Adam Hanieh is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Prior to joining SOAS, Adam taught at Zayed University, United Arab Emirates. From 1997-2003, he lived and worked in Ramallah, Palestine, where he completed an MA in Regional Studies at Al Quds University. He holds a PhD in Political Science from York University, Canada. Adam is an editorial board member of the journal Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, a founding member of the SOAS Centre for Palestine Studies, and a member of the committee of management for the Council for British Research in the Levant. He is author of Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011) and Lineages of Revolt: Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East (Haymarket, 2013).
Situating Palestinian class formation in the regional context
Contemporary critical approaches to Palestinian class formation typically focus on the relationship between the political economy of neoliberalism and the impact of Israeli occupation policies on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The wide range of Israeli military orders that affect every aspect of Palestinian existence, the implementation of IMF and World Bank supported development policies connected to the Palestine Reform and Development Plan (PRDP), and the possible trajectories of trade, currency and labor market arrangements in any final status agreement, have all been subject to considerable critique and elaboration over recent decades (Abed, 1988; Roy, 1995; Samara, 2001; Farsakh, 2005).
Notwithstanding the important insights contributed by these studies, a focus solely on the characteristics of the relationship between the Israeli and Palestinian economies can obfuscate other important theoretical questions. Specifically, by narrowing the analytical lens to the focus of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it is possible to lose sight of broader regional and global processes that no less shape the reality of Palestinian state and class formation. The central aim of my paper is to situate the political economy of Palestinian class formation within these wider spatial scales.
Over the past few decades there has been a considerable increase in the levels of cross border capital flows within the Arab world, including in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. In earlier research (conducted 2006-2007), I argued that these flows of capital had produced significant changes in the structure of the leading Palestinian business class, to the extent that we should perhaps consider Palestinian capital as an adjunct of capital groups located elsewhere in the region (particularly the Gulf) (Hanieh 2010). In this sense, Palestinian class formation must be understood not only in its own distinct national terms, but also as part of the broader evolution of the Arab/Gulf political economic space. Through the years following the signing of the Oslo Accords, this dominant Palestinian capitalist class has also become closely linked to the Palestinian Authority through various quasi-state institutions and holding companies (such as the Palestine Development and Investment Company (PADICO)).
My earlier research took place prior to the global economic downturn of 2008/2009, the deepening implementation of the PRDP and Palestinian neoliberalism, and the Arab uprisings that began in 2011. Following these transformative events, I propose to update and expand my earlier research from two main perspectives:
I am interested in determining whether the changes that have taken place at the regional and global levels over the last five years have significantly altered the direction and patterns of earlier internationalization trends. Has there been any withdrawal of international capital flows into the Palestinian economy? Is there any noticeable variation in the sectoral focus of these investments? Has the relationship with the institutions of the PA altered over this period? Have the ownership structures of domestic Palestinian capital changed coincident with the PRDP? In order to address these questions, I will focus on three key sectors – real estate, finance and industry – in an attempt to map evolving structures of ownership and trace their implications for the nature of Palestinian class formation.
My earlier research focused almost exclusively on the West Bank. I propose to expand the analysis to consider the impact of the hardening separation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from the late 2000s onwards, and whether there has been a different trajectory of class formation in Gaza as a result. I plan to travel to Gaza in late December/early January as part of this ongoing research, and will focus on the impact of the tunnel trade and international aid flows (particularly from the Gulf Arab states) on the nature of class structures in the Gaza Strip.
In addition to providing a concrete mapping of the Palestinian capitalist class in this new period, a further theme of my paper will be to explore the potential political implications arising from the structure, forms and nature of the leading Palestinian business groups. These implications may include a more pronounced role in determining the specific characteristics of Palestinian political and economic policy, as well as raising wider questions around the nature of socio-economic struggles internal to Palestinian society and the diaspora. In this manner, the paper will attempt to draw some conclusions around the ways in which Palestinian class formation – fully situated in the regional context – acts to shape contending interests within the Palestinian political sphere.
Abed G (ed.) (1988) The Palestinian Economy: Studies in Development Under Prolonged Occupation. New York: Routledge.
Farsakh L (2005) Palestinian Labour Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation. New York: Routledge.
Hanieh, A (2010) “The internationalisation of Gulf capital and Palestinian class formation”, Capital & Class, 35, 81-106.
Roy S (1995) The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-Development. Washington DC: The Institute for Palestine Studies.
Samara A (2001) Epidemic of Globalization: Ventures in World Order, Arab Nation and Zionism. Glendale, CA: Palestine Research and Publishing Foundation.