Defining the Palestinian territories

Hussein Ibish argues that Palestinians are right to demand a definition of the West Bank and Gaza from the Israeli government:

Palestinians are insisting that Israel cannot continue to treat the territories occupied in 1967 in a selective manner, regarding settlers and settlements as unambiguously “Israeli” but the Palestinian population as fundamentally alien and outside Israel. The new Palestinian strategies are pressing the uncomfortable but unavoidable question: are these territories part of Israel, or not?

Throughout its policies in the occupied territories, Israel picks and chooses according to its convenience, maintaining an untenable ambiguity regarding the legal and political status of the territory and its residents. This ambiguity begins with the legal and political status of the population of the territories. While Israeli settlers live under Israeli civil law and with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, Palestinians live under Israeli civil and military administration with a very different set of laws and without the rights or responsibilities of citizenship. This structure based on dual registers of reality in the same space extends throughout the entire system of the occupation.

The recent flap over Israel’s OECD membership is an excellent case in point. Israelis were outraged that Palestinians would object to Israel’s attempt to join the organisation, but the Palestinians were making an important point: Israel includes the prosperous, heavily subsidised, settlement economy in all of the “national” economic statistics it submitted for OECD membership, but excludes all aspects of the Palestinian economy that struggles under occupation. It’s not just a question of veracity of Israel’s figures. It is a demand to know on what basis Israel can consider the settlements part of the “Israeli” economy but surrounding Palestinian villages not.

Clarity is also the ultimate aim of the boycott of settlement goods recently launched by the Palestinian Authority. The boycott serves many purposes, including bolstering the Palestinian economy and harnessing Palestinian spending power in developing its own society.

It’s encouraging that the Palestinian Authority is using political and economic means to pursue statehood, in contrast to Hamas’ violence.  I read a few articles about the boycott here (the link provided by Ibish), here and here (the last two links are from the first article).  It reminded me of the boycotts used by American colonists in the early days of the American-British disputes after the French and Indian War.

I’d encourage you to read all of Ibish’s short article.  It seems like he raises some good points.



  1. Would that the Palestinians only pursued non-violent solutions, then there there’d be no need for a “siege” (is it a siege? blockade? embargo?), checkpoints, etc. which muddle the issues.

    IIRC, Palestinians are the most subsidized people on Earth, so I wonder what that would do if included in Israel’s income? And ironically, if it is part of Israel proper, would that make the Palestinians the occupiers?

    But as I understand it (which Ibish ignores so artfully that I wonder if I’m wrong or missing something), Israel has largely relinquished control with few exceptions, making it logical to exclude it from their economic calculations. But the calculations are not really the point, which is probably to influence the OECD and coerce Israel to classify the territories such that other international laws can be brought against them.

    Nevertheless, I agree that Israel is going to have to unilaterally define and resolve the problem at some point, a point which may be hastened by economic disengagement. My guess is that Israel will keep Jerusalem.

    What are the salient similarities you see with the boycotts by American colonists? Was it involuntary? Was there an American law that prevented working for the British or trading with them? Were there similar random attacks against the British civilians?

  2. Re: the blockade: right on.

    It’s interesting to think what the subsidies would do to the calculations. But Israel claims the land as its own for now, and no country besides Israel recognizes the legality of the occupation. So I’m sure that there would be advantages to clarifying the status of the territories for international law purposes, but international law is already in favor of the Palestinians. I think that the Palestinians would be just “the residents” unless Israel by law has to be only populated with Jews (which few in Israel outside the far right think, to my knowledge). Israel is (and almost certainly should be) a Jewish state for the Jewish people, but not exclusively Jewish in population.

    Israel has ceded control of a lot of things, but still controls (I think) a lot of the economy and certainly reserves a lot of security/military rights (although the Palestinian security forces have been developing under training by US general Dayton). Check out the links about the boycott for more information. I’m still trying to put all the pieces together, so I could be wrong.

    I hope that it won’t end up as a unilateral definition. Salaam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, is focusing on institution building and is seen with optimism in the West (and to some degree in Israel, I think). Ideally, there will be some kind of agreement between the two sides, but that’s very uncertain. Fayyad, from my understanding, is not as well regarded by Palestinians as he is by outsiders.

    I think that one of the unspoken problems is that the Israeli government (especially this administration) tends to think that they can win the Palestinians over by benevolent rule. Even the state that Netanyahu has offered is, in my understanding, not truly independent. Another problem, spoken about much more often and just as important, is whether Israel can really trust the Palestinians. Jeff Goldberg expressed this well here:

    As far as the comparison to the American Revolution, Americans responded to some of the British laws with boycotts of British goods. Here’s an example: There were attacks on British Loyalists by some groups during the Revolutionary War. But I’m talking about the specific tactic used by the Palestinians as opposed to rocket attacks, etc. Like any group, the Palestinians are complex and have different factions. Rocket attacks and nonviolent protests are tactics sponsored by different factions (Hamas and the PA, respectively). I don’t doubt that many average Palestinians support both, but they aren’t joined together.

  3. I haven’t heard that Israel should only be populated with Jews. I have heard concern over incorporating all Palestinians and, more realistically, demographic shifts due to birth rates, as in parts of Europe. If Israel is to remain a Jewish State, increasingly racist policies would probably be necessary, which would be a shame. Of course, there are even Jews who don’t think Israel should exist, so the problem is ideological.

    Does it make sense to you to exclude the territories from Israel’s economic calculation?

    AFAIK, Israel does not control the internals (excepting limits on arms) but it does control its own borders (well, and then some, atm), which can have a significant economic impact. They also have tax agreements, where Israel collects taxes (e.g. employee, sales, VAT) which it gives to the PA… well, when it’s not being attacked… actually, all these external controls wax and wane based upon attacks on Israel and expectations thereof.

    I guess you could say that Israel reserves security/military rights, but how is that different from the right of every country to protect itself and control its borders? Considering the US response to 9/11, I have no doubt the US would not tolerate a similarly belligerent neighbor or native reservation.

    I’d be interested in any details you find salient about the current or proposed limits on PA independence. When I’ve come across them, they seem to be closely aligned with Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

    Other than both using boycotts, I’m still missing the similarities with early Americans. In fact, since the PA “boycott” is involuntary, it is probably more accurately an embargo. I am consistently disappointed by their abuse of words; it breeds distrust.

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