Thursday, September 2, 2010

Governing Palestine through Crime

To appreciate the perniciousness of governing through crime in advanced liberal societies like the US and the UK, where politicians invoke crime fear for their own advantage in societies with abundant mechanisms of regulation, one has to appreciate why establishing a capacity to govern violence as crime is an essential part of the state building project for new states or those undergoing transitional reconstruction of authority. Today Palestine is an example of the former and Iraq, of the latter.

The news as reported by Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz that the Palestinian Authority has arrested two suspects in the murder of four Israeli settlers on Tuesday is very good news for anyone who wants to see Palestinian sovereignty established in real terms in our lifetimes. Hamas which openly took responsibility for the gangland style drive-by shootings, chose its targets well to emphasize its narrative of challenge to PA authority (as much or more than Israel's) by killing residents of a provocatively located West Bank settlement placed well into concentration of Palestinian population and land which must be Palestine under any realistic two state solution. "One settler, one bullet," is an old anti-colonial chant from South Africa, Algeria and other sites of violence as resistance to colonization. But if Hamas can define the murder of unarmed civilians as resistance because they are settlers, that assumes away the claim of the PA to civil authority over the West Bank, including the site of those settlements. In short Hamas and the settlers are in perfect agreement that any claim to PA governance over their space, even an evolving one, is a fiction.

If the PA has indeed succeeded in bringing the killers to criminal justice, especially if can do so without violating the human rights of the accused or other suspects (and we need to know more about their arrests of Hamas supporters) they will have gone a long way to establishing their sovereign authority over the West Bank including Hebron (especially given the fact that Israel retains major security control over that sector even before the attack Tuesday). In the context of potential civil war, criminal violence is a stabilizing way for a state to interpret acts of lethal violence. By effectively responding to Hamas' violence as crime, the PA makes itself a real state. In contrast, the embrace of crime by politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, managing the prolonged crises of advanced liberal welfare states risked degenerating the self regulating capacity of well developed civil societies for short term political gain.

PS. I talk about governing through crime in the US and in Israel/Palestine with the very interesting politics blogger George Kenney in a podcasted conversation over at Electric Politics

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