew, that the smallest incident triggers an orgy of self-pity that may seem quite out of proportion. Every Jew knows that we have to stand together against an antagonistic world, that the attack on one Jew is an attack against all, that a pogrom in far-away Kishinev must arouse the Jews of England, that an attack on Jews in Toulouse must arouse the Jews in Israel.

What the assassin of Toulouse has succeeded in doing by his disgusting act is to bind French – and world – Jewry even tighter to the State of Israel. Already these ties have become very close in the last few years. A large proportion  of French Jews are immigrants from North Africa who chose to go to France instead of Israel, and are therefore fiercer Israeli nationalists then most Israelis. They invest money and buy houses in Israel. In the month of August, one hears more French than Hebrew on Tel Aviv’s sea shore. Now many of them may decide to come to Israel for good.

Like every anti-Semitic act, this one in Toulouse contributes to the strength of Israel, and especially to the strength of the Israeli anti-Arab right.

I BELIEVE that the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayad, was quite sincere when he condemned the outrage, and especially the declaration attributed to the assassin, that he wanted to avenge the death of children in Gaza. No one should utter the name of Palestine when carrying out such a dastardly act, he said.

I was reminded of my late friend, Issam Sartawi, the Palestinian “terrorist” who became an outstanding peace activist and was murdered for it. He once told me that a French anti-Semitic leader came to his office in Paris and offered an alliance. “I threw him out,” he told me, “I know that the anti-Semites are the greatest enemies of the Palestinian people”

As has been pointed out many times, modern Zionism is the step-daughter of modern European anti-Semitism. Indeed, the name “Zionism” was invented only a few years after the term “anti-Semitism” was coined by a German ideologue.

Without anti-Semitism, which engulfed Europe from the “Black Hundreds” in Czarist Russia to the Dreyfus affair in republican France, Jews would have yearned for Zion comfortably for another 2000 years. It was anti-Semitism, with the threat of dreadful things to come, that drove them out and lent credibility to the idea that Jews must have a state of their own, where they would be masters of their own fate.

The original Zionists did not intend to build a state that would be a kind of General Staff for World Jewry. Indeed, they thought that there would be no World Jewry. In their vision, all the Jews would congregate in Palestine, and the Jewish Diaspora would disappear. That’s what Theodor Herzl wrote, and that’s what David Ben-Gurion and Vladimir Jabotinsky believed.

If they had had their way, there would have been no anti-Semitic murders in Toulouse, because there would have been no Jews in Toulouse.

Ben Gurion was narrowly restrained from telling American Jewish Zionists what he thought of them. He held them in utter contempt. A Zionist, he believed, had no business to be anywhere but in Zion. If he had listened to Binyamin Netanyahu sucking up to the thousands of Jewish “leaders” in the AIPAC conference, he would have thrown up. And understandably, because these Jews, who were clapping and jumping up and down like mad, egging Netanyahu on to start a disastrous war against Iran, then went back to their comfortable homes and lucrative occupations in America.

Their English-speaking children attend colleges and dream about future riches while their contemporaries in Israel go to the army and worry about what would happen to their defenseless families if the promised war with Iran really comes about. How not to vomit?

BY THE way, the symbiosis between American politicians and the Zionist lobby produced another weird curiosity this week. The US Congress unanimously adopted a law that makes it easy for Israelis to immigrate to the US for good. All we have to do now is to buy a small business in America – say a little delicatessen shop in a corner of Brooklyn, for half the price of an apartment in Jerusalem – to automatically become American residents, and eventually citizens.

Can one imagine a more anti-Zionist act than this plot to empty Israel? All out of love for Israel and Jewish votes?

The Israeli media applauded, of course, this astounding new evidence of American friendship for Israel.

So here we have a murderous anti-Semite in Toulouse driving the Jews towards Israel, and a cravenly Zionist US Congress enticing the Israelis back into “exile”.

WHEN ISRAEL was founded, we thought that that was the end of Jewish victimhood, and especially of the mentality of Jewish victimhood.

Here we were, Hebrews of a new kind, able to defend ourselves, with all the strength of a sovereign state.

Cry-baby victimhood belonged to the despised and detested Diaspora, to the dispersed and defenseless Jewish communities.

But victimhood has come back with a vengeance, both as an all-purpose political ploy and as a mental attitude. The Iranian nukes, real or imagined, give it a big boost. As long as Israel is in a state of fear, the Second Holocaust mentality will not loosen its grip.

From day to day, Israel becomes more Jewish and less Israeli. As has been said, it is easier to get the Jews out of the ghetto than to get the ghetto out of the Jews. Especially in a permanent war.

So in the end we come to the same conclusion as in all other matters: Peace is the Answer.

