Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too Busy to Blog ? Read Benvinisti

Meron Benvenisti is always interesting, and today in Haaretz he makes for good reading. I think he overstates his case -- only some Palestinian cities in the West Bank are better off than they were; the Gazans are still miserable; and this is part of the "divide-and-rule" strategy employed by the Zionists from time immemorial.

But, with no end for the mess in sight, at least the Palestinians should suffer less. And I hope that Netanyahu's government will be better than the last several governments.

Benvinisti's comparison of the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank with the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel is instructive. Over the last several decades, education and acculturation have enabled Palestinian Arabs to fight back against legal, practical, and foundational discrimination in the Israeli ethnocracy. The victories have been few and far between, but the gradual process has its slow and cumulative effect. Slavery, segregation, apartheid, all lasted well after they were known to be immoral. But in each case, things changed because the groundwork had been lain, and reasonable people saw that the status quo was unjust and intolerable -- and because the oppressed had managed to show, through education and acculturation, the absurdity of the oppression.

Don't expect Netanyahu to liberate the Palestinians or to withdraw from the territories, or to remove outposts. But if he is able -- in order to avoid a Palestinian state -- to better the lives of the Palestinians economically, then this may set into motion a chain reaction which -- like emancipation, integration, and the end of apartheid -- is not intended by those who initiate it.

Interesting only when they are violent

By Meron Benvenisti

The accepted dictum is that the situation in the occupied territories interests Israelis only when something violent takes place there and when the events fit with the standard narrative about the settlers, the roadblocks and the injustices of the occupation. The truth of this maxim is proven again in that change for the better in the security situation and the economy and the general atmosphere in the West Bank merits very little interest and negligible reporting.

So processes with far-reaching implications for the political reality and the arguments accompanying the establishment of the Netanyahu government do not receive the attention they deserve. There is no need for thorough research to grasp that the situation in the West Bank is different from what emerges in severe reports about backwardness, unemployment, and economic under-development there and the general feeling that the territories are dangerous and violent.

It is sufficient to stroll through Ramallah to feel the lively and relaxed atmosphere. The animated economic activity is evident. The improvement can be seen also in cities that were the focus of violence such as Nablus and Hebron. Journalists who visit the Jenin area report with amazement how calm and organized life is there, and how the polished Palestinian policemen are in control of the area that not long ago was the stronghold of armed men. Israeli Arabs have returned to shopping in the markets of Jenin and Tul Karm, despite the ban on this.

The data confirm the picture of economic recovery. During the past year, there was an increase of more than a third in commercial activity, and despite the signs of recession, the rise in the standard of living is continuing. True, the per capita Gross Domestic Product is still less than one-tenth of the Israeli GDP, and the prosperity is misleading since it is based on the flow of donations from abroad, which despite the attempt to direct them to productive channels, encourage wasteful consumption. But the aim of the donors is to provide political support for the Palestinian Authority and to fight Hamas by economic means.

They are apparently succeeding in this. Fact: The West Bank remained calm during the fighting in Gaza and was not dragged into reactions of protest, in fact even less so than among Israeli Arabs. Security officials are aware of this improvement and they are doing away with roadblocks, making the movement of traffic easier and even forgoing sections of the separation fence in the Jerusalem area.

In view of this improvement, it is perhaps possible that Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in claiming that we should concentrate on "economic peace" and that in view of the lack of a chance for a permanent solution, attempts must be made to continue the economic development in the territories.

This approach should not be rejected with contempt and presented as a foolish attempt to transform nationalist aspirations into promises of economic improvement. The opposite approach also, that of a "peace process" that has still not yielded fruit, can be seen as a way of justifying disregard for reality.

The left-wing camp sticks to its positions and prefers to ignore the economic improvement in the territories since it is forbidden to add a positive coloring to the cruel picture of occupation. The right-wing camp likewise ignores the improvement in the situation; because then "security considerations" will disappear as an excuse for acts of dispossession in the style of the separation fence.

Ignoring the situation is convenient for everyone, and therefore all are partner to the concept that the Arabs are interesting only when they are violent. Under cover of this lack of interest, the Israeli rule over the West Bank is continuing to deepen. It is commonly believed that the Palestinians will begin a third intifada but perhaps this stems from sticking to the concept that they understand nothing but force. Perhaps they have genuinely grown tired of the violence that led them to disaster and they are adopting the strategy of the Israeli Arabs, which forces the Israelis to relate to their non-violent struggle and to their community's accumulation of economic strength.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Regarding removal of the roadblocks, see this and a bit more in detail this (Hebrew). In short, while it is still a welcome change - i.e., more freedom of movement for the Palestinians, it comes with a couple of important caveats. First, the freedom of movement is restricted to daytime. See this comment by Yaara, the activist behind "Khatzer Akhorit":
Those are efforts to hide the occupation. It will be more, as you put it, camera friendly, harder for me to write my reports.
About two years ago a women from Beit Furic was stopped during the night by an iron arm on her way to an hospital in Nablus. Her husband ran to the CP (about two minuets) woke up the soldier and asked him to open the gate (another two minutes to come back). They managed to arrive to the hospital on time. It is one of many incidents when ‘nothing’ happens, thus we don’t hear about them. After this, the iron arm was left open during the night. Till now.
Now they have to call the DCO. The DCO’s office is on the other side of the apartheid road leading to Elion More settlement and to Beit Furic and Beit Degan villages. It would take the DCO at least 15 minutes to get there and open the arm.

Second, the free movement is, quite contrary to common sense (at least as far as I can see) is only for cars, not pedestrians. Important to keep in mind...