Saturday, January 10, 2009

How do you make peace with those who don't seem to want it?

Amid his run of posts covering Israel's all too typical criminal attack on the people of Gaza, and the outraged international response to it, Ellis Sharp reads Time magazine so I don't have to [by the way, I am also indebted to many other blog commentators, but, as ever, especially Richard Seymour and his remarkable series of posts at Lenin's Tomb's over the last several weeks. These are just three of them: "The myth of Hamas rejectionism"; "At what point does it become genocide?"; and "An extremist minority who should be ostracized"]. Though the author of the Time article seems impatient with Israel, he asks these crucial questions:
How do you make peace with those who don't seem to want it? How do you win a war when the other side believes time is on its side? And what would true security, in a hostile neighborhood populated with enemies, actually look like?
Good questions. Naturally, he's referring to the Palestinians here. Ellis observes that painting the Palestinians as "intransigent savages who just don't want peace" is "one of the defaults of colonialist and imperialist discourse". Similarly, I would add, it is said of such oppressed peoples that violence is the only thing they understand, something often said of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, in reality it's Israel which has continually violated ceasefires and resisted any peaceful solution. And the only limited gains the Palestinians have ever achieved have been when they've fought back, with force, implying that it's Israel that understands nothing but violence. At this point the question must be asked whether Israel, as a nation-state, wants peace of any kind.

Unexpectedly, Naomi Klein provides some insight into these matters*. In her excellent book, The Shock Doctrine, Klein narrates in numbing detail the economic shock therapy applied in country after country, from Chile to Argentina to Brazil to Mexico to Poland to Russia to South Africa and on and on and on. Neoliberal lunatics recommending and enforcing their untenable, wildly unpopular policies, which can be and have been implemented only either with extreme violence or through sleight of hand (itself usually accompanied by violence, once people realize what has happened). The hollowing out of the U.S government, including Rumsfeld's outsourcing of various tasks normally handled within the military, is part of this account, as is the creation of the security market and the emerging power of private security firms.

It is in this context that Klein discusses Israel, and the breakdown of the Oslo Peace Accords and collapse of subsequent peace agreements. She identifies two little-discussed factors "that contributed to Israel's retreat into unilateralism", both related to this global neoliberal program:
One was the influx of Soviet Jews, which was a direct result of Russia's shock therapy experiment. The other was the flipping of Israel's export economy from one based on traditional goods and high technology to one disproportionately dependent on selling expertise and devices relating to counterterrorism. [. . .] [T]he arrival of Russians reduced Israel's reliance on Palestinian labor and allowed it to seal in the occupied territories, while the rapid expansion of the high-tech security economy created a powerful appetite inside Israel's wealthy and most powerful sectors for abandoning peace in favor of fighting a continual, and continuously expanding, War on Terror.
The mass exodus of Soviet Jews into Israel amounted to "roughly 1 million" Jews entering Israel throughout the 1990s. One of the factors leading to the Oslo agreement had been the widespread feeling within the Israeli business community that enough was enough. But this changed with this major demographic shift (Soviet Jews now amounting to up to 18% of the Jewish population of Israel):
This demographic transformation upended the agreement's already precarious dynamic. Before the arrival of the Soviet refugees, Israel could not have severed itself for any length of time from the Palestinian populations in Gaza and the West Bank; its economy could no more survive without Palestinian labor than California could run without Mexicans. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians left their homes in Gaza and the West Bank every day and traveled to Israel to clean streets and build roads, while Palestinian farmers and tradespeople filled trucks with goods and sold them in Israel and in other parts of the territories. Each side depended on the other economically, and Israel took aggressive measures to prevent the Palestinian territories from developing autonomous trade relationships with Arab states.

Then, just as Oslo came into effect, that deeply interdependent relationship was abruptly severed. Unlike Palestinian workers, whose presence in Israel challenged the Zionist project by making demands on the Israeli state for restitution of stolen land and for equal citizenship rights, the hundreds of thousands of Russians who came to Israel at this juncture had the opposite effect. They bolstered Zionist goals by markedly increasing the ratio of Jews to Arabs, while simultaneously providing a new pool of cheap labor. Suddenly, Tel Aviv had the power to launch a new era in Palestinian relations.
In addition, Israel's economic reliance on high-tech further lessened its labor needs. So, though business leaders had felt that peace was necessary for prosperity, in fact during the 1990s the Israeli economy performed well, independent of the state of the peace process. Then when the tech bubble burst in 2000, Israel was hit very hard, prompting the government to drastically increase military spending and the tech industry to move into security and surveillance. In the post-9/11 homeland security boom, Israeli firms have emerged as major players. Klein provides a variety of statistics showing how well Israel has fared in this counter-terrorism market; the upshot is you have a situation where elites not only no longer have much use for Palestinian labor, but also directly profit from the avoidance of peace. Combined with the imperial-racist ideology of Zionism and an American sponsor with its own grandiose ambitions in the Middle East (and its own related booming security/surveillance complex), and the prospects for peace and justice seem remote indeed. As Klein puts it, where war has always certainly been a money-maker, it has been a temporary solution, with stability seen as necessary for business prosperity; now the "incentive for peace" for these players has been eliminated. As she says, the War on Terror is "not a war that can be won by any country, but winning is not the point." Israel is a country-sized version of the Green Zone in Iraq, or the rebuilt, wealthy enclaves in post-Katrina New Orleans:
[A]n entire country has turned itself into a fortified gated community, surrounded by locked-out people living in permanently excluded red zones. This is what a society looks like when it has lost its economic incentive for peace and is heavily invested in fighting and profiting from an endless and unwinnable War on Terror. One part looks like Israel; the other part looks like Gaza.
* I say "unexpectedly" only because I read The Shock Doctrine expecting details about and hoping for insight into the workings of the neoliberal order, not looking for information on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict (though I am finally not surprised to learn of a connection between the two).

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