Read more of Avnery’s wisdom on the Gush-Shalom website

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Sonja Karkar, of Australians for Palestine, writes:

About a year ago, economists Raja Khalidi and Sobhi Samour published a highly critical article on the PA’s neoliberal policies in the Journal of Palestine Studies entitled “Neoliberalism as Liberation: The Statehood Program and the Remaking of the Palestinian National Movement” in which they argued that the statehood program “cannot succeed either as a midwife of independence or as a strategy for Palestinian development” since that program is “predicated upon delivering growth and prosperity without any strategy or challenge to the parameters of occupation.”  In an interview with Electronic Intifada in April 2011, Raja Khalidi explained that even if the PA has met the criteria for statehood eligibility set out in the reports by the World Bank, the IMF and UNSCO, “the real problem is that such criteria and arbitrary thresholds are irrelevant to the reality and to the big elephant in the room of Palestinian governance, namely the Israeli occupation.”  He went on to say:  “What’s going to make this virtual state turn into a real state? Nobody seems to be addressing that. All the talk is about polishing this virtual state, reforming and fixing it, adding services here, privatizing there, saving money here and cutting budgets there. It’s like the manner in which donors and international institutions approach the performance of a normal middle-income country. The PA seems to assume that by the will of the people, the citizens who proved themselves being capable of respecting traffic signals, paying electricity bills and not carrying guns in public, statehood will ‘impose itself’. Somehow statehood ‘just arrives’ in September because technically everything is ready.”   Since these words were written, the Arab Spring has catapulted the Arab world into the headlines, but regrettably says Khalidi, “the Palestinian national liberation movement appears weaker than at any time in the five decades since it was launched. It is hamstrung by Israeli occupation, donor funding cut threats, Arab governments’ and peoples’ distraction with the ongoing uprisings in the region, not to mention growing Palestinian disgruntlement with tight living conditions and weak leadership.”  Nevertheless, Khalidi contends it is possible that a Palestinian spring “is in the making”, but it won’t be thanks to the PLO/PA. He says “by virtue of its neoliberal program and its inability to lead a struggle that delivers independence, the PLO and its allied national bourgeoisie have effectively broken the ‘national-social contract’ and, in a sense, betrayed their historic role.”  Damning words indeed, but Khalidi says these turbulent times could yet give rise to “another set of struggles for social justice and economic equity”.  We can only hope so. The Palestinians have endured enough.

After the Arab Spring in Palestine – Contesting the neoliberal narrative of Palestinian national liberation

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by Raja Khalidi

Jadaliyya
24 March 2012

Over the past year, as Arab peoples in surrounding countries erupted in
protest against dictators, security regimes, and failed social and economic
policies, the Palestinian people living in their occupied homeland have
remained quiescent. Neither have mass protests targeted the Palestinian
“regime’s” policies or negotiating performance, nor has resistance to
Israeli occupation escalated or taken more effective forms.

In contrast to the turbulence and revolutionary potential of the Arab
Spring, has neoliberal ideology, through its economic policy content,
created a Palestinian constituency for normalcy and risk aversion that could
hold back progress in the struggle for national liberation? In exploring the
impact of recent neoliberal economic policies of the Palestinian Authority
(PA) on living conditions and popular political consciousness, the burning
question is whether these have succeeded in creating a people willing to
resist encroachments upon their material gains and the liberal way of life.

Intuitively at least, the eventuality of a neoliberal complacency seems
unlikely, if not absurd, for a people struggling for liberation from a
regime of prolonged Israeli settler colonialism. Any informed observer
cannot but be cognizant of the ravages on social fabric wrought by
neoliberal policies in many countries, including within the
neo/post-colonial range of experiences. To the extent that a the fallout
from the world economic crisis may evolve into a backlash that targets
neoliberal policies and their impact globally and in the region, even if not
necessarily their legitimacy, the need to elaborate a relevant critique in
the Palestinian context becomes compelling.

This leads to a re-examination of conventional Palestinian patriotic wisdom.
This “consensus,” discursively derived from Marxist revolutionary theory,
holds that the Palestinian struggle has yet to reach the “stage” of national
liberation, the PA “self-government” notwithstanding. The “national
project/program,” led so far by a broad coalition of a national bourgeoisie
and salaried middle class, camp-dwelling refugees, rural peasants and urban
workers, has been traditionally invoked to postpone or subordinate pressing
social agendas within Palestinian society by prioritizing independence and
statehood. I enquire as to whether the horizontal range of pending
Palestinian social equity deficits (youth, women, workers, farmers,
depressed regions, etc.) might yet form a new basis to revive a twin
struggle for national liberation and social emancipation in this new (Arab)
decade.

A Shifting Palestinian Constituency for Neoliberalism

Seemingly disoriented by the changing regional landscape and the unexpected
legitimization of political Islam, PLO political and diplomatic moves have
become increasingly tentative and, indeed, contradictory. Over the past
year, the PLO moved seamlessly from the announced “completion” of a two year
“state building” project in the West Bank to an inconclusive national
reconciliation process with Hamas in Gaza, to an international diplomatic
“state-recognition” campaign in the UN (1)  that was self-aborted just as it
was being launched. Most recently, the PLO engaged in an abject return to
failed “exploratory” negotiations with Israel.  Today, with its ammunition
apparently spent, the PLO appears hard put to achieve the national
reconciliation and unity that is widely considered a prerequisite for any
progress in any direction.

The Palestinian national liberation movement appears weaker than at any time
in the five decades since it was launched. It is hamstrung by Israeli
occupation, donor funding cut threats, Arab governments’ and peoples’
distraction with the ongoing uprisings in the region, not to mention growing
Palestinian disgruntlement with tight living conditions and weak
leadership. New forces loom on the horizon, especially an emboldened Hamas
whose Brethren are assuming power around the region, but which is also
experiencing its own crisis owing to the rapidly transforming regional
landscape and recognition that its governance achievements are mediocre, at
best.

