I am completing a PhD in the department of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London). My thesis is on settler-colonial responses to the forces and relations of production in indigenous societies, with particular reference to Israeli-Palestinian economic relations. I have worked with the UNDP in Timor-Leste, the Palestinian Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) in Ramallah and the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People at UNCTAD in Geneva.
My publications include:
“Neoliberalism and the contradictions of the Palestinian Authority’s state-building programme” (with Raja Khalidi), in: Shweiki, O. and Turner, M. (eds.) “The Palestinian people and the political economy of de-development”, London: Routledge (forthcoming)
Guest Co-editor with O. Jabary-Salamanca, M. Qato and K. Rabie, “Past is present: settler colonialism in Palestine”, Settler Colonial Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2012
“Neoliberalism as liberation: the statehood programme and the remaking of the Palestinian national movement“, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2010, pp. 1–20 (with Raja Khalidi)
“Why aid failed”, Review of Michael Keating et al., eds., Aid, diplomacy and facts on the ground: the case of Palestine, in: The Palestine Yearbook of International Law, 14. 2006/2007, 2009, pp. 325–32
“Policy alternatives for sustained Palestinian development and state formation”, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development: Geneva, 2008, (main author)
“A rejoinder to Khalidi’s ‘Reshaping Palestinian economic policy discourse’: the elusive quest for change”, Journal of Palestine Studies, 2006, Vol. 35, No. 2: 243-245 (Letters)
As an active member of the Palestine Society at SOAS, I have co-organised a number of academic conferences on the Palestine Question, most recently a conference entitled ‘Self-critique after two decades of Oslo’ that took place in October.
From a critique of neoliberalism to radical political economy
Mirroring the political function of the Oslo process, but also the main currents of conventional economic theory, analyses on the Palestinian economy have often denied the social and divorced the political from the economic. The recent resurgence of literature – both academic and activist – that seeks to employ a more political economy approach towards, or a more critical understanding of, the Palestinian economy, is a much-belated but hopeful change in tune. Despite existing differences in their methodological grounding and research goals, the common denominator of such literature lies in their aim to reveal a systemic relationship between economic and political processes that determine the Palestinian condition. Such literature has to confront not only a bleak and multi-layered reality that characterises the Palestinian condition, but also a number of ill-conceived assumptions about the Palestinian political economy that are often ahistoric, treat Palestinian reality as sui generis, and are shaped by (neo-)liberal economic and development theories.
Given the historical and contemporary realities of the Palestinian condition – notably colonialism, settler colonialism, external dependencies and the prevailing dominance to seek ‘economic solutions’ to a colonial conflict – it is vital that insights derived from critical political economy gain hold in Palestine Studies and to be developed further. And yet, precisely because of these realities, it is an intellectual – but also political – anomaly that this has not happened before. It is therefore important to identify the reasons for this theoretical underdevelopment and to examine whether the current crop of more critical political economy approaches towards the Palestinian economy have the potential to reverse this anomaly.
Political economy, as a discipline or research approach, can mean different things to different people however. Loosely defined, political economy refers to the study of the determinants of aggregate economic activity, surplus allocation, wealth distribution and the social relationship of production within a given political and legal arrangement. Historically, classical political economy was the field of bourgeois economists (e.g. Smith, Ricardo, Malthus etc) and it was only with Karl Marx’s historic intervention that gave the field the radical edge with which it has come to be associated. Indeed, Marx regarded his Capital as a critique of political economy, specifically those writings that neglected inquiry into structural relations (class) of a society to rationalise or defend the interests of the bourgeoisie. Although Marx’s methodological approach to political economy has been subject to countless interpretations and refutations, its legacy according historical change to the primacy of the economic structure of society, lives on as a vibrant intellectual tradition.
Today, approaches to political economy are varied too: on the political spectrum, they range from critical (neo-)Marxist and ‘New Left’ type of approaches to the reductionism of public-choice and market fundamentalism of the Chicago School of Economics. In between, ‘new political economy’ has led to the now widely recognised view that economics and politics are ‘connected’ and that ‘non-economic’ variables (culture, identity etc.) need to be taken into consideration. More often than not, these variables are expected to behave according to laws established by neoclassical economics. Clearly then, without delineating different political economy approaches, their respective normative values and analytical categories they give explanatory primacy to, the notion of a political economy approach in Palestine Studies becomes an empty signifier.
The contribution to the symposium aims to illustrate this by looking at how one of the most discussed themes in the recent resurgence of more critical literature on the Palestinian economy, neoliberalism, has been problematised. There is now a consensus in this literature that the Palestinian condition (especially in the West Bank) is increasingly shaped by the logic of neoliberalism. But beyond this, there are disparate conceptions of what neoliberalism is, where it comes from and how it can be opposed. In most of these accounts, the neoliberal condition in Palestine has been variously explained as: policy-centered (e.g. economic policies); institutions-centered (the PA enacts these policies); politician-centered (e.g. Salam Fayyad was at the helm of these policies); political dependencies-centered (e.g. donors force the PA to enact these policies); or ‘conspiracy’-centered (e.g. Bashar Masri’s Rawabi project as ‘patriotic investment’ versus ‘he is building a neoliberal city’).
These different explanations about the nature of neoliberalism in Palestine are, in fact, a reflection of different approaches to political economy. To be sure, there is an element of truth in all of these accounts but if neoliberalism is in the first instance a class project that aims to further the interest of capital, then the categories of class and capital remain underanalysed due to an intellectual environment that has historically privileged national over class antagonism. As a consequence, a more thorough understanding of the neoliberal phenomenon in Palestine, one that is based on a materialist understanding of society and politics, is undermined. Moreover, prevailing explanations are also at risk of overdetermining neoliberalism at the expense of the settler colonial specificity of the Palestinian struggle which exerts its own logic, thus calling for a problematisation of neoliberalism that is far more attuned to capturing the totality of the Palestinian condition. It is therefore important to ask what political economy is and what role it can (or cannot) take in contributing to a praxis of liberation and emancipation that, it bears reminding, is at the heart of critical scholarship.
The contribution will argue that radical political economy, rooted in but not necessarily exclusive to Marxist political economy, is the most promising approach to take up this challenge. As a multidisciplinary endeavour that seeks to contribute to transformative social change, radical political economy is open to, and indeed should be pursued by, all critical social scientists. A conceptual framework of radical political economy will be outlined and its relation to conventional political economic approaches within Palestine Studies discussed. Particular emphasis will be put on how conventional economic theory has filtered into otherwise more critical accounts on the Palestinian economy and why such explanations need to be confronted by a concerted and collective effort of radical political economists working on Palestine which exist in good numbers but not yet as self-conscious scholarly community.