Fundamentalist colonialism - the geopolitics of Israeli–Palestinian conflict

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Political Geography 22 (2003) 347380 www.politicalgeography.com

Fundamentalist colonialism: the geopolitics of IsraeliPalestinian conictR. Reuveny School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Suite 430, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

Abstract In July 2000, it looked as if Israeli-Palestinian peace was just around the corner. Although the Camp David Summit did not lead to a permanent agreement, talks continued. By the fall of 2002, the peace process had all but collapsed. The two sides clash violently and almost daily. The premise of this paper is that Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible. Given this premise, the paper addresses two questions. First, why did the Oslo peace process fail to resolve the conict? Second, assuming a Palestinian state were to be formed, what would be the best geopolitical arrangement to secure a stable Israeli-Palestinian peace? This paper argues that at its core, the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conict is driven by Israeli colonialism: since 1967, Israel has built numerous settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and has, in practice, annexed the land. At the forefront of this colonialist movement are settlers who are members of Israeli fundamentalist groups that believe in the vision of biblical Israel. Historically, colonialism has remained intact as long as the native population accepted its presence. When this passivity was replaced by a quest for independence, colonialism collapsed. Some colonial rulers left peacefully. Others put up a ght. Colonial conicts ended only when the colonial rulers gave up the colonies. To the extent that history can serve as a model, there can be no resolution of the conict until Israel withdraws from all the territories and evacuates all its settlements, and a Palestinian state forms in all the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the Palestinian state takes the form of numerous discontinuous enclaves surrounded by Israeli land, the conict likely will continue. 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.Keywords: Decolonization; Settlements; Oslo Process; Conict resolution

Tel.: 812-855-4944; fax: 812-855-7802. E-mail address: rreuveny@indiana.edu (R. Reuveny).

0962-6298/03/$ - see front matter 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S0962-6298(02)00114-2

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R. Reuveny / Political Geography 22 (2003) 347380

Introduction In July 2000, it looked as if Israeli-Palestinian peace was just around the corner. Although the Camp David Summit did not lead to a peace agreement, talks continued. Then, on September 28, 2000, a visit by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem provoked Palestinian protests that grew into a rebellion against Israelthe second intifada. The two sides continued to talk and in January 2001 progress apparently had been made (European Union, 2002). By then, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had lost parliamentary support. In February 2001, Sharon formed a new government and the January 2001 progress was nullied. Since then, the conict has escalated into a violent cycle of actions and reactions. Most Israelis and Palestinians support negotiations toward a reconciliation agreement.1 Throughout the second intifada, Israeli and Palestinian ofcials discussed cease-re and cooperation. This mixture of violence and cooperation has characterized the Israeli-Palestinian relationship since 1992, when the two sides began to discuss peace. Understanding why the relationship is unstable is important for resolving the conict. Some observers believe that Palestinians want to destroy Israel. Others believe Israel wants to dominate the Palestinians. A third view is that Israel and a Palestinian state cannot coexist. Taken together, these views imply indenite conict. The premise of this paper is that Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible. Peace, of course, can entail different levels of friendliness. In this paper, peace is taken to denote at least formal diplomatic relations and the cession of hostilities. Given this premise, the paper addresses two questions. First, why did the Oslo peace process fail to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conict? Second, assuming a Palestinian state were to be formed, what would be the best geopolitical arrangement to secure a stable Israeli-Palestinian peace? These questions are analyzed against a backdrop of historical colonialism and decolonization. The benet of using a colonial framework is that it places the Israeli-Palestinian conict in a comparative environment. Too often, this conict is looked at in terms of its unique nature. While there are features that make the Israeli-Palestinian case different from other colonial situations, there are enough similarities to make an objective observer wonder where this conict is leading, and how it will ultimately be resolved. When Israels presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (the territories) is placed within the context of colonialism, it is more often than not done as part of some polemic and using an antagonistic tone, so that any attempt to be reective is immediately paralyzed. One exception to this assessment is provided by Lusticks (1993, 1994) comparison of the Israeli link to the territories from 19671992, with the British link to1 In July 2001, e.g., 73% of Israelis and Palestinians supported reconciliation (Haaretz Jul 23, 2001). In December 2001, 71% of Palestinians supported negotiations (Haaretz Dec 26, 2001). In April 2002, 73% of Israelis supported negotiations (Yediot April 5, 2002). In May 2002, 70% of Palestinians supported reconciliation (Center for Palestinian Studies and ResearchCPRSMay 15-19, 2002).