Of more recent genealogy, a diffuse, more youthful coalition of social
forces has entered the scene. They are inspired by and learning from the
unfolding revolutionary turmoil among their own young Arab “brethren,”
unencumbered by the legacy of PLO factionalism and generally resistant to
appeals to national unity under the “Leader” and the ruling party. They
could not care less about the supposed gains of twenty years of polite Oslo
politics and are singularly unimpressed by their elders’ claim to have kept
the flame of national liberation alive.

Yet this apparently “unorganized” movement seems to be testing the waters,
uncertain whether strategies should target the PLO or Israeli occupation, or
both, with demonstrations (2) one day outside the Muqata’a (PA headquarters
in Ramallah) and on another day “Freedom Riders” (3) challenging the
Israeli occupation regime. This movement has yet to reconcile itself with
the irony that the mass of Palestinian (poor, refugee) youth are already
“factionalized,” street wise and have been long mobilized by the PLO
leadership and act separately from the newer youth groups.

Yet these are not the only protagonists in the emerging Palestinian
socio-political stand-off. We should not forget the broad swathe of public
opinion and material interests linked to maintaining the status quo, either
fearful of what change may bring or simply unbelieving in the possibility of
positive change. The latter include the Hebron importer who does not want to
lose VIP access to Israeli ports, the PA employee in Ramallah who does not
want to lose the monthly paycheck needed to cover the housing mortgage, the
village worker dependent on the construction job in the nearest Israeli
settlement to be able to refill the newly installed pre-paid electricity
meter, not to mention the PLO veteran from Amman 1970 and Beirut 1982 who
has seen it all go wrong too many times before.

Fattened by a PA governance mode, especially since 2005, that consists of a
rich menu of neoliberal social values and economic policies, security-first
and the rule of law and normalcy, this Palestinian “silent majority” is not
going to be easily persuaded or prodded into any misguided Palestinian
Spring. Even if they are not consciously engaged in neoliberal advocacy,
they constitute, perhaps unwittingly, a solid constituency for not altering
the status quo. One indebted “citizen” summed it up well when speaking to a
Los Angeles Times (4)  reporter: “Now that I have all this responsibility on
me, my main concern is stability,” he said. “I don’t want to see anything
happen that might stop my paychecks.” Such self-interested complacency
highlights the distinctive nature and impact of neo-liberalism (5), which
can at once project an open, forward-looking governance agenda while
entrenching conservatism as regards the diminished role of the state
vis-a-vis the primacy of the market and property rights.

Simply put, awaiting national liberation and without a mobilization towards
that end, many Palestinians seem willing to coexist with, if not defend, the
lifestyle under occupation to which they have become accustomed. They may
not sense the implications that the embedment of neoliberal values in
Palestinian minds and hearts implies for the struggle for national and
social emancipation. But in the wake of a second, militarized and failed
intifada, most of those living under occupation and PA administration meekly
have accepted, if not embraced, the limited focus of the PA on
“self-improvement” that has overwhelmingly defined the Palestinian reform
and governance narrative for the past five to ten years.

Simultaneously, many Palestinians also remain wedded to the premise that
only after national liberation can struggles for democratic representation
and social justice proceed apace. This presumes—or does not challenge
head-on—the need for obedience to a national liberation leadership and the
supremacy of its definition of “national interests.” There has been a clear
public acquiescence with the PA leadership’s demand for improved
“self-governance” in the post-2005 period. But this was largely conditional
(in public reasoning) on a resolution sooner rather than later of the
national question, amounting to a sort of Palestinian national/social
contract
. This “demobilization” of a militant popular resistance movement
into a body of compliant and entitled “citizenry” is a familiar reminder of
how, in other places and epochs, pre- and post-nationalist leaderships
successfully delayed accountability for social or political governance
results.

The confluence of the moment between the unfulfilled national
self-determination aspirations of the Palestinian people, the increasing
audacity of the occupying power, the emerging social and economic
transformation agenda in the region, and, the growing popular contestation
of the PA regime all provide rich material for reflection on the possible
ingredients and shape of a Palestinian Spring, if indeed one is in the
making.

PA Neoliberalism Surges Past the Finish Line

In our work published in the Journal of Palestine Studies (5) a year ago,
Sobhi Samour and I attempted a first assessment of the progress made and
risks engendered by PA neoliberal economic policymaking under prolonged
occupation, which have intensified under the current regime. Since 2005, the
PA embarked on a series of post-intifada, post-Arafat institutional and
policy “reforms” targeting security and rule-of-law measures, enhanced
public finance transparency and efficiency, and the provision of improved
public services and utilities. In doing so, the PA followed Washington
Consensus conventions that severely limit active state intervention in the
economy beyond the protection of property rights so as to release the full
potentials of the market. In the Palestinian case, this is particularly
curious, as if too much government regulation or fiscal preponderance was
the real ailment of the Palestinian economy under occupation.

The zeal, indeed exhibitionism, with which the PA pursued these reforms,
coupled with the international attention they attracted, implied that the PA
needed to successfully navigate the two-year homestretch to freedom through
its “state-readiness” program. In line with some of the more dated World
Bank notions about good governance, it became commonsense that only by being
certified as institutionally ready for statehood by the World Bank, IMF, UN
and the AHLC of donors could parallel political negotiations possibly lead
to an actual Palestinian state.

