The decolonial approach in this collection of studies offers an important and at times over looked perspective of how Palestinians have become ensnared in a settler-colonial and neoliberal project. “Political Economy of Palestine: Critical, Interdisciplinary and Decolonial Perspectives” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) illustrates how Palestinians live between erasure and endurance in terms of Israel’s colonial expansion, while Palestine’s economy, dominated by Israel and external actors, contributes to the Palestinian people’s fragmentation.
In the introduction, the book’s editors state, “the roots of the ongoing fragmentation of Palestinian political economy lie in the historical settler colonial processes that began to take shape during the pre-Nakba decades.” Colonial violence has, in turn been interwoven in the Oslo Accords and the processes instigated for Palestine’s economy, which is dominated by Israel and reinforces dependency through what Tariq Dana describes as “pacification” of the Palestinian national movement.
Dana describes how Israel’s settler colonial violence was “supplemented by complimentary strategies centred on non-physical yet coercive forms of violence,” particularly after 1967 when Israel’s priority was population management, which resulted in normalising colonialism and fragmenting Palestine’s social structure. Through the Oslo Accords, Israel was given the opportunity to reorganise colonial domination against a backdrop of normalisation. Meanwhile, for Palestinians, the Oslo Accords spelled the beginning of a neoliberal framework in which accountability to international donors became the norm.
In terms of dependency, Ibrahim Shikaki writes, “Economic development is impossible under a military occupation, despite the façade of self-rule.” Throughout the book, the authors insist on recognising the historical trajectory of colonial violence and the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people, in order to refrain from simplifying the intricacies of economic oppression. Class, power and politics are employed to analyse the exploitation of Palestinian society, as well as understanding the varying interests of Palestine’s social classes and the fragmentation within, as allegiances to Israel are formed based on economic interests.
One important point made by Timothy Seidel is how land ties in to political economy and resistance. Seidel draws on similarities from subaltern histories from Latin America to portray the link between the struggle for land and self reliance. “Land itself is a relation,” Seidel writes. With land as a site that refuses “erasure and elimination”, Seidel makes the point that “settler colonialism must be read from within a Palestinian narrative in order to foreground Palestinian indigeneity.”
Palestine’s political economy exists within the “absence of sovereignty”, as the third part of the book asserts. Earlier, Walid Habbas notes, “The more Israel intensifies its colonial domination, the more the Palestinian economy is fragmented, pauperised and distorted.” Palestine’s “de-development”, discussed by Jeremy Wildeman and Alaa Tartir, is particularly insightful. “Palestinians have been forced to live in an aid-development paradox: large amounts of aid associated with a downward decline in socio economic and human development indicators.” Wildeman and Tartir categorise four approaches to the Oslo Accords to portray how these either form allegiances with neoliberal models, or else embark upon partial or outright criticism of the World Bank’s framework for Palestine.
In their introduction, the book’s editors clarify their approach to their critique of the Palestinian Authority’s policies, bearing in mind the wider framework. “Any critique of Palestinian political institutions is at the same time a critique of the imperial histories out which those institutions emerged, which were intended to produce an environment of divide and rule,” Seidel, Dana and Tartir write.
This premise is worth keeping in mind when reading Anas Iqtait’s contribution discussing the PA’s political economy as decided by the World Bank’s primary emphasis on foreign aid to promote the institutional foundations for the PA, and later in terms of reform and statebuilding – the latter illusory. Through a discussion of fiscal policies determined by the Paris Protocol, which subjugated the PA to Israel and international donors, Iqtait notes, “The OPT’s heritage of colonial economic policies and international neoliberal interventionism stripped the PA of the legitimacy needed to bond with society.”
Tahani Mustafa’s discussion of how the Oslo Accords redefined security illustrates how Israel’s colonial objectives were retained at the helm of peace negotiations, all the while ensuring that the Palestinian people were burdened with the conditions to effect any agreement. Israel, on the other hand, ensured its security narrative through political and economic measures that contributed to maintaining a status quo for the Palestinian people which ultimate resulted in fragmentation.
Peace, Mustafa writes, was “structured around an architecture of security, and creating new security configurations to supplement existing ones within the OPT.” The concept of the PA as a subcontractor for Israel, therefore is simplified and does not take into consideration the dynamics of how Israel’s security narrative transformed Palestinian society in terms of creating elites with vested interests, which stood out in contrast to the majority of Palestinians against whom security coordination and violence is implemented.
The book concludes with a profound analysis by Sara Roy, who illustrates the link between political economy and political abandonment of the Palestinian people by the international community and Palestinian leaders. Roy comments, “Humanitarianism has come to define the way the international community interacts with Palestinians who are made irrelevant and disposable as political, rational and cultural actors – in effect, invalidated.”
A recurring theme throughout this collection of writings is the dissociation of Palestine from its narratives. While in a historical context, dissociation has been discussed in terms of memory rupture, the link between economics and history is not always expounded upon. The authors have presented a comprehensive and detailed analysis that highlights settler colonialism as both historical and ongoing violence against the Palestinian people. As the current wave of normalising relations with Israel persists in foreign policy, Palestine is all the more in dire need of politics that anchor the current Israeli violence within the historical process.