The ostracisation of Palestine by the international community to facilitate its exploitation by colonial Israel is portrayed excellently in Palestine Past and Present (Nova Publishers, 2019). This collection of academic essays, edited by Tristan Dunning, the author of Hamas, Jihad and Popular Legitimacy, presents a concise yet thorough assessment of specific issues related to Palestine, illustrating the importance of historical reference and contiguity to contextualise the current political trajectories that have consistently disadvantaged the Palestinian struggle for rights, independence and statehood.
Dunning’s introduction to the book – an overview of the international community’s involvement in the Zionist colonisation of Palestine – shows the difficulties which Palestinian resistance groups encounter in the quest to “rearticulate their struggle internationally as one of national self-determination, rather than the contemporaneous received view as a refugee problem.” The external framing of Palestine, emphasises Dunning, has corrupted the opportunities for the Palestinian narratives to define the Palestinian struggle at an international level.
A common theme recurring throughout the book is Palestinian political pragmatism and how this was exploited or, in the case of Hamas, marginalised to ensure the prominence of the Zionist security narrative and international impositions. As a result, Palestinians have been deprived of a political solution despite their constant evolution in terms of resistance and justice; the latter has become an international demand to the Palestinians’ own detriment.
Terry Beitzel’s analysis of Palestinian and Israeli documents illustrates the rhetorical discrepancy that is overlooked in the haste to proclaim Israel as a democracy rather than a colonial entity. Beitzel argues that the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s institutional development led to a shift from resistance to justice, even as Israel increasingly turned to religious sources to justify its violence. PLO documents make reference to “a secular democratic solution to the conflict”, as armed resistance was relinquished gradually for diplomatic efforts and democracy. On the other hand, Israeli documents are replete with references to existential threats and national security, while eliminating all possibility of “collaborative solutions”. Beitzel writes that Palestinians are not perceived as “possible collaborators toward a general peace process as these are both eclipsed by Israeli security concerns.”
In his contribution on the dynamics of Palestinian state-building analysed within the Nakba framework, Martin Kear underscores the importance of referring to historical trajectories. “1948 did not just mark the birth of the Israeli state,” he writes, “it also meant the simultaneous extinguishment of a sovereign Palestine existing in the same space.” This resulted in severe consequences for Palestinians over the decades, as state-building is affected by external impositions and Israel’s legal justifications for its colonial occupation, thus extinguishing Palestinian sovereignty as seen in the Oslo Accords. “While the Accords were marketed as a vehicle for peace,” says Kear, “they became a vehicle for entrenching Israel’s occupation regime as it transmuted from its Colonial Principle to its Separation Principle.” The Oslo Accords also established the Palestinian Authority as an extension of Israel’s colonial framework, which partly catapulted Hamas into cultivating itself as a formidable political alternative.
Miguel Galsim expounds upon Hamas as an alternative to Fatah and how, throughout the years, it has also shifted from armed resistance to “focus on civil society as a foundation for legitimacy.” This shift, the writer argues, is also evident in how the resistance movement communicates with the people. An analysis of online discourse employed by Hamas shows a current trend of “its political engagement and non-violent contestation, rather than a complete abandonment of resistance and religious discourses.” He offers an insight that is worth remembering with regard to Hamas’s relationship with the Palestinian people; the movement has managed to build upon narratives and discourse which Palestinians are able to relate to. This is in stark contrast to the PA, whose narratives are derived from and dictated by external impositions.
Such impositions are tied to the international financial aid given to the PA, amounting to $34 billion from 1993 until 2006. Anas Iqtait describes the PA functioning according to international demands and becoming an asset for Israel and the World Bank. The creation of state institutions, Iqtait asserts, “were designed to thrive in a context where a sovereign state was absent and nascent Palestinian institutions economically integrated into Israel.” Foreign aid and Palestinian dependence upon Israeli clearance revenues have both hindered sustainable development for Palestinians, yet the World Bank has retained the PA as the vehicle accomplishing its “prescribed economic and security objectives.” State-building, Itqait argues, stifled the PA’s independence, which in turn impeded the establishment of an independent Palestinian state even as designed by the international community.
The latter’s designation of the PA as the entity purportedly capable of state-building contrasts with the ostracising of Hamas at an international level. Editor Tristan Dunning’s own chapter weaves an intricate narrative of Hamas, its ideology and political practices, notably its willingness to edge closer to diplomacy without compromising the core Palestinian demands. Dunning asserts the importance of differentiating between the movement’s ideology and socio-political practices, and embarks upon an analysis of the Hamas Charter and its more recent Document of General Principles. The latter shows that, contrary to the mainstream disseminations within the international community, Hamas has taken a pragmatic political approach in which Palestine takes precedence. At the same time, the movement has been careful to remain loyal to its roots. “Hamas does not recognise the legitimacy of Israel’s existence,” notes Dunning, “because it is of the view that this would implicitly legitimise the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians attendant on Israel’s creation in 1948.”
All political insights in the book are complemented with a concluding and thorough analysis of what the Donald Trump administration in Washington has contributed in terms of obliterating Palestinians, their rights and diplomacy. There is also a section about Gaza, of paramount importance given the imminent arrival of 2020 by when the international community has said that the enclave will be “unliveable”. Gaza’s marginalisation and realignment as a humanitarian project is aided by the international community: “Gaza is actively and deliberately impoverished by cycles of violence and the siege, aided and abetted by international acquiesce,” argue the writers.
Palestine Past and Present draws attention to one fact that is vastly overlooked in analysing the colonisation of the land; the swiftness with which the international community aided Israel in colonising Palestine was complemented by the same global determination to prevent Palestinians from reaching their own political goals. An absent Palestine, despite its potential, is the outcome towards which the international community is working.