Ahead of the Paris Peace Conference which opened on Sunday, two prominent French researchers, Pierre Blanc and Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, spoke in Cairo about the ongoing agony of the geography of Palestinian dispossession.
The joint seminar of Blanc and Chagnolluad, who also write together on the same subject, was held by the French Institute in Mounira.
The Paris conference was intended to be held in 2016, but was pushed back amid fading media attention to the issue, in the Arab world and in the West, despite unabated Israeli colonisation of Palestinian territories.
In his attempt to answer the key question of “Where does the Palestinian cause stand?” Blanc, a prominent researcher in geopolitics, shared with his audience maps that might have shocked some depicting aggressive settlement activities on the part of Israel, arguably destroying all prospects of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Blanc’s first set of maps dated to a few years prior to the 1917 Balfour Declaration with the first kibbutz installed in the otherwise untouched land of historic Palestine.
As the maps of Blanc demonstrate, from the beginning there was a very cohesive concept of Jewish acquisition and expansion.
It was clear, he said, with the first 300 kibbutzen, that were put one after the other, were not just about taking grip of the land but also of the water resources beneath it, and that these new communities were fenced off.
This, Blanc added, while showing a second set of maps, was more systematically observed following the 1948 war, whereafter the homes and lands of a generation of Palestinians forced to leave were taken over.
With a third set of maps, depicting further dispossession when a second generation of Palestinians was forced to depart in the wake of the 1967 war, Blanc demonstrated the appearance of added factors to the colonisation process: security and religion.
The two subsequent Palestinian generations, Blanc said, had to first face the systematic deconstruction of whatever remained of Palestinian space, with the reconstruction of cities and the change of their names, and then “an impossible life to live, especially in Jerusalem in what forced or prompted a new wave of massive exodus.”
And like the original scheme of the early kibbutzen, Blanc said, the priority of acquisition went to territories with considerable water reserves and strategic assets.
According to maps of the post-Oslo Accords period, this strategy was not dropped or even amended. What the Palestinians got from the Oslo process, Blanc said, was essentially bits and pieces of territory over which they hardly had any serious sovereignty, “and all the while the process of colonisation was never abated, but rather the opposed — considerably expanded” on territories that were supposed to offer space for the aspired Palestinian state.
And while the Gaza Strip was somewhat spared from complete colonisation, it was eventually forced under an aggressive embargo, and it became almost impossible to cultivate anything there, or export, or fish in Gazan waters.
“So, in a sense, Palestinian dispossession took a much higher curve, despite the Oslo Accords and the subsequent process of negotiations,” Blanc said.
A few years down the road from the signing of the Oslo Accords, Blanc argued, Palestinian dispossession went from the territorial to the economic.
“There was a process of de-development whereby the base of a Palestinian economy was all but fully dismantled, with Gaza today being highly dependent on Israeli products and with the trade balance (between the Palestinian Authority and Israel) firmly in favour of Israel,” Blanc said.
While Blanc demonstrated near complete Palestinian dispossession in the space of four consecutive generations, Jean-Paul Chagnollaud noted that the call of the Palestinian cause in the wake of the 1948 War was overwhelmed by the Arab-Israeli conflict that came in the wake of the 1967 War. If there was one thing that could be granted to the Oslo Accords, it would be the re-introduction of the specific nature of the Palestinian national concept in the wider context of the struggle.
However, he argued that Israel, especially since 2001, under the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, firmly pursued a policy of Israeli domination over Palestinians, dismissing the international community and dividing the Palestinian national fabric and its support network.
Israel, Chagnollaud said, acted to impose an all-out supremacy, not just on the ground, but also in the socio-political and ideological fields, this policy being executed today by Israelis who were brought up in the kibbutzen of the 1950s.
This exercise of Israeli domination has hardly been challenged at all, Chagnollaud said, by the international community. “There were some attempts or initiatives on the side of the US, but they were never really very efficient in challenging this Israeli domination,” he said.
During the past eight years, he added, US President Barack Obama offered no new initiative while the Europeans seemed to hardly have any impact, “or presence,” except via a few statements here or there, “and this promised conference,” the Paris Peace Conference, of which few expect anything significant.
This, Changollaud argued, is happening while the Palestinians continue to be scattered, both in the geographic sense, on sporadic bits of the territories of historic Palestine and across the world, and in the socio-political sense that goes beyond the traditional division of the two leading forces of Hamas and Fatah.
While Pierre Blanc deems it hard to overcome the colonisation of historic Palestine ongoing for a century, Jean-Paul Changollaud noted it would hard, or even impossible, to reach a negotiated solution where diplomatic efforts continue to approach the issue as a "conflict," when "in fact it is basically about colonisation and also about apartheid.”
Blanc and Changnollaud both agreed that there is little hope, therefore, for a breakthrough issuing from the Paris Peace Conference.