Can Borders Bring Peace?

By Yiftachel, Oren | Tikkun, May/June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Can Borders Bring Peace?

Yiftachel, Oren, Tikkun


Review by Oren Yiflachel

IT WILL NOT BE NEWS FOR MOST readers that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is gripped by a profound deadlock. Lev Grinberg 's new book offers a welcome and timely analysis of the impasse.

Grinberg's main argument points to the failure of all key players in the conflict, and particularly Israel, to create definable "political spaces," without which peace or reconciliation cannot be achieved. The main tool for creating such spaces is the creation of clear and firm borders. This would allow three such spaces to developan Israeli space, a Palestinian space, and a joint space- where political competition would replace violence as a form of conflict management.

Violence and politics, Grinberg warns, are mutually exclusive. He argues that Israel's 'blurring" of the borders, both geographically and legally, has seriously undermined the possibility of democratization and decolonization necessary for moving toward peaceful coexistence. Grinberg builds a theoretical "matrix" that shows how violence, democracy, party politics, economy, civil society, and militarization are interdependent. Violence disrupts the movement of the matrix toward democratic politics, militarizes ethnic relations, and thus closes political space.

Grinberg argues that the problem was not always so profound. During Yitzhak Rabin's term as prime minister (19921995), for example, Israel was potentially capable of establishing geographical and legal borders. Rabin's assassination was the only way possible for the enemies of peace and democracy to halt the process. The insistence of Rabin's successors to maintain the blurriness of the borders has seriously eroded any attempt to decolonize the West Bank and democratize both Israeli and Palestinian societies. This has led both to the rise of Hamas to political prominence and to the pivotal role of religious and nationalist zealots in Israeli politics.

Grinberg observes that in response to the stalemate (which entails the continued blurring of borders and empowerment of the settlers) and to the looming risk of Israeli occupation becoming irreversible, Yasser Arafat was forced to use violence and turn a blind eye to Islamic terror, in order to prise open Palestinian political space. This has had disastrous consequences. The violence further closed the Israeli political space by weakening propeace elements, as well as the indifferent moderate middle classes, whose interests were swept aside by the growing militarization of Israeli politics. The peace process, Grinberg argues, has since become an imagined ritual, enveloped by the harsh realities of military domination and geopolitical interests. This has been augmented by the acute imbalance of power that enabled Israel, with the not-soinnocent backing of the American empire, to dictate matters unilaterally.

Grinberg reiterates how the blurring of the borders (and hence the continuing colonization of the Palestinians) has fractured the internal Israeli political space by driving a growing wedge between the state's Jewish and Palestinian citizens. He reminds us that Rabin was the first and only Israeli leader to rely on Arab members of parliament for his coalition, thereby creating the foundation of a common, "nontribal" Israeli citizenship.

But in the decade and a half following Rabin's assassination, all Jewish leaders have actively or passively campaigned against the inclusion of Arab citizens in the Israeli political space, and the chasm between the two communities has grown alarmingly. This has paid handsome returns for most Jewish ethnic leaders, who rallied peripheral communities such as Mizrahim, Russians, and ultra-orthodox around the anti-Arab cause. Hence the lack of an external border has deepened internal ethnic borders and strengthened what he terms Israel's "tribal politics.

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