Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine since 1989, Mark LeVine (Zed Books, 2009)
So Obama is in the White House and Hillary Clinton has arrived in Israel. As I write, we are waiting to discover how the US attitude to the Middle East is going to change, and we can only hope, after New Year horrors in Gaza, that the change will be for the better.
For those like me, still confused about why the theatre of suffering continues in Israel, Mark LeVine’s new book Impossible Peace offers an accessible entry point into the complicated world that is the politics of Israel/Palestine. Part of the ‘since 1989’ series from Zed books, it traces the way that the politics of the Middle East has been affected by the post-Cold War ‘new world order’ but also shows how the roots of the conflict go right back through the colonial era to the days of the Ottoman empire.
LeVine argues that the Israel/Palestine ‘peace’ process, officially dated from the Oslo accords of the early 1990s but rooted in the 1979 Camp David peace agreement, was doomed from the very beginning. He shows how the increasing entrenchment of Jewish settlers, in contrast with a continual chipping away at the Palestinian infrastructure, economy and society, was neglected by the accords, which instead served to further strengthen the Israeli state at the expense of the Palestinian people.
LeVine argues that ‘instead of grounding the peace process in an honest assessment of the historical processes that produced the current situation, Israelis, Americans, and to a certain extent, the PLO elite that negotiated the accords and benefited from them operated within a series of myths – about the ability to escape history, about the ability of economic processes to render political and territorial issues ‘irrelevant’, about the viability of “ending” a conflict without fairly addressing its underlying causes’. He argues that this preponderance to ignore the facts has led to an agreement worth little more than the paper it is written on
LeVine assesses the various fronts of the conflict, focusing on the three key topics of land settlement; economic development and separation of the Israeli and Palestinian economies, and the growing power of socio-religious movements in the two societies. He concludes with an assessment of the developing role of civil societies, NGOs, and the discourse of violence in the attempts to forge a path towards peace to show what possibilities for peace may exist already and could be developed.
As regards the issue of land, LeVine argues that ‘an Israeli matrix of control has slowly been unfolded over the Palestinians and the land of Israel/Palestine to create several overlapping layers of control over all aspects of Palestinian movement. The first layer is actual physical control comprising settlements, and their extended master plans, bypass roads, military installations, industrial parks, closed security zones and control of nature reserves and aquifers. The second layer is the bureaucratic and legal systems that entangle the Palestinian population in a tight web of restrictions that makes it difficult to buy, build on, develop or even have access to their lands. Finally, the third layer involves the use of violence to maintain control over the matrix, particularly the military occupation itself, and the large-scale imprisonment and violence that go with it’.
Secondly, this physical encroachment is accompanied by the separation of the Israeli and Palestinian economies. LeVine argues that the market place has become a symbolic space into which the Israel/Palestine battle can be advanced. He shows that by separating the economies it has become possible for a controlled squeezing of the Palestinians’ economic space in order to further weaken them and prevent resistance.
Thirdly, LeVine traces the role of socio-religious movements in both Israeli and Palestinian societies to show how factional politics on both sides has led to stalemate and impotence in the face of the increasing challenge to peace.
It is only in this section that LeVine for the first time begins to turn the spotlight on the Palestinian people too. Obviously they have suffered much injustice and been continuously weakened over the decades. Yet I became increasingly aware, as I read, of the lack of accountability on the Palestinian side and their failure to stand together in the face of the Israeli onslaught. LeVine notes the inability of the Palestinian elite to represent the Palestinian majority, the problems of corruption in the PA (Palestinian Authority) and the factions within the Palestinian sides – for example, growing tensions between the PA and the PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council) and between both of these and the NGO community.
It seems that whenever peace is to be negotiated the Palestinian people are let down again by the few who want to prove themselves, at the expense of the many. There still seems a lot to be done on the Palestinian side to come together as a united force, particularly with regard to women’s rights. Although LeVine does briefly touch on this subject and devotes space to explaining the internal difficulties of the Palestinian ruling bodies, it would have been useful to have more information on Palestinian power structures and society and more detail on their responses to Israeli policies as well.
Despite my curiosity on this point, LeVine’s book does successfully show the many reasons why the Oslo peace process was never really able to get off the ground. He manages to unravel the complicated tangle of broken promises, internal wrangles, violence, corruption and economic warfare in such a way as to paint a clear and detailed picture of the challenges that have plagued the peace process and will likely continue to do so.
Most enlightening and worrying, however, was the assertion that Israel/Palestine must be acknowledged as a country of apartheid and ethnocracy, more entrenched every day by the growing separation wall. This is a shocking fact that is rarely articulated in such a stark way. If the ongoing violence and suffering has so far failed to convince, this chilling fact of physical apartheid makes us realise that there are no grounds whatsoever upon which the Israel/Palestine conflict can be tolerated by the international community any longer.
Overall LeVine’s book offers an approachable and detailed account, which succeeds to argue that the peace process was over before it began. In making this argument he succeeds in tracing the continuing changes through which the Jewish population has become further entrenched whilst the non-Jewish population has found itself increasingly marginalised.
So where to now? LeVine’s book is essential reading for anyone discussing the attitude of the Obama administration to the Middle East. It shows that if a peace is to be forged it is necessary to face up to the past as honestly as possible, with both sides admitting their mistakes. It will also be imperative that the economic factors are taken in to consideration with the development of the Palestinian economy recognised as a crucial factor, as well as the acknowledgement that the inherent violence and division of neo-liberal economic policies in both the Israeli and Palestinian economies, can only wreak more damage, and must be replaced with more sensitive, fair, and far-sighted models.
In LeVine’s words, ‘If there is ever to be a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land both Israelis and Palestinians will have to escape from the burdens of their shared yet conflicted histories and imagine new identities and new forms of citizenship that can provide a decent life, with dignity, security and hope for the future for both peoples. Until that happens, Oslo’s legacy will be more blood and tears.’
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself