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.’
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it