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Ireland from 18861922, and the French link to Algeria from 19551962. Probing a threshold of settler activity that makes violence over state contraction likely, he concluded that Israeli Prime Minister Rabins attempt to leave the territories stood a better chance than the 1914 failed British attempt to leave Ireland, and the 1959 1961 successful French attempt to leave Algeria. In the mid-1990s, political geographers studying the Israeli-Palestinian conict were also optimistic. For example, Falah (1997) argued that Israeli-Palestinian enmity was about to be transformed into a link characterized by high concern for the self and high concern for the other (1997: 310). Similarly, Newman and Falah (1997) expected that in the future the gap between the two sides would close. These expectations have not yet materialized, the explanation of which further motivates this paper. Some studies (e.g., Newman, 2002; Klieman, 2000; Alpher, 1995) imply that the nature of Israeli-Palestinian conict always has been about the partition of Israel/Palestine. However, this paper argues that the nature of the conict changed fundamentally after 1967, when Israel occupied the territories. Israeli control of the territories is a form of colonialism nourished by a mixture of Jewish nationalism and religionor Israeli fundamentalism. Since 1967, Israel has built numerous settlements in the territories and has, in practice, annexed the land. The contemporary Israeli-Palestinian relationship is a conict over Israeli decolonization; many similar conicts occurred in the past. Historically, colonialism remained intact as long as the native population accepted its presence. When this passivity was replaced by a quest for independence, colonialism collapsed. Some colonial rulers left peacefully. Others put up a ght. Colonial conicts ended only when the rulers gave up the colonies. If the interpretation that history can serve as a model is correct, the Israeli-Palestinian conict may only end following complete Israeli decolonization and the formation of a Palestinian state in its place. Palestinian statehood is supported by many Israelis, but its borders are contested. Israeli Labor and left wing parties agree to a state covering most of the territories. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon apparently agrees to a state in the areas that the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled at the eve of Camp David. The Palestinian Authority wants a state encompassing the entire territories.2 Importantly, if the Palestinian state would take the form of numerous discontinuous enclaves surrounded by Israeli land, the conict likely would continue. My analysis, no doubt, will be deemed controversial. Colonialism is a loaded term. The approach of this paper, however, is not normative but rather empirical. Structural instability The questions of what caused the failure of the Camp David Summit and the onset of the second intifada are hotly debated. One position blames the Palestinians. Some2 Examples of statements to that effect are provided later. In May 2002, 66% of Palestinians supported peace with Israel, in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (CPRS, May 1519, 2002). The Palestinian Islamist opposition claims all of Palestine (including Israel proper).

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argue that Yasser Arafat planned the rebellion before the summit because he feared that peace would diminish his stature. Others argue that the Palestinians planned the violence in order to pressure Israel to make more concessions, because they believed that violence triggered the Oslo process (Haaretz Sept 19, 2001; Ben-Meir, 2001). Another view is that the Palestinian leaders lacked the maturity to accept Baraks generous offer. The failure of the summit, in turn, facilitated the violence, contradicting the premise of the Oslo process: peaceful negotiations (Eldar, 2002; Makovsky, 2001; Sontag, 2001; Malley and Agha, 2001; Haaretz Mar 29, Sept 19, 2001; Yediot Jul 20, 2001). A second position blames Israel. Some argue that Israels Camp David offer, in effect,