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Transitional (in)Justice and Enforcing the Peace on Palestine

March 31, 2023 at 4:44 pm

Transitional (in)Justice and Enforcing the Peace on Palestine
  • Book Author(s): Brendan Ciaran Browne
  • Published Date: 2023
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • ISBN-13: 9783031253942

Brendan Ciaran Browne’s contribution to the literature on Palestine is not only welcomed, but sharply focused. Veering away from the mainstream discourse that protects the two-state compromise at the expense of Palestinians, Transitional (in)Justice and Enforcing the Peace on Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023) discusses the convergence between transitional justice and settler-colonialism, noting the flaws associated with avenues obfuscating or eliminating the need for decolonisation. In the absence of the settler-colonial reality, ‘the conflict’ narrative which has usurped discourse on Palestine restricts resolution, due to a false equivalence between the coloniser and the colonised, even as Palestinians are deprived from the hegemony that decides their fate.

Peace building approaches that do not address Zionist settler-colonial erasure, Browne notes that, “far from being radical or revolutionary, these interventions (often internationally sponsored and/or donor led) amount to a transitional (in)justice, mimicking other flawed peacebuilding strategies and, therefore, only serve to sharpen the asymmetrical power imbalance that characterises the status quo and further illuminate the distinction between colonised and coloniser.”

Constraining the concept of transitional justice plays into Israel’s control of both the narrative on justice and the Palestinian people. “Marginalising the language of settler colonialism reduces the particulars when it comes to appraising relevant tools for bringing an end to or resolving the situation,” Browne writes, while noting that much of the language and processes revolving around transitional justice are driven towards reconciliation, again emphasising the erroneous concept of ‘conflict’.

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Browne asks three important questions for the reader to keep in mind: how do transitional justice interventions alter realities, the language used in transitional justice by various actors in Palestine and whether international pursuit of justice can contribute towards discussions on “ending and reversing settler colonialism in Palestine”.

The Oslo Accords are a prominently criticised feature in Browne’s book, due to how it diluted prospects for decolonisation to maintain the status quo. Against a backdrop of how the UN facilitated settler colonialism in Palestine and weaponised peacebuilding against the Palestinians, Browne notes that transitional justice acts more like an imposition from the Global North onto the Global South.

“Whilst the most formative phase in the modern period of colonial violence meted out against the Palestinian population can be traced back to the creation of the Israeli State in 1948, a process facilitated by willing partners that comprised the newly established United Nations (UN), when it comes to spotlighting the deeply problematic role played by the international community, one must reaffirm the impact of the disastrous Balfour declaration of 1917.” The latter focused on the Zionist settler-colonial project and provided the foundations for the later engagement in finding ‘solutions’ that maintained the colonial erasure of Palestinians, even from within Palestine, as in the case of the Palestinian Authority which has acquiesced on core issues, including the Palestinian right of return. Browne notes, “the most significant attempt at making ‘peace’ failed to countenance that the injustice meted out against the indigenous Palestinian population was rooted in a legacy of experiencing Zionist settler colonial displacement, one that benefits from the support of a complicit international community and which, ultimately, defines the parameters for resolution.”

The result complements the settler-colonial erasure of Palestinians – while criminal prosecutions, reparations and institutional reform are all concepts of transitional justice, western hegemony influences the process by marginalising the Palestinian people’s legitimate anti-colonial resistance and their decolonisation demands. Browne speak of “colonial management” and the way transitional justice interventions are managed through privileged connection with the settler-colonial enterprise, thus eliminating the indigenous agency. “If it is genuine in its desire to assist in spotlighting a ‘justice’ oriented decolonial future in historic Palestine, TJ interventions can never be driven by those who enjoy positions of privilege within the settler colonial apparatus, nor those who have sponsored the failed peacebuilding project thus far. If they are, they will always suffer a legitimacy crisis,” Browne writes.

Colonial management is also reflected in the way the settler-colonial enterprise erases parts of its own history and also the indigenous collective memory. While some Palestinian and Israeli NGOs are combating Israel’s memoricide, Browne notes that criminal accountability is absent within Israel, which means that testimonies are being disseminated against absolute impunity and thus failing to challenge colonialism and its violence. Furthermore, excluding Palestinians from their narrative also extends the liberal paradigms on peacebuilding.

Browne devotes considerable attention to the PA’s pursuing of justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC), noting that such recourse has been instigated by the Palestinian political elite which, in turn, has also influenced local NGOs. For the PA, seeking recourse through the ICC enables it to portray a veneer of action with references to international law while, at the same time, remaining involved in the peacebuilding status quo determined by the Oslo Accords. For Palestinians, however, the international community is synonymous with pursuing “politics of management and control, rather than to support indigenous, anti-colonial modes of resistance.”

The author’s unpacking of transitional justice lays bare the web of complicity that stands against the urgency for decolonisation. Noting that Western societies have a settler-colonial legacy, Browne notes the status quo’s enforcement through an ongoing complicity that has roots in history and against which transitional justice interventions are shaped. Lacking critical dissection, Browne asserts, makes transitional justice practices more susceptible to the influence of Israeli liberalism. Advocating from transitional justice interventions “must ensure that it is the voices of those who have borne the brunt of Zionist settler colonialism that is afforded primacy in terms of leading these legitimate justice demands.”