Andy Clarno is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on the relationship between race, class, and space in an era of neoliberal globalization. Andy is currently working on a book manuscript, The Empire’s New Walls, analyzing the walled enclosures that mark the urban landscapes of contemporary South Africa and Palestine/Israel. His recent publications include “The Constitution of State/Space and the Limits of ‘Autonomy’ in South Africa and Palestine/Israel” in Sociology and Empire, edited by George Steinmetz (2013), “Or Does it Explode? Collecting Shells in Gaza” in Social Psychology Quarterly (June 2009), and “A Tale of Two Walled Cities” in Political Power and Social Theory (2009). Andy is also a Visiting Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa and in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Birzeit University, Palestine.
“Securing Oslo: Neoliberalism and Security Coordination in Palestine/Israel”
A fundamental aspect of neoliberal restructuring throughout the world has been the proliferation of forces and strategies seeking to produce “secure” spaces in the face of growing inequality and widespread precariousness. Securitization in Palestine/Israel has produced a regime of “security coordination” marked by cooperation and contestation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Like all neoliberal forms of securitization, however, this regime seeks to reinforce an unstable system rather than addressing the fundamental sources of instability.
Drawing on ethnographic research in the West Bank over the last two years, this paper dissects the system of security coordination and situates it within an analysis of the tensions that mark the post-Oslo period in Palestine/Israel.
Since 2007, the system of security coordination in Palestine/Israel has been fundamentally reorganized. Supported by the office of the United States Security Coordinator (USSC), the PA has undergone a process of “security sector reform” focused on the centralization of command and the professionalization of its troops. The new PA security forces have been deployed throughout the West Bank in coordination with the Israeli military and the USSC. Overall, the system is defined by the asymmetrical power relationship of the occupation: Israeli interests always come first. And at the broadest level, the PA has aligned its interests with those of Israel. Crackdowns on Islamists and leftists throughout the West Bank, which have effectively demobilized organized resistance, have been carried out through shared intelligence, coordinated arrests, and weapons confiscations. The PA has taken part in this system of repression for two reasons: 1) to prevent the emergence of organized forces opposed to Fatah rule or to Oslo more generally, and 2) to demonstrate to Israel and the US that the PA is “willing and able” to ensure security and stability in a two-state solution. Based on the insistence that “there is no alternative” to a negotiated two-state solution, the PA is doing all that it can to demonstrate that it is ready to rule.
On a daily level, however, security coordination is deeply contentious. When children gather at Rachel’s Tomb to throw stones, for instance, the Israeli military contacts the PA security forces and “requests” that they move the children back from the wall. These requests constitute daily demands that the PA continually prove its willingness and ability to cooperate in the suppression of even the least organized forms of resistance. When the PA security forces are deployed to move the children away from the wall and prevent them from throwing stones, they become – in the eyes of many children – the front lines of the occupation. Children insist angrily that they want to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers: “Why are you trying to stop us? You should be joining us instead.” The PA police find themselves squeezed between two conflicting forces – charged, on the one hand, with not doing enough to protect Israel, and, on the other, with being traitors to their people. Their internal, psychological conflicts are intense – especially because many of these troops have taken work with the PA security forces simply because there are so few other job opportunities. Sometimes, the PA troops respond to protests by moving the children away as gently as possible; other times, they use violence; and sometimes the children respond with stones.
There is one question on the minds of everyone: What will the PA forces do in the event of an uprising? Israeli officials express concern that the newly trained forces will turn their guns on Israel just like during the second intifada. Palestinians fear that the repression will be directed towards them. Understanding the impossibility of their situation, PA officials are determined to prevent an uprising from happening. This imperative shapes their efforts to repress organized resistance and to limit daily confrontations. But while Israel squeezes the PA with one hand, demanding more proof of its commitment to the suppression of resistance, it stokes the flames of resistance with the other by invading Palestinian cities and camps, building settlements, arresting activists, and allowing the settlers to carry out “price tag” attacks. While praising the highly successful system of security coordination, Israel is simultaneously undermining the stability of this system. The illusion of security cannot last.