Within the constrained economic policy-making space available to the PA, the
only macroeconomic policy option it really ever has had was to stimulate
aggregate demand through public expenditure fuelled by increasingly high
levels of international aid. Ironically, while the PA program aspires to be
a model of “sound” neoliberal policies, within the confines of the Paris
Economic Protocol between Israel and Palestine it is by definition unable to
pursue the full range of such policies, except by tracking Israeli economic
policy. Nevertheless, PA trade policy, such as it is, aims to build an
economy even more liberalized than Israel’s, with lower tariff and other
barriers to trade and financial flows.

The dedication of the PA to liberalization is undeniable, and earned fulsome
praise in 2011 from the international financial institutions. But even along
this trajectory, success in the full pursuit of such policies is by no means
assured. Even if the PA had assessed the possible economic impact of its
policies when designing and launching them, it is dubious that they could
have realistically predicted how such measures might play out in a
distorted, fragmented and occupation-throttled economy. In such a laboratory
environment with unstable substances, untried formulae and uncontrollable
internal and external pressures, any number of things could go wrong from
the perspective of IMF-inspired prescriptions for fiscally vulnerable
developing countries.

Needless to say, the most uncontrollable substance in this peculiar
situation, Israeli occupation, is the elephant in the room of the
achievements of Palestinian neoliberalism. In its latest move, Israel waded
into the PA “state-readiness” scoring game with its report to the March 2012
AHLC meeting by denying its rating, citing  (6) stalled growth in 2011,
fiscal weaknesses and aid dependence. Not surprisingly, Israel insists on
yet “further reform in order for the PA to meet the standards of a
well-functioning state”.

Looking at recent economic developments, it appears that indeed something is
going awry. Policy-makers appear to have reached the end of their tether,
except in proposing yet further austerity. Their core constituencies are
increasingly questioning the peaceful coexistence between the promise of
national liberation and the neoliberal life, while in reality neither is
assured. As for the important global function of neoliberal policies, namely
to “level the playing field” of the economy to enable the free movement of
financial capital, the PA project is hardly significant in regional or other
terms. Hence the sustainability of financially profitable capital
accumulation in the Palestinian conditions is dubious, even if for the
moment the Palestinian Securities Exchange is reportedly a bright performer
(7)
 compared to other regional Exchanges badly shaken by the Arab Spring.

The PA completed its two-year, institution-readiness program in September
2011 with no state in sight. Facing an apparent breakdown in negotiations,
the PLO was challenged by growing public dissent and, in terms of its own
strategy, a lack of clarity as to where to go next. This “finish line” was
crossed without the Palestinian people actually being any freer than they
were two, five, or twenty years ago, even if for some in the West Bank the
“quality of life” under occupation has never been better.

The PA has been quick to blame Israeli intransigence and the failed
political process, not to mention Palestinian internal divisions, for not
delivering the results that would have allowed it to morph into a new state.
PLO officials might admit in private that they had no serious expectations
to the contrary and were hoping to buy time with the state-readiness program
so as to prolong the “peace process.” But few are willing to recognize the
extent to which five years of “reform” have locked the PA into a
sub-contracting role for a continuing, increasingly sophisticated and
cost-effective occupation regime.

Apparently the PA will not accept that its economic policies should be
derailed just because there is a political stalemate (or collapse). Nor,
judging from Jordanian, Arab and donor responses, does it appear that the
PLO will be allowed to consider downgrading the PA, even if it wanted to. In
the past months as the PLO diplomatic campaign came to a halt amidst looming
donor financial sanctions, and as Israeli colonization intensified, the PA
oddly enough opted for further deepening of its neoliberal measures in the
most narrow domestic policy area that it could tinker with, namely fiscal
austerity measures.

The Discrete Charm of Fiscal Austerity and Structural Reform under
Occupation

Two recent austerity measures are especially indicative, because of both
their policy content/impact and the popular response they provoked, namely
the revised Income Tax Law, and the plan to reduce the public sector payroll
by early retirement of the oldest segment of the PA civil service. The Law
was criticized for poor design, inadequate public consultation, and possible
adverse social impacts on marginal groups, but mainly for the perceived tax
burden it would have created for small and large businesses alike. This Law
is notable for being the most significant, if not first-ever, economic
measure since 2005 to be rejected by public outcry. In January, the PA was
obliged to announce its suspension and reformulation after a “public
dialogue.” While a parallel domestic austerity plan to abolish thousands of
public sector posts through early retirement was considered, anticipatory
public opposition led the PA to announce (8) that it was never seriously
studied. Meanwhile, a series of sarcastic, graphic postings (9) and
humorous songs (10) on Palestinian youth internet/facebook (11) networks
depict a series of accusations against the PA encompassing grievances about
Ministerial privileges, urban and rural poverty, runaway prices, and
political dysfunction.

The strong public reaction to these proposals cannot be simply ascribed to
populist discontent or frustration with lack of progress in the political
process, although these are not negligible factors. Some public criticism
may have confused the increased burden from taxation with the separate
problem of a Palestinian inflation rate that is systematically higher than
in Israel. But across the middle-to-low income spectrum, there are signs of
a looming socio-microeconomic crisis in the Palestinian economy that mirrors
its chronic macroeconomic crisis. Inflationary pressures, conspicuous
consumption, imports fuelled by stable income expectations, and rising
household indebtedness (12)
are combining to squeeze many households. For
now, that is the most clearly “evidence-based” factor fuelling discontent
that goes beyond PA politics.

