Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israeli Society and Jewish-Palestinian Reconciliation: 'Ethnocracy' and Its Territorial Contradictions

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israeli Society and Jewish-Palestinian Reconciliation: 'Ethnocracy' and Its Territorial Contradictions

Article excerpt

This article argues that Israel's settlement and socio-economic policies have caused internal ethnic and class divisions that now threaten the prospects of JewishPalestinian reconciliation. Furthermore, the association of peace primarily with the interests of Israel's economic and cultural elites has alienated most peripheral groups, particularly the Mizrahi and Haredi Jews. Therefore, the current efforts to arrive at territorial compromise with the Palestinians find Israel in a deep identity and socio-political crisis caused by the consequences of the state's 'ethnocratic' regime. The crisis is born of the surfacing of an overt contradiction, for the first time in Israel's history, between two major Zionist goals: territorial expansion and economic growth. This contradiction, and its associated ethnic and class tensions are likely to create obstacles to the ongoing efforts to advance Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation.

The analysis of Israeli approaches towards peace with the Palestinians has generally concentrated on the impact of international pressures, political ideologies, the personalities of individual leaders, or the historical development of Jewish and Palestinian nationalism. Much less attention has been devoted to the influence of Israel's internal ethnic and class divisions on the country's turbulent politics of peace.

This article argues that these internal divisions have impeded the prospects of Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation, mainly because of a backlash against the enduring marginalization of the country's social peripheries.1 Israel's socio-economic and settlement policies, shaped by the state's mainly secular and Ashkenazi2 elites, have created a system of ethno-class segregation and inequality, which this author calls the Israeli 'ethnocracy'. The policies have created conflictual collective identities and social polarization that challenge the dominance of the established elites, and present obstacles to their agenda of Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation3

The analysis pays particular attention to the role of an under-researched dimension of the subject: Israel's ethno-class division of space. This dimension offers further insights into the forces shaping social and political change, and pertains to the manner in which land control, ownership and development are distributed among Israel's social and ethnic groups. The analysis draws on Israel's political geography and political economy as key factors for the understanding of the state's contemporary politics. It refers to the entire "Eretz Israel/Palestine" area as the appropriate unit of analysis.

The combined political geography and political economy perspective provides another vital pillar to the argument in this article, namely, that as long as the two main projects of the Israeli ethnocracy-the construction of an ethno-national identity and the facilitation of a growing economy-worked in harmony, Jewish-Israeli society managed to avoid serious internal discord. This harmony was premised, though, on the constant expansion of Jewish territorial control, chiefly at the expense of Palestinian Arabs. The territorial withdrawal associated with Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation has put, for the first time, these economic and ethno-territorial projects in overt contradiction, generating a profound socio-political crisis.4


Israel's principal goals have included the colonization and 'Judaization' of the country, the shaping of a new ethnonational Jewish-Zionist identity and the facilitation of economic growth. During the first three decades after Israel's establishment, these goals were largely uncontested, as the entire Zionist project was widely perceived as legitimate by a settler society responding to centuries of Jewish persecutions. But the underlying premise of these two goals, i.e., the dispossession and exploitation of `enemy-affiliated' Palestinians (both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories), was quietly accepted by most Jews worldwide. …

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