The Shift

Reviewed by C. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs (capsule review), October 2011 (Columbia University Press, 2010, 206 pps.)

“This dense little book, a fact-filled account of Israel and the Palestinians since the June 1967 war, treats not peace-process politics but actual developments on the ground. Klein traces the emergence of an overall Israeli “control system” that deals differently with five distinct Palestinian groups: citizens of Israel (about 20 percent of Israel’s population), the 260,000 residents of East Jerusalem, the 2.4 million who live in Gaza, and, in the West Bank, the 500,000 who live to the west of the separation barrier and the 3.3 million who live to the east.”

“Since 1967, the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation has turned into what it was before 1948: an ethnic conflict, not a border struggle. But now, the initiative lies overwhelmingly with the stronger party, Israel. Klein even likens Israeli control of the Palestinians to colonialism, with striking comparisons to Algeria under French rule. He hits another hot button in arguing cogently that the system amounts to apartheid, but a softer apartheid than prevailed in South Africa. Clearly, getting back to borders should be the goal. But, Klein writes, “Israelis and Palestinians find themselves trapped between what is unachievable today — the two-state solution — and what can never be achieved — a unitary non-ethnic democracy.”

Review essay by Simon A. Waldman, Kings College London, reviewed jointly with The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem,  (Journal of International and Global Studies, 2011)

“The form of the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict has seen many mutations and
changes over the years. From its early stages (in which the first Zionists settled in Palestine in
1882 and in which the 1917 Balfour Declaration was made, stating Britain’s intention to
build a Jewish national home in Palestine) to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, ArabJewish
tensions could be broadly defined as a dispute between two ethno-religious
nationalisms competing for the same small stretch of land. The Arab-Israeli conflict took the
form of a state-on-state dispute following the Arab invasion of the newly proclaimed State of
Israel on May 15, 1948 and lasted until Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt following the
successful conclusion of the previous year’s Camp David Accords.”

“The defining moment of the conflict was Israel’s lightning-fast victory against several Arab armies during the 1967 War to gain possession of not only the Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights but also the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian national movement
would stake its claim for the heartland of its future state. However, from the perspective of the Palestinians, the conflict with Israel was always a “zero sum game between two national movements struggling for exclusive ownership of the same piece of land.” This was, however, only until the first Intifada of 1987 and the Oslo peace agreement of 1993, which started a process that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, thus promising to turn the conflict from an existential struggle to a border conflict. Or so argues senior lecturer in political science at Ben Gurion University, Menachem Klein, in his fittingly entitled The Shift: Israel-Palestine From Border Struggle to Ethnic Conflict (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

“Klein’s central contention is straightforward. After the outbreak of the second Intifada
of 2000, Israel expanded its settlements in the territories and conducted security operations
that changed the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (p.3). During that time, political
negotiations were scuppered, particularly as the US, under George W. Bush, allowed Israel to
put Arafat under siege and “dismember” Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, thus creating
enclaves subject to de facto Israeli control. By the time Barack Obama assumed the US
presidency, a new reality was on the ground, with Israeli settlement activities and security
operations stripping political negotiations of any real value. Most importantly, this returned
the conflict to its “original status,” says Klein, as an ethnic rather than territorial dispute (p.4).” (more…)

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