For example, the most common indictor of “financialization” of an economy
(or the preponderance of the financial economy over the real economy) is the
ratio to GDP of credit extended to the private sector. In the case of the PA
(13)
, this ratio has grown to an all-time high of twenty-nine percent in
2011. While such a ratio is actually several points above the average for
comparable economies, it is well below the critical level (of over 110
percent) that is the threshold over which financialization is considered to
become destabilizing. However, with Palestinian private credit growing
annually by thirteen percent, the critical comparative figure to highlight
is that of real per capita GDP, which has been growing at two percent
annually since 2006, or less than one-sixth the growth of private
indebtedness. No wonder the average household is feeling the pinch.

Now that the proverbial chickens of the past five years’ private consumption
boom are coming home to roost, the official PA narrative is explaining that
it is payback time for past excesses, while the sound of international
cheerleading has somewhat subsided (14)
. The PA is faithful to neoliberal
expectations, evidenced by the Prime Minister’s statement that the
government cannot be held responsible if people irresponsibly incurred debt
for consumption loans that they cannot repay. But if the PA’s repudiation of
its most provocative austerity measures does not in itself mean a roll-back
of Palestinian neoliberalism, it at least suggests that its policy thrust
has reached the limits of the envelope within which it has been contained
since Oslo. 

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[Palestinian banking sector credit aggregates, 2006-2011. 2006-2010 data
from Palestinian Monetary Authority. 2011 data based on author estimates.]

Popular contestation, a fledgling business class chafing at the new tax
burdens <shasha.ps/vdetails.asp?nid=12271&vt=6…> , and critical review
by some experts together underscore the risks of pursuing further
belt-tightening in order to attain an impossible fiscal balance and
aid-independence under an occupation which is constantly undermining the
fabric of society and the economy. From a developmental angle, this is
especially futile as the occupation regime by definition negates sustained
growth or development and sits astride the most important channels of
potential public revenue (from external trade) (15).  From the perspective
of national liberation, such a PA policy effectively plays party to Israeli
“economic peace” (16)
and ensures maximum extraction of Palestinian
“national” resources to share the costs and administrative burdens of
administering an open-ended occupation and orienting Palestinian economic
policy (and most debate) around that function. This is the effective, if not
intended,
outcome of Palestinian neoliberalism.

Looking at the broader implications of the now abandoned PA structural
reform measures, pushing through the income tax law would have meant a major
shift in PA business-friendly policies towards a private economy hardly able
to cope as it is. And had the PA gone ahead with public job cuts it would
have has to abandon the one macroeconomic policy goal that it could target,
and did with some success since the second intifada, namely sustaining
aggregate demand through payroll stimulus. So the successful contestation of
these measures represents a small victory for common-sense economic policy
and recognition of the real limits of any “policy-making” under occupation. 
Despite the PA’s uncertain policy making performance, it can only be hoped
that this episode may have had some sobering effect on the plans of
Palestinian “reformers” and their international sponsors who have helped
perpetuate the suspension of disbelief that the PA economic program amounts
to.

States of Liberalization and Stages of Liberation

It is increasingly apparent that continuing “embedment” of neoliberalism in
Palestinian society and economic thought has effectively created a real
constituency willing to live with Israeli “economic peace.” One Arab Spring
after we first explored these questions, I would contend that recent
economic developments have accentuated inherent contradictions upholding the
PA program and Palestinian national alliance sustaining it. The first cracks
in the PA’s external image may be showing in an economic policy package that
has run out of steam, if not begun to reverse.

Certainly, the PLO faces critics on all sides over political
paralysis/disunity and its inability to deliver a national solution through
negotiations. But there is little concrete evidence that the broader liberal
philosophy and lifestyle which frame its economic policies is being
questioned. Nor are the financial and commercial interests and joint
security regime with Israel that underpin it threatened by popular
discontent. Indeed as my co-author has stressed to me, protests
notwithstanding, it might still be the case that many believe in market
primacy, define success as working in a bank in Ramallah, think that the
poor contribute inadequately to their electricity costs, that drinking an
expensive coffee in a Ramallah café is a sign of status, or that kids from
refugee camps should be barred from selling their fake CDs in restaurants
and night-spots.

However, I find it difficult to see how, or why, the broad socio-political
alliance that sustained the PLO’s strategy for the past five years would or
should remain bound by the comfortable narrative of “reform and
institution-building” that replaced the appeal to patriotism practiced by
the PLO under Arafat. For several decades, that alliance more or less
successfully married the interests of private Palestinian capital, labor and
public policy within the broad pluralist political system of the PLO and its
national/social contract. But today that consensus cannot be taken for
granted as the Palestinian social fabric is stretched to its breaking point.
The confluence of class and political interests the PLO symbolized cannot
but be undermined by growing PA economic policy incoherence under pressure
from popular and corporate dissatisfaction.

Furthermore, Palestinian history tells us that no growth or prosperity
bubble has ever been sustainable. Since the 1930s, popular resistance to
colonialism, surges of national self-determination, or the impact of
economic shocks have repeatedly forced a retreat from “normalcy.”
Notwithstanding neoliberal successes in neo-colonial situations elsewhere,
its victory is not necessarily imminent in Palestine. This is not only
because of the pending challenge of decolonization but also, I believe,
because its core constituency never really coalesced in its favor, and could
not attain “class consciousness,” so to speak.

