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After the Pacification: New Israeli Strategies of Control

Sunday 12 October 2008, by Sergio Yahni

As part of the Israeli newspapers’ extended coverage in run up to the Jewish high holidays, Brigadier General Gadi Shamni, currently head of the Israeli military’s central command, gave an exclusive interview to the Haaretz newspaper in Hebrew on 3 October.

General Shamni praises the Palestinian Authority (PA) forces for their ongoing war against Hamas, viewing the struggle against the Islamic organization as a joint venture of the Israeli military and the Palestinian security forces. Shamni remarks that these joint efforts against the Hamas civil and military infrastructure improved following Israel’s closure of a shopping mall in Nablus, which was operated by an Islamic charity. “We taught them that there are ways to undermine Hamas’ capacities. They understood the logic and value of this. An association such as al-Tadmon (which operated the mall in Nablus) financed Hamas. After Nablus, the Palestinian Authority complained. We told them, we don’t stop you from acting, the more you do the less we will intervene.”

According to General Shamni, Israel supports the PA in its struggle against Hamas by providing intelligence. “They can do the rest alone, and they do it well,” he notes, adding, “I was informed that the Palestinian Authority replaced the board of directors of the association in Nablus with people loyal to the Palestinian Authority. We had confiscated the cars of the association, now we will return them.”

Israel supports the Palestinian Authority’s efforts against Hamas as part of a wider plan to pacify the occupied Palestinian territories. Since the death of Yasser Arafat, those efforts include transforming the Authority from a vehicle of state building into a body that administers the life of the Palestinians and collaborates with Israel in repressing threats to Israel’s defined security and national interests.

The idea of establishing a political entity short of a state in order to negotiate with Israel for Palestinian independence was Arafat’s sole justification for signing the Oslo Agreements. Israel, however, conceived the agreements differently. Israel’s inability to suppress the first Intifada by force led the Rabin government to accept a negotiated outcome of the uprising. In addition, the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian entity allowed Israel to open diplomatic relations with powerful emerging countries, such as India and China, led to the cancellation of the Arab indirect boycott with Israel and opened the door for Israeli industry to access global markets.

However, due to the political weight of the settlement movement, which is larger than the settler population and embodies many of Israel’s religious and nationalist symbols, every Israeli government must negotiate an agreement with this movement before negotiating any agreement with the Palestinians. The extent of Israeli readiness to retreat from the occupied Palestinian territories and the extent of Palestinian independence then becomes a compromise between Israel’s perceived political, economic, and demographic interests, on the one hand, and the level of flexibility of the settlement movement, on the other. In addition, the Israeli military establishment conceives an independent and sovereign Palestinian state as a threat to Israel’s security interests.

The political flexibility of the settler movement’s security assumptions, in addition to the aim of sustaining a Jewish political majority in Israel, led to the outline of a new political consensus in Israel. This consensus, which includes most of the center-Left and center-Right political forces represented in the Knesset, states that Israel will retreat from the West Bank, to a line agreed upon by an internal Israeli agreement, and a Palestinian independent but not sovereign entity will be created. Paradoxically, this Israeli perception, and sole Israeli proposition for peace currently on the table today, strips the Palestinian Authority of its political agency, excluding it from the negotiations table, but requiring the Palestinian security forces to become Israel’s security contractor.

The new Israeli consensus was outlined in an agreement between Yossi Beilin and Michael Eitan prior to the 1995 assassination of Rabin. It was an attempt to reframe the legitimate limits of Zionist objectives in response to the massive settler’s antigovernment demonstrations during the Oslo process, in addition to the growing intellectual criticism of Zionist history by Israeli intellectuals.

The Israeli assassination policies as of 2000, the construction of the Separation Wall in the occupied Palestinian territories and the re-establishment of a network of informers that feed the Israeli security services led to the pacification of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. After the death of Yasser Arafat, these policies, which undermined the basis for a sovereign Palestinian state and dismantled the political infrastructure of the Palestinian national movement, led to the institution of a Palestinian Authority stripped of national objectives and ready to negotiate its political space in accordance with Israeli interests.

The Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad is no longer an entity on the path to Palestinian statehood, but a reliable subcontractor of Israeli security policies. Israel finally imposed its agenda on the Palestinian Authority, and defeated for all practical purposes the Palestinian national objectives of the last 34 years: the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

Nevertheless, the Israeli victory is short sighted. A political entity short of a sovereign Palestinian state will have no popular legitimacy and will not be able to meet Israel’s expectations. Contrary to General Shamni’s expectations that in the near future the Palestinian Authority will be strong enough to take control and become a state stripped of sovereignty, Israel will be forced to remain on the ground continuously to support PA military efforts against Hamas. Moreover, the acceptance of defeat led key Palestinian intellectuals to claim that because a Palestinian sovereign state is not in the agenda, Palestinians should demand the substitution of Israel with a democratic state. It can be anticipated that a continuous Israeli presence in the occupied Palestinian territories will strengthen this position, reframing Palestinian discourse within the context of democratic demands from Israel, undermining the state’s Jewish Zionist character.

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