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Rethinking our definition of apartheid: not just a political regime (Part II)

Aug. 28, 2017 5:01 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 28, 2017 6:29 P.M.)
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though not by the Israeli government (AFP, File)
By: Al-Shabaka

Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law. This is the second of a two-part policy brief written by Haidar Eid and Andy Clarno. Part I was published on Sunday. The full report can be read here.

Racial capitalism in Palestine/Israel

Seeing apartheid through this lens also allows an understanding that Israeli settler colonialism now operates through neoliberal racial capitalism. Over the last 25 years, Israel has intensified its settler colonial project under the guise of peace. All of historic Palestine remains subject to Israeli rule, which operates by fragmenting the Palestinian population. Oslo enabled Israel to further fragment the OPT and supplement direct military rule with aspects of indirect rule. The Gaza Strip has been transformed into a “concentration camp” and a model “native reserve” through a deadly, medieval siege described by Richard Falk as a “prelude to genocide” and by Ilan Pappe as an “incremental genocide.” In the West Bank, Israel’s new colonial strategy involves concentrating the Palestinian population into Areas A and B and colonizing Area C. Instead of granting Palestinians freedom and equality, Oslo restructured relations of domination. In short, Oslo has intensified, rather than reversed, Israel’s settler colonial project.

The reorganization of Israeli rule has occurred alongside the neoliberal restructuring of the economy. Since the 1980s, Israel has undergone a fundamental transformation from a state-led economy focused on domestic consumption to a corporate-driven economy integrated into the circuits of global capital. Neoliberal restructuring has generated massive corporate profits while dismantling welfare, weakening the labor movement, and increasing inequality. The Oslo negotiations were central to this project. Shimon Peres and Israeli business elites argued that the “peace process” would open the markets of the Arab world to US and Israeli capital and facilitate Israel’s integration into the global economy. After Oslo, Israel quickly signed free trade agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Neoliberal restructuring has enabled Israel to carry out its new colonial strategy by significantly reducing its reliance on Palestinian labor. Israel’s transition to a high-tech economy decreased the demand for industrial and agricultural workers. Free trade agreements allowed Israeli manufacturers to shift production from Palestinian subcontractors to export-processing zones in neighboring countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union followed by “shock doctrine” neoliberalism led more than one million Russian Jews to seek opportunities in Israel. And neoliberal restructuring on a global scale led to the immigration of 300,000 migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe. These groups now compete with Palestinians for the remaining low-wage jobs. The settler-colonial state thus used neoliberal restructuring to engineer the disposability of the Palestinian population.

Life for working class Palestinians has become increasingly precarious. With limited access to jobs in Israel, poverty and unemployment have soared within the Palestinian enclaves. Although the Palestinian Authority (PA) has always endorsed the neoliberal vision of a private sector-led, export-oriented, free market economy, the PA initially responded to the crisis of unemployment by creating thousands of public sector jobs.

Since 2007, however, the PA has followed a strictly neoliberal economic program that calls for cuts to public employment and an expansion of private sector investment. Despite these plans, the private sector remains weak and fragmented. Plans for industrial zones along Israel’s illegal Wall that snakes through the OPT have largely failed due to Israeli restrictions on imports and exports and the relatively high cost of Palestinian labor compared to that of Egypt and Jordan.

Although neoliberal policies have made life even more difficult for working class Palestinians, they have contributed to the growth of a small Palestinian elite in the OPT composed of the PA leadership, Palestinian capitalists, and NGO officials. Visitors to Ramallah are often surprised to see palatial mansions, expensive restaurants, five-star hotels, and luxury vehicles. These are not signs of a thriving economy, but rather of the growing class divide. Similarly, a new Hamas-affiliated nouveau-bourgeoisie has emerged in Gaza since 2006. Its wealth depends on the dwindling “tunnel industry,” a monopoly on construction materials smuggled from Egypt, and limited goods imported from Israel. Both Fatah and Hamas elites accumulate their wealth from non-productive activities, and they are both characterized by a total absence of political vision. Haidar Eid refers to this as Osloization in the West Bank and Islamization in the Gaza Strip.

Further, joining the forces of repression has become one of the only job opportunities available to the majority of Palestinians, especially young men. Although some PA jobs are in education and health care, most are with the PA security forces. As Alaa Tartir has demonstrated, these forces are designed to protect the security of Israel. Since 2007, they have been reorganized under the supervision of the United States. More than 80,000 strong, the new PA security forces are trained by the US in Jordan and deployed throughout West Bank enclaves in close coordination with the Israeli military. Israel and the PA share intelligence, coordinate arrests, and cooperate on weapons confiscations. Together, they target not only Islamists and leftists but all Palestinian critics of Oslo. Most recently, security coordination between Israel and the PA preceded the assassination of activist Basil al-Araj.

The only sector of the Israeli economy that has retained a relatively steady demand for Palestinian workers is construction, due largely to the expansion of Israeli settlements and the wall in the West Bank. According to a 2011 Democracy and Workers’ Rights survey, 82 percent of Palestinians employed in the settlements would leave their jobs if they could find a suitable alternative.