The PA strategy of state-building by policy and in lieu of
resistance/liberation encouraged a focus on “domestic” concerns of
“citizens,” rather than the “national” concerns of “militants.” This
constitutes an important deviation from the manner in which PLO hegemony was
sustained since its inception. That entailed nurturing a broad consensus
that the imperatives of an overarching national liberation project justified
tolerating compromises on, or at best lip-service to, deeper social
transformation and economic development agendas. Ever since the 1970s when
Palestinian Marxist factions flew red flags from minarets in Jordan, the PLO
mainstream maintained that until completion of the “stage of national
liberation,” social conflict must be postponed for the sake of national
unity. And in the earliest stages of the struggle against colonialism before
1948, traditional nationalist elites were at odds with the Palestinian
socialist and labor movements which gave national and social agendas equal
footing.

“Domestication” of Palestinian national politics was underway well before
the Arab Spring, indeed beginning with Oslo, wherein socio-economic
priorities acquired increasing significance alongside the struggle for
national liberation in public opinion. Yet it is too early to discern if
popular discontent implies a repudiation or abandonment of neoliberalism or
simply an attempt to create a kinder, gentler, reformed version. In
Palestine, the potent mixture of socio-economic conflict and a repressed
aspiration for political empowerment and national self-determination could
lead developments either way.

The possibility should not be dismissed that a broad public would opt to
cling to the PA way of life and its entitlements instead of risking a
perilous resumption of (even non-violent) resistance or even national
reconciliation. At this historic juncture, a fractured and exhausted
national movement stands at the precipice of possible reconstitution in the
wake of an announced death of a morbid “peace process” or, alternatively,
disintegration and collapse under the weight of settler colonialism. In the
wary and time-tested perceptions of most Palestinians, preserving the status
quo is inevitably the preferable option.

But can Palestine remain immune to the contagion of change sweeping the
region, and will a younger, impatient and exigent generation simply defer to
the “national leadership” in defining its agenda of social change and
anti-colonialism? It would seem intuitive that the weight of the Arab Spring
would only hasten and shape events, if not through the channels of its
revolutionary undercurrents, then through the influence of the
“counterrevolutionary” forces in the region and internationally.

So, with the achievements (in hearts and minds at least) registered by
Palestinian neoliberalism, the diversion of public attention from occupation
to inflation, taxation and indebtedness, and the fracturing of the
national/social contract, a new configuration of forces ensues. Could this
open a path to a new phase of social and economic contestation of the PA
regime that is as valid, compelling and urgent as, if not indistinguishable
from, resistance to occupation?

As early as V.I. Lenin’s endorsement of the national struggles for
self-determination by colonized peoples, through Mao’s strategies of
alliances with nationalist forces, to the Vietnamese and African experiences
of broad anti-colonial fronts, national liberation struggles always have
entailed coalitions between different class forces and their political
formations. Depending on the strength of the national bourgeoisie (and the
degree of its common interests with colonialism), it usually has assumed a
more or less prominent role in active leadership of the liberation movement
and secured for itself a significant (if not dominant) role in
post-independence periods.

The Palestinian national liberation movement appears to be no exception to
that broad trend. Without going into the historic evolution of the social
alliances that sustained Palestinian nationalism over the past century,
suffice it to say that since 1948 at least one major shift occurred. After
the Nakba the leadership of the Palestinian national movement, hitherto held
by the urban notable elites and proto-capitalist class with a wide peasant
and working class constituency, passed to a new generation. Since the 1960s,
the PLO breed of refugee/middle-class nationalist militants, intellectuals
and guerrillas allied with a “national bourgeoisie” dispersed between
Palestine and throughout the region and beyond, together built a legitimate
constituency for most of their existence.

In the analysis of the preeminent narrator of neo-colonialism, Frantz Fanon
in his Wretched of the Earth, the “national bourgeoisie” is little more than
a “national middle class” with an “historic mission: that of intermediary.”
In the Palestinian case, these would include strata such as Fanon’s
“university and merchant bourgeoisie,” “army and a police force,” “the young
national bourgeoisie,” “the party,” a “profiteering caste,” a “native
bourgeoisie,” “honest intellectuals,” and a “bourgeoisie of the civil
service.”

In Fanon’s view of this parasitic, non-productive and generally “useless”
bourgeois/petit bourgeois class elaborated in the “Pitfalls” chapter (17),
there is no particularly important role for domestic and expatriate
industrialists and masters of finance. Their weak industrial and
technological base and “comprador” links to global capital determine their
objectively hostile position towards the national liberation project, even
if they may be willing to strike an accommodation with it. In a departure
from Fanon’s typology however, in the Palestinian case, these “diaspora
millionaires” are not hostile to national liberation; indeed they are
important players who always have been closely aligned with PLO economic
interests and political program, underwritten it financially, and invested
in productive sectors and development in Palestine. Combined with the other
strata of the national middle class, I would describe this social formation
as the core potential constituent of a Palestinian “neo-colonial, national
liberalism.”

This strange Palestinian brew implies a hitherto unknown hybrid that
interweaves a Fanonist scenario of post-colonial revolutionary failure
(which usually takes place post-independence) with an unachieved national
liberation project (which usually is not mortgaged to neo-colonialism). For
example, the (usually) post-colonial “de-mobilization” of the previous
militant leading cadres vividly described by Vijay Prashad with respect to
the Algerian experience in The Darker Nations (18) , has been pursued with
vigor by the PA since 2005. A new “entrepreneurial” technocracy has taken
the place of PLO and Arafat-era PA administrators, disinheriting the PLO
military cadres whose “struggle” since the 1960s made the PA self-governance
project possible. But such a deformed neocolonial governance pattern has not
been witnessed while de-colonization is still unachieved or in the absence
of sovereignty. In that regard, Palestine presents a unique situation.

