- Gaza 2014: The Collapse of a Control Model
1. Introduction – The Puzzle
Following the kidnapping of three young Israelis in the West Bank on June 13 2014 the Israeli government drew the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and the whole country into a complicated situation that the country has not seen since the unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005. Immediately after the kidnapping Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed the Hamas government in Gaza (which denied the accusation at the time) and arrested most of Hamas’ activists and elected parliamentary leaders in the West Bank. Furthermore, the Israeli government seized the opportunity to demand the dismantling of the fledgling Palestinian national “agreement” (or unity) government which brought Fatah and Hamas together.1
This disproportional reaction soon escalated into “Operation Protective Edge,” the longest, most murderous, destructive and violent confrontation between Israel and Gaza since the disengagement. Yet, the political results of the war were unexpected for Israel, contradicting the government’s declared goals. Instead of dismantling the Palestinian national agreement government, on October 9 the Israeli government consented reluctantly to its first meeting in Gaza.2 Instead of tightening nine years of effective isolation and blockade of the Gaza Strip, the IDF openly recognized that the only way to sustain a durable cease fire would be to compromise with Palestinian demands to open the borders.3 Should those demands not be met, according to polls a majority of Palestinians (86%) would support continued military confrontation.4 Furthermore, international pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state sharply increased, and Palestinian resistance continued in East Jerusalem.
Why did the Israeli government fail so badly to achieve its objectives, despite inflicting such heavy losses on the Palestinians? I’ll suggest here two main reasons: firstly, Israeli governments have not understood the limitations of the various models of political-military domination they have imposed on the Palestinians since 1967, becoming complacent about the model of control since 2005 because of its great “success”; and secondly, the Israeli government has failed to understand changes in the current regional context and to reevaluate its policies in light of the new conjuncture.
2. Political Violence and Models of Control
Since occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June 1967, the Israeli state has refused to grant equal rights to Palestinians. To sustain its rule over the Palestinian occupied territories, the Israeli regime devised different “models of control” for Palestinian non-citizens that combine various limitations of civil and political rights with control over their movement. Palestinians in different geographic areas of the occupied territories are submitted to different models of control, all of which require some degree of military enforcement due to the illegitimacy of the regime. As Hannah Arendt has argued political power is based in political consent, meaning that in the absence of legitimacy, rule takes a form of domination that is enforced through violence,5 which I call here a “model of control”. In the absence of legitimate political channels to express resistance violence erupts.6
The Israeli regime has succeeded in withstanding constant Palestinian resistance since 1967 by developing a sophisticated legitimizing principle, which I have called a “dual military-democratic regime.”7 The dual regime maintained the pre-1967 border in order to separate Palestinian subjects and to create the image of Israel as a democratic State within the pre-1967 borders. Under the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories, the Palestinians have no civil rights. Palestinians living within the pre-1967 borders formally have civil rights, while Israeli Jews have full civil rights on both sides of the border. The dual regime is democratic for Israeli citizens and a military regime for the Palestinian non-citizens.
In the dual regime Palestinian resistance is interpreted as violence and an existential threat to the Jews, ignoring the historical-political context, and legitimizing violent military repression in the eyes of Jewish Israeli citizens.8 The only period in which Palestinian resistance was considered legitimate by significant parts of the Israeli military (in the 1980s) political space was opened for negotiations with Palestinian representatives.9 Yet, following the Oslo agreements Israel designed even more sophisticated models of control to...