Palestine: Occupation, Colonization, Segregation

By: Dr Itxaso Domínguez de Olazábal 

Almost eighty years on from the end of WWII and the creation of Israel, the question of Palestine remains unresolved. Back in 2021, Palestine was granted the status of a non-member observer state at the United Nations: but it clearly requires more than  a temporary status to be recognized a regular nation state. The process of legitimacy truly must begin with with the end of the Israeli occupation.

To understand better where Palestinians stand today from their cause, we interviewed Dr Itxaso Dominguez de Olazábal. Dr Itxaso Domínguez de Olazábal is the Middle East and Maghreb Coordinator at the Madrid-based Fundación Alternativas, and author of the book “Palestina: Ocupación, Colonización, Segregación” (Palestine: Occupation, Colonization, Segregation), published in Spanish this year.

In your newly published book, you discuss about a “fragmentation of the Palestinian population”, amidst the existence of an existential crisis for the Palestinian National Resistance Movement. Why can’t Palestinians unify?

Palestinians can -and eventually will- unify. They have attempted to do so for years and decades, and last year’s Unity Intifada was but an example of this awareness and willingness. The Palestinian people have, however, been subjected since 1948 to a multidimensional fragmentation that presents a noticeable territorial facet, with its different segments going across different parts of historic Palestine and beyond. Most of the time, Palestinians are unable to be in touch the one with the other and to develop meaningful social and political links because of their divergences. But their differences are also translated into different economic contexts, different processes of socialisation and different political arenas. After decades of being apart from each other – and most of the world telling them that they should forget about a common struggle and political goals –, we can understand how difficult unification can be for them. 

You also refer to the contradictions of the international community, or at least some of its members, including the US and the EU. Is there a strong international responsibility towards the Israel-Palestine conflict and its absence of resolution?

The context in historic Palestine is grounded in a particular narrative: one of an ethnonational conflict between two people that have the same rights over a territory. The narrative comprehensively disregards a context of settler colonialism in which Israel has articulated – and implements – a discourse and mechanisms aimed at the dispossession of Palestinians. The ultimate goal of Israelis is to put their hand on a majority of the land on which there would be a minority of Palestinians. It is unclear whether Israel will ever agree to cede parts of the territory for Palestinians for them to create a sovereign and functioning state. This is why so many scholars speak nowadays of a ‘one-state reality’. On top of this uncertainty, is Israel truly an ‘ally for peace’? The EU, as the leading donor in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, is contributing, through a depoliticised version of humanitarian aid, to the impunity of Israel, with the perpetuation by this latter of a status quo that is characterised by a systematic violation of international law.

Then there is the Palestinian diaspora. How important is it, and why does it fall short of acting more efficiently on the Israel-Palestine conflict?

For decades, the Palestinian diaspora has been at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle. So was the concomitant right of return of Palestinian refugees. It is in the diaspora that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was created, and where it developed its strategy. However, after the so-called Oslo Accords, and the return of the leadership to historic Palestine, the PLO was confronted with a dilemma that still holds: accepting the so-called two-state solution and the related territorialisation of the ‘conflict’ would mean renouncing to the package deal that the concept of inalienable Palestinian rights represent, namely the right of return and the future of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The diaspora found itself powerless, abandoned and -lest we forget- scattered throughout the planet, with no leaders invested in their liberation as Palestinian people. Palestinian refugees in camps are still too vulnerable and immersed in their infighting to organise themselves independently from the PLO. That has not necessarily been the case for some diasporas -chiefly in the US- that, in change, have started openly reclaiming not just their belonging to the Palestinian people, but the need to recuperate the Palestinian struggle in its entirety.

With the election of Israeli PM Naftali Bennett, Israeli Arab parties were mentioned as a key component in the Israeli fragmented political landscape. Does this mean that Israeli Arabs are benefitting from better political and socioeconomic conditions compared to what was before?

Palestinian citizens of Israel have always benefitted from relatively better socioeconomic conditions than other members of the Palestinian people. For decades, this has contributed to intra-Palestinians divisions and infighting. Progressively, this Palestinian segment has realised that the Israeli ‘liberal’ narrative is built on a false idea of equality and multiculturality: they are second class citizens by definition, a reality that was confirmed by turning points like the 2018 passing of the so-called Nation-State Law in Israel that claims that ‘the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People’. Their being allowed to be part of the government, participate in certain institutions, vote and aspire to an – albeit limited – vertical mobility doesn’t deny that structural asymmetry. They are no longer under military rule as they were before 1966, but their predicament is still there: for instance, the poverty rate is nearly 50%, double the rate among Jewish Israelis.

You are just back from Palestine. What can you tell us about people and how they look at their present and future?

We should avoid generalising what the Palestinian people think and believe. I saw hope, I saw fear, I saw happiness, I saw misery, I saw joy… At that time, there was panic about what Ramadan and Easter could mean for Palestinians in Jerusalem. In light of recent events, they were not wrong!

Tensions and violence seem to be back between Israelis and Palestinians. Shall we fear a new cycle of violence?

Structural violence against the Palestinians is integral to Israel’s settler-colonial project. Sometimes, tensions lead to escalation and often inevitably result in what the media usually call ‘clashes’ or a war on Gaza. We should never forget that with every violent act comes an act of defiance and resistance.

To quote this article, please use the following reference:  I. Domínguez de Olazábal (2022), “Palestine: Occupation, Colonization, Segregation”…tion-segregation/

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