Academic journal article
By Parsons, Nigel
The Middle East Journal , Vol. 61, No. 3
A Survey of Arab-Israeli Relations (3rd edition). London, UK and New York: Routledge, 2006. ix + 538 pages. Select bibl. to p. 55 1 . $230.
A he unsteady course of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations up to 2000, the acceleration of Israeli colonization in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the fitful, contingent progress of Palestinian Authority (PA) capacity-building all reinforced doubts among Palestinian and external observers alike as to the outcome of the political process initiated in Oslo in 1993. Received wisdom had suggested that negotiations between me Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government, however fraught, would lead to the emergence of an independent and viable Palestinian state. But the experience of Palestinian semi-autonomy raised questions that challenged this assumption. In light of accelerated colonization, cantonization, and closure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), what exactly would the territorial basis of the prospective Palestinian state be? Given the pronounced external constraints on Palestinian institutional autonomy, what would the Palestinian state actually be able to do? Considering the PA's lack of control over ingress, egress, and residency, to whom would Palestinian citizenship finally extend? At the time of writing there is little semblance of a process whereby these questions might be answered constructively.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak first asserted that Israel had no partner with whom to negotiate. His successor, Ariel Sharon, cheerfully upheld this axiom, notwithstanding the Roadmap for Peace developed by the United States in cooperation with Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations (the Quartet) in 2003. Ehud Olmert was elected Prime Minister in May 2006 on the platform of realizing "convergence" through unilateral disengagement. The PLO leadership has had little input into public proceedings since early 2001. Meanwhile, on the ground in the OPT, the al-Aqsa intifada brought about military reoccupation and a sharp deterioration in living conditions. In the West Bank, Israeli colonial assets are consolidated behind the separation barrier. In the Gaza Strip, unilateral withdrawal has not signalled an end to occupation. The Hamas-led government in place since early 2006, under pressure of an Israeli and international boycott, has overseen a descent into anarchy and the rise of vicious intra-Palestinian violence. Small wonder, then, that at a juncture such as this, scholarship should reappraise the outcome of a process once taken for granted.
The works considered here address the issue from multiple perspectives, among them history, economics, sociology, political economy, and discourse analysis. Contributions include archival research, findings from a range of fieldwork, personal reminiscences, policy recommendations, and a counter-hegemonic narrative. Almost all of them share, in one form or another, a common emancipatory impulse, a concern for the outcome of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. The PLO, Israel, and the Quartet all officially subscribe to statehood as the desired outcome of that struggle. The scholarship under review reflects a range of positions, from an assumption of statehood through qualified expectation to real doubt. The matter of whether or not independent statehood remains an ideal or even a viable means of realizing Palestinian national aspirations is up for debate.
The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood by Rashid Khalidi opens with a reflective essay that poses one principal question: how to account for the enduring failure to establish a Palestinian state? By way of addressing this, a series of secondary questions emerge. Can the failures of Oslo be usefully compared to those of the mandate era? What is the utility of examining the role of Palestinian agency given the immensity of the structural constraints acting upon them? Perhaps most importantly of all, is statehood now the inevitable, or even appropriate, end-point of the process that it once have appeared to be? …