The Palestinian National Bourgeoisie: Progressive? National?

Throughout the Arafat era, the “national front” shared political decision
making powers and co-managed, more or less, “national wealth” to the extent
that such a public good was nurtured, mobilized or otherwise created by the
PLO. From the taxation levied by the PLO on Palestinian workers in the Arab
states since the 1970s, to the mobilization of the expatriate Palestinian
capitalist classes in the 1980s and the generous sharing of rents (19) from
public utilities franchises and selective commodity supply monopolies under
the PA in the occupied territory since 1994, there has usually been a common
ground, material interests and good “national” political sense for such an
alliance.

Such a political-economic consensus has always united the material forces of
Palestinian capital and the national bourgeoisie with the national
liberation movement. The latter has historically mainly represented the
dispossessed and deprived masses of Palestinian refugees in exile, peasants,
urban poor and a growing middle class of educated professionals. To the
extent that a recognized and re-legitimized PLO leadership might still
command political influence among the Palestinian people inside and outside
Palestine, this national front could yet survive. The rise of a Palestinian
Islamist national liberation movement which is bonded together with faith
and tradition may appear to have rendered such an alliance obsolete.
However, the recent governance experience of Hamas in Gaza suggests that the
movement’s alliance with its own capitalist support base inside Palestine
and in the region also has been vital to its economic and financial
survival. Indeed it entails a “national front” of a greener color perhaps,
but nevertheless effectively comporting with the tradition of the secular
national liberation movement.

In his timeless indictment of the (inevitable) treachery of the
post-colonial national bourgeoisie, Fanon defines its essent

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It brings joy to my heart to hear one of Australia’s church leaders speak out so unequivocally on behalf the Palestinian people!

Unfortunately the norm is that the church (along with most of the governments of the ‘Western’ world) fears to speak out against any of the actions of the state of Israel, and so the Palestinian people are left to suffer alone. What a blight upon the church this is!

Why are we so shamefully silent? I suppose it’s largely because we fear being labelled as anti-Semitic, and this is understandable, for the church does have a deplorable history of anti-Semitism!  Even so, as the Apostle John says, “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18), and it is time that the rest of the church follows the lead of Bishop Pat Powell and shows some genuine love for our persecuted Palestinian sisters and brothers.

Anti-Semitism is a disgusting phenomenon and there is no place for it in the church. Even so, the Palestinian Occupation is the work of a government and not a race of people, and it is time for Christians everywhere to say forth-rightly that we can oppose what the Israeli government is doing to the people of the West Bank and Gaza without this compromising our love for the Jewish people!

A call for peace and justice in the Holy Land

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by Bishop Pat Power

The Canberra Times

27 March 2012

Israel must stop abusing Palestinians so trust and respect can prevail.

Hardly a day passes without me being appalled by the plight of the Palestinian people and the apparent indifference of much of the Western world to the injustices suffered by these beleaguered people. I have to admit that before visits to the Holy Land in 1973 and 1988, my sympathies were with Israel whom I saw as a fledgling nation surrounded by hostile Arab neighbours.

The scales fell from my eyes on those visits where I saw a heavy military presence in Jerusalem and other towns, armoured vehicles rumbling up and down the streets, threatening war planes flying overhead and on one occasion just escaping from a tear-gas assault in a busy alleyway in Jerusalem.

In the years since then, successive Israeli governments, with the seeming complicity of the United States, have become more and more emboldened in their violence towards the Palestinian people.

The destruction of Palestinian homes, tearing down beautiful olive groves, building a dreadful wall which isolates Palestinians from one another and makes already difficult movement almost impossible, not to mention the barbarism committed against the people of Gaza in recent years are all examples of a major aggressor scorning any effort to find peace based on justice. Why else would Israel be so consistently in breach on United Nations resolutions?

At the end of February, I accompanied Ali Kazak, former Palestinian representative to Australia, to an International Conference on Jerusalem, held in Doha, Qatar. The conference was convened by the United Arab League and hosted by the Emir of Qatar and attended by over 350 people from all over the world.

I was surprised to find among the participants a number of Jewish rabbis who belong to a group called Jews United Against Zionism. I was able to tell them of the number of Jewish people here in Canberra who have spoken out against atrocities perpetrated against the Palestinian people. I was proud to stand beside Bishop Michael Sabbah, the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the first Palestinian to be appointed to that role. He unsurprisingly spoke strongly in defence of the rights of his people and of the violence to which they are being subjected.

The Doha Declaration at the end of the two-day conference made a wide-ranging appeal for the protection of Palestinian people in Jerusalem and the upholding of their rights.

”We reiterate that the forced eviction of the Jerusalem population by means of the Judaization plans, denying the rights, obliterating the history and heritage, usurping land, and confiscating properties are violations of International Law.

Therefore we are calling on the International powers that are silent about Israeli violations to assume their responsibilities and oblige Israel to implement all international resolutions relevant to Jerusalem. Additionally, we are calling on all relevant agencies of the UN to assume their responsibility towards Jerusalem and its population, ensuring their enjoyment of their city, complete civic, economic and social rights, preserving its sanctities, historical landmarks and human heritage.”