This means that two of the only jobs available for Palestinians from the West Bank today are building Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land or working with the PA security forces to help Israel suppress Palestinian resistance to apartheid.

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip do not even have these “opportunities.” In fact, Gaza is one of the most extreme versions of engineered disposability. Settler-colonial displacement turned Gaza into a refugee camp in 1948, when Zionist militias and later the Israeli army expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their towns and villages. 70 percent of Gaza’s two million residents are refugees, a living reminder of the Nakba and an embodied demand for the right of return. Political and economic restructuring through Oslo enabled Israel to transform Gaza into a prison built to concentrate and contain this unwanted surplus population. And the ever-intensifying Israeli siege demonstrates Gazans’ complete dehumanization. For Israel’s neoliberal colonial project, Palestinian lives have no value and their death does not matter.

Overall, therefore, neoliberalism coupled with Israel’s settler colonial project has transformed the Palestinians into a disposable population. This has enabled Israel to carry out its project of concentration and colonization. Understanding the neoliberal dynamics of Israel’s settler-colonial regime can contribute to the development of strategies to challenge Israeli apartheid not only as a system of racial domination but as a regime of racial capitalism.

Confronting the Economics of Israeli Apartheid

An important question for the Palestinian liberation movement is how to avoid the pitfalls of post-apartheid South Africa in developing a vision for post-apartheid Palestine/Israel. As Black radicals predicted, an exclusive focus on the racial state has led to serious socioeconomic problems in South Africa since 1994. Palestinian liberation does not have to end with the same “solution” as that offered by the ANC. This will require attention not only to political rights but also to difficult questions about land redistribution and economic structure to ensure a more equal outcome. One crucial place to begin is by continuing conversations about the practical dynamics of Palestinian return.

It is also important to recognize that the current situation in Palestine is closely connected to processes reshaping social relations around the world. South Africa and Palestine, for example, are experiencing similar social and economic changes despite their radically different political trajectories. In both contexts, neoliberal racial capitalism has produced extreme inequality, racialized marginalization, and advanced strategies for protecting the powerful and policing the racialized poor. Andy Clarno refers to this combination as neoliberal apartheid.

Around the world, wealth and income are increasingly controlled by a handful of billionaire capitalists. As the ground collapses beneath the middle class, the gulf between rich and poor grows wider and the lives of the poorest become increasingly precarious. Neoliberal restructuring has enabled some members of historically oppressed populations to join the ranks of the elite. This explains the emergence of the new Palestinian elite in the OPT and the new Black elite in South Africa.

At the same time, neoliberal restructuring has deepened the marginalization of the racialized poor by intensifying both exploitation and abandonment. Jobs have become increasingly precarious, and entire regions have experienced declining demands for labor. While some racialized populations are marked for superexploitation in sweatshops and service industries, others -- like Palestinians -- are abandoned to a life of unemployment and informality.

Neoliberal apartheid regimes like Israel depend on advanced strategies of securitization to maintain power. Israel exercises sovereignty over the OPT through military deployments, electronic surveillance, imprisonment, interrogations, and torture. The state has also produced a fragmented geography of isolated Palestinian enclosures surrounded by walls and checkpoints and managed through closures and permits. And Israeli companies have taken the lead in the global market for advanced security equipment by developing and testing high-tech devices in the OPT. The most important addition to Israel’s security regime, however, is a network of security forces facilitated by the US and the EU, supported by Jordan and Egypt, and operated through coordinated deployments of Israeli military and PA security forces.

Like Israel, other neoliberal apartheid regimes rely on walled enclosures, private and state security forces, and racialized policing strategies. In South Africa, securitization has involved the fortification of wealthy neighborhoods, the rapid expansion of the private security industry, and intense state repression of independent trade unions and social movements. In the United States, efforts to produce security for the powerful include gated communities, border walls, mass incarceration, mass deportation, electronic surveillance, drone wars, and the rapid growth of police, prison, border patrol, military, and intelligence forces.

Unlike South Africa, Israel remains an aggressive settler-colonial state. In this context, neoliberalism is part of Israel’s settler-colonial strategy to eliminate the Palestinian population. But the combination of racial domination and neoliberal capitalism has produced growing inequality, racialized marginalization, and advanced securitization in many parts of the world. As movements and activists build connections between struggles against racialized poverty and policing in Palestine, South Africa, the US, and beyond, understanding Israeli apartheid as a form of racial capitalism could contribute to the expansion of movements against global, neoliberal apartheid.
It could also help shift the political discourse in Palestine from independence to decolonization. In his seminal work The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon argues that one of the pitfalls of national consciousness is a liberation movement that ends with an independent state governed by a nationalist elite that mimics the colonial power. To prevent this from happening, Fanon encourages a shift from national consciousness toward political and social consciousness. Moving from political independence to social transformation and decolonization is the challenge facing post-apartheid South Africa. Avoiding this trap is a challenge confronting Palestinian political forces in the struggle for liberation today.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.

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