Tariq Da’na is currently a visiting research fellow at Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and assistant professor of political science at Hebron University. He is policy member of the Palestinian Policy Network (Al-Shabaka) and research fellow at Bisan Center for Research and Development, Palestine. He received his Ph.D. from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy, where his focus was on the transformation of Palestinian civil society from mass-based movements to neoliberal-oriented NGOs. During this period, he was PhD visiting fellow at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
A Neoliberal Conflict Zone? The Encounter between ‘Fayyadism’ and ‘Economic Peace’
The resignation of the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has triggered public controversy over ‘what comes next?’, and raised questions concerning post-Fayyad era. For optimists the resignation has put an end to a bitter reality, characterized by an externally-promoted model of governance and packages of economic development that led to the deterioration of living standards, and shook the hegemonic position of the conventional Oslo political elite. However, the announcement made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry on a ‘groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state’ through pumping billions of dollars into the economy of the PA has drawn critical features of post-Fayyad era: despite his resignation, ‘Fayyadism’ will remain in place.
‘Fayyadism’ as a ‘Third Way’ signals unparalleled doctrine in the modern history of Palestinian politics that faithfully consecrates ‘Washington Consensus’ recipes. With ‘Fayyadism’ at play during the last seven years, a strict neoliberal approach to state-building and economic development has led to a dramatic transformation in the Palestinian polity, socioeconomic structure, and crucially influenced the Palestinian social fabric. Although for many observers ‘Fayyadism’ appears to be a ‘home-grown’ phenomenon sponsored by a substantial involvement of international donors, international financial institutions and western governments, its encounter with the Israeli ‘economic peace’ suggests a positive interplay on multiple levels (particularly in terms of security and economy). Further, such an unusual encounter inevitably marks a key paradigm shift in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict dynamics.
The proposed paper would interrogate a set of interactive, yet overlapping factors embedded in the encounter of these unfolding neoliberal-oriented processes. More specifically, the associated politico-economic strategies which seem to have been in part, by design, as well as by unintended consequences, conducive to multiple intersections of certain policies, namely identified in terms of economic normalization and security coordination. Thus the paper will focus on the manner in which these intersections have been politically expressed, and examine the extent to which such an encounter has reshaped the Palestinian political economic reality. In particular, the paper would seek to demonstrate that the adaptive power of this neoliberal encounter has enforced a systemic process of conflict stabilization, that is; a skillfully designed and controlled process intended to uphold the dynamicity of the conflict at its lowest intensity, sustained by the trinity of powerful security system, steady political deadlock and carefully designed economic development.
Against this backdrop, the proposed paper suggests that this encounter marks a turning point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which as a consequence, became institutionalized in a specifically geographical term; that is the occupied West bank. The institutionalization of this encounter has been predominated by discourses and practices operating along intensifying security coordination and economic normalization while downgrading political contention within the framework of the existing power asymmetry. Thereby securing political stability as a status quo, and promoting a ‘market-friendly conflict environment’ which contributes to the molding of what I call a ‘neoliberal conflict zone’.
It is beyond doubt that this is a complex issue, and that the initial depiction of the West Bank as a ‘neoliberal conflict zone’ may sound amorphous. Accordingly, an adequate understanding of such a complex phenomenon requires taking into consideration the broader context of political structures and the shifting socioeconomic configurations that resulted from the dynamic interplay of politics and economics within the ideological framework of neoliberal globalization, which since Oslo has had a profound impact on redefining the ‘rules’ of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Preliminary themes to examine the conception of ‘neoliberal conflict zone’:
The discursive framework: this includes statements, speeches and strategic plans by the Israeli and Palestinian governments. In particular, the research will focus on contents exposing the discursive intersection, and will highlight neoliberal-inspired articulations of new strategies to peace-building. This will support the assumption that economic peace and ‘Fayyadism’ intertwine in their belief in the superiority of economic normalization and security coordination over political confrontation.
The integration of capital: this implies a variety of large-scale businesses that, whether directly or indirectly, involved Palestinian and Israeli capitals in private joint ventures. The paper will present a few samples of the joint ventures, mainly those operating in the West Bank such as the modern Palestinian city ‘Rawabi’, and the Joint Industrial Zones.
Business elite in politics/ Embourgeoisement of political elite: both ‘Fayyadism’ and ‘economic peace’ place emphasis on the role of private sector and businesses in achieving peace and co-existence. This has paved the way for business elite to join the political arena, become influential actor in formulating policy and strengthened the ideological and social ties between business and political elites. In parallel, a significant segment of the political elite can be identified with large-scale businesses and involvement in economic activities.
The privatization of occupation’s coercive apparatus: particularly checkpoints and border security in the West Bank. In 2006 Israel began a gradual process of subcontracting private security companies to carry out certain tasks traditionally linked to the Israeli military. This process has transformed major checkpoints into terminals equipped with high-standard technology especially in areas surrounding Jerusalem.
The proliferation of Israeli retail chain stores: recent years have witnessed the opening of Israeli shopping centers attached to settlements, most famously a retail chain store named ‘Rami Levy’. Despite the institutionalized segregation between the Israeli settlers and the Palestinian populations, these shopping centers are equally open for both of the Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Interestingly, while observing such a joint shopping phenomenon inside these centers may give the impression that Sworn Enemies Shop Peacefully, the management of the car parking is still guided by the segregation principle. Interestingly too, Palestinian and Israeli businessmen have utilised these commercial spaces to pass a message of peace through encouraging joint shopping and consumption.