Australia’s new Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, in his maiden speech gave some moving historical examples of religious tolerance. It is my hope that he will raise the awareness of our federal parliamentarians of the need for greater understanding of the injustices being suffered by the Palestinian people. Dialogue which is so urgently needed at the political, racial and religious level will never succeed while there is denial of the ”facts on the ground”.

I tire of seeing our parliamentarians of all political persuasions unquestioningly supporting Israel’s usurping of fundamental Palestinian rights. Much of the tension with Iran would be lessened if that country were to see the Palestinian people being justly treated by Israel and the rest of the international community.

In a paper submitted to the Conference, I concluded: “The 64 years of pain and suffering the Palestinians have endured are enough. The Catholic Church and other Christians have consistently cried out for peace and justice in the Holy Land. The Arab League has rightly demanded that Israel end the occupation and withdraw to the 1967 borders. Jerusalem needs to be secured as a city for all faiths with Muslims and Christians from outside Jerusalem being given the opportunity to pray in the Holy City. Provision needs to be made for the millions of Palestinian refugees by providing right of return and just compensation in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

”I plead for patience and restraint on the part of the Palestinian people, for good will, a sense of justice and practical peace-making actions on the part of Israel and a firm resolve on the part of the international community to broker a peace which is based on justice and respects the dignity and rights of all the people involved. I pray for the climate of trust called for by Pope Benedict and I pray that the God of Abraham will bless these steps towards a peaceful solution in the Holy Land.”

Pat Power is the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn and long-time supporter of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Original Link: www.canberratimes.com……

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The following article by Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis was published in Haaretz today. Remember Palestinian Land Day!

Why Land Day still matters 

Today, with no resolution in sight to the historic injustices inflicted upon them, Palestinians in Israel and elsewhere use this day to remember and redouble their efforts for emancipation. 

By Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis 

Every year since 1976, on March 30, Palestinians around the world have commemorated Land Day. Though it may sound like an environmental celebration, Land Day marks a bloody day in Israel when security forces gunned down six Palestinians, as they protested Israeli expropriation of Arab-owned land in the country’s north to build Jewish-only settlements. 

The Land Day victims were not Palestinians from the occupied territories, but citizens of the state, a group that now numbers over 1.6 million people, or 20.5 percent of the population. They are inferior citizens in a state that defines itself as Jewish and democratic, but in reality is neither. 

On that dreadful day 36 years ago, in response to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, in a last-ditch attempt to block the planned protests, the government imposed a curfew on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee. The curfew failed; citizens took to the streets. Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in the refugee communities across the Middle East, joined in solidarity demonstrations. 

In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about 100 wounded, and hundreds arrested. The day lives on, fresh in the Palestinian memory, since today, as in 1976, the conflict is not limited to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but is ever-present in the country’s treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens. 

The month following the killings, an internal government paper, written by senior Interior Ministry official Yisrael Koenig, was leaked to the press. The document, which became known as the Koenig Memorandum, offered recommendations intended to “ensure the [country’s] long-term Jewish national interests.” These included “the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.” 

Israel has been attempting to “dilute” its Palestinian population — both Muslims and Christians — ever since. 

Thirty-six years later, the situation is as dire as ever. Racism and discrimination, in their rawest forms, are rampant in Israel, and are often more insidious than physical violence. Legislation aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Israel is part of public discourse. Israeli ministers do not shy away from promoting “population transfers” of Palestinian citizens — code for forced displacement. 

Israel’s adamant demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a “Jewish state” leaves them in a situation of having to inherently negate their own existence and accept the situation of inferiority in their own land. Recent efforts in the Knesset to link loyalty to citizenship threaten to target organizations and individuals who express dissent and even the revocation of citizenship, a practice unheard of in other countries. 

Budgets for health and education allocated by the Israeli government to the Arab sector are, per capita, a fraction of those allocated to Jewish locales. Although hundreds of new Jewish towns and settlements have been approved and built since Israel’s creation, the state continues to prevent Arab towns and villages from expanding, suffocating their inhabitants and forcing new generations to leave in search of homes. Palestinians living in Israel are heavily discriminated against in employment and wages. 

The message is clear: Israel has failed, abysmally, in realizing its oft-cried role as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with such discriminatory policies, and a culture of antagonism and neglect vis-a-vis a fifth of its citizens. The original Land Day marked a pivotal point in terms of how Palestinians in Israel — living victims of Israel’s violent establishment — viewed their relations with the state. Today, with no resolution in sight to the historic injustices inflicted upon them, Palestinians in Israel and elsewhere use this day to remember and redouble their efforts for emancipation. 

The names of the six victims of Land Day are written on the front of a monument in the cemetery of Sakhnin, accompanied by the words: “They sacrificed themselves for us to live … thus, they are alive ? The martyrs of the day of defending the land, 30 March 1976.” On the back of the monument are the names of the two sculptors who created it: one Arab, one Jewish. Maybe it is this joint recognition of the tragedy of Palestinians that is required in Israel to get us beyond the chasm of denial. 

For our part, as second-generation Palestinians born and raised outside Palestine, who have decided to return to live in this troubled land, we view Land Day as an ongoing wake-up call to Israeli Jews and Jewry worldwide to understand that land, freedom and equality are an inseparable package ? the only one that can deliver a lasting peace to all involved. 

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from the Palestinian city of El Bireh in the West Bank. He blogs at www.epalestine.com…. Fida Jiryis is a Palestinian writer from the Arab village of Fassuta in the Galilee.