Kareem Rabie’s book takes its title from a 2008 invitation to an investment conference in Palestine, penned by the former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The conference was “framed as though it were possible to circumvent politics through economic mechanisms, a subtle reinvention of political practice.”
Palestine is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited: Capital and State Building in the West Bank, (Duke University Press, 2021) takes a different approach to understanding the realities of Palestinian politics. While most narratives deal with historical and collective memory, Rabie’s book delves into the economics of colonialism and military occupation, as well as the role of international diplomacy which has exacerbated societal divisions among Palestinians, most noticeably in the vast discrepancies between Ramallah and the Gaza Strip, the former being portrayed as “a model for potential”.
According to Rabie, “1948 was among other things an utterly massive transformative redistribution of wealth from Palestinians to Jewish colonists and to the state.” Hence, it is not the rupture that the book discusses, but rather the fragmentation, stratification and neo-liberalisation of Palestine, epitomised by the Rawabi project (a “planned city built for and by Palestinians in the West Bank”), which was announced in the 2008 investment conference and through which the author delves into the question of capitalism and national politics.
For the PA, Rawabi provided a tangible example that blends into its concept of state building. “Rawabi and the projects around it are part of a continuously forming economic and political framework in the West Bank,” says the author. Yet viability, he argues, does not constitute economic success. The project utilises the political trends promoted by the PA and the result mirrors the inequalities brought about by Israel’s colonisation of Palestine. The landscape is being used by Palestinian capitalists for investment purposes, and urban planning is influencing politics, yet there is no semblance of Palestinian liberation.
One prominent criticism of Rawabi is that the project takes up more land than was originally envisaged; that it mirrors and imitates Israel’s colonial expansion over Palestinian land. The book quotes lawyer Raja Shehadeh as saying, “Rather than struggle to gain our space and assert our own way of life, we seek to copy the coloniser and we use the same destructive methods that damage our land and natural heritage.” The Palestinian narrative is built upon colonial displacement, as Palestinians’ rural land has been altered to accommodate Jewish settler-colonists. In the same vein, Rawabi is also an exclusionary project as it differentiates between the Palestinian people’s social classes. In the introduction to the book, Rabie notes that development projects alter “the experiences of those Palestinians inside and out who are unable to afford to participate or are otherwise outside its scope.” Affordability is a key component of participation in the capitalist ventures which the PA has incorporated as part of its donor-funded, state-building agenda.
“Planning regimes are opaque, or are not public, and were designed to limit Palestinian expansion,” writes Rabie, who also notes Rawabi’s planning ambiguity as a result of its links with the PA, which negotiates with Israel on behalf of the project. As such, it is not only the land that is altered with the project in terms of its expansion, but the normalising of cooperation narratives with Israel.
The other opposition which Rawabi faces and which the book discusses in detail is settler exploitation of human rights discourse, notably that of the Israeli organisation Regavim, which claims that Rawabi is encroaching on Israeli territory. Noting that settlers and settlements function as restrictions against the Palestinian population in terms of surveillance, movement and ethnic cleansing, the author describes how the state protects its population by providing a military presence. Any criticism by settlers of the Israeli government, ultimately, still supports colonial policies. “Even when settlers make arguments opposing the state, the end result is to strengthen Israeli legal control in the occupied territories and apply it unequally to its Jewish citizens only.”
The capitalist concept of Palestine, despite its exclusion, is part of the normalised state-building process, which in turn normalises dealings with Israel. Rabie’s book is a pragmatic approach that does not necessarily condone the alteration of Palestinian territory, but takes a dispassionate look at the facts. “Building for relative freedom in Ramallah,” the author states, “is the flipside of policing elsewhere.” Neoliberalism in Palestine may be seen as the current trend, but its consequences are creating a different form of rupture, one that may not yet be as prominent as the historical narratives of the Nakba, but which is ultimately yielding disproportionate perceptions of Palestine, particularly of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and those in the Gaza Strip.