Palestinian refugees leaving Galilee, 1948 (Fred Csasznik)

Palestinian refugees leaving Galilee, 1948 (Fred Csasznik)

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If the politics of deflection exhibit the outward reach of Israel’s grand strategy of territorial expansionism and regional hegemony, the politics of fragmentation serves Israel’s inward moves designed to weaken Palestinian resistance, induce despair, and de facto surrender. In fundamental respects deflection is an unwitting enabler of fragmentation, but it is also its twin or complement.

The British were particularly adept in facilitating their colonial project all over the world by a variety of divide and rule tactics, which almost everywhere haunted anti-colonial movements, frequently producing lethal forms of post-colonial partition as in India, Cyprus, Ireland, Malaya, and of course, Palestine, and deadly ethnic strife elsewhere as in Nigeria, Kenya, Myanmar, Rwanda. Each of these national partitions and post-colonial traumas has produced severe tension and long lasting hostility and struggle, although each takes a distinctive form due to variations from country to country of power, vision, geography, resources, history, geopolitics, leadership.

An additional British colonial practice and legacy was embodied in a series of vicious settler colonial movements that succeeded in effectively eliminating or marginalizing resistance by indigenous populations as in Australia, Canada, the United States, and somewhat less so in New Zealand, and eventually failing politically in South Africa and Namibia, but only after decades of barbarous racism.

In Palestine, the key move was the Balfour Declaration, which was a colonialist gesture of formal approval given to the Zionist Project in 1917 tendered at the end of Ottoman rule over Palestine. This was surely gross interference with the dynamics of Palestinian self-determination (at the time the estimated Arab population of Palestine was 747,685, 92.1% of the total, while the Jewish population was an estimate 58,728, which amounted to 7.9%) and a decisive stimulus for the Zionist undertaking to achieve supremacy over the land embraced by the British mandate to administer Palestine in accordance with a framework agreement with the League of Nation. The agreement repeated the language of the Balfour Declaration in its preamble: “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”(emphasis added). To describe this encouragement of Zionism as merely ‘interference’ is a terribly misleading understatement of the British role in creating a situation of enduring tension in Palestine, which was supposedly being administered on the basis of the wellbeing of the existing indigenous population, what was called “a sacred trust of civilization” in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, established for the “well-being and development” of peoples ”not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.”  The relevance of the politics of fragmentation refers to a bundle of practices and overall approach that assumed the form of inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife during the almost three decades that the mandate arrangements were in effect.[1]

At the same time, the British role was not the whole story by any means: the fanatical and effective exploitation of the opportunity to establish a Jewish homeland of unspecified dimensions manifested the dedication, skill, and great ambition of the Zionist movement; the lack of comparable sustained and competent resistance by the indigenous population abetted the transformation of historic Palestine; and then these  developments were strongly reinforced by the horrors of the Holocaust and the early complicity of the liberal democracies with Naziism that led the West to lend its support to the settler colonial reality that Zionism had become well before the 1948 War. The result was the tragic combination of statehood and UN membership for Israel and the nakba involving massive dispossession creating forced refugee and exile for most Palestinians, and leading after 1967 to occupation, discrimination, and oppression of those Palestinians who remained either in Israel or in the 22% of original Palestine.

It should be recalled that the UN solution of 1947, embodied in General Assembly Resolution 181, after the British gave up their mandatory role was no more in keeping with the ethos of self-determination than the Balfour Declaration, decreeing partition and allocating 55% of Palestine to the Jewish population and 45% to the Palestinians without the slightest effort to assess the wishes of the population resident in Palestine at the time or to allocate the land in proportion to the demographic realities at the time. The UN solution was a new rendition of Western paternalism, opposed at the time by the Islamic and Middle Eastern members of the UN. Such a solution was not as overbearing as the mandates system that was devised to vest quasi-colonial rule in the victorious European powers after World War I, yet it was still an Orientalist initiative aimed at the control and exploitation of the destiny of an ethnic, political, and economic entity long governed by the Ottoman Empire.

The Palestinians (and their Arab neighbors) are often told in patronizing tones by latter day Zionists and their apologists that the Palestinians had their chance to become a state, squandered their opportunity, thereby forfeiting their rights to a state of their own by rejecting the UN partition plan. In effect, the Israeli contention is that Palestinians effectively relinquished their statehood claims by this refusal to accept what the UN had decreed, while Israel by nominally accepting the UN proposals validated their sovereign status, which was further confirmed by its early admission to full membership in the UN. Ever since, Israel has taken advantage of the fluidity of the legal situation by at once pretending to accept the UN approach of seeking a compromise by way of mutual agreement with the  Palestinians while doing everything in its power to prevent such an outcome by projecting its force throughout the entirety of Palestine, by establishing and expanding settlements, the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, and by advancing an array of maximalist security claims that have diminished Palestinian prospects.  That is, Israel has publicly endorsed conflict-resolving diplomacy but operationally has been constantly moving the goal posts by unlawfully creating facts on the ground, and then successfully insisting on their acceptance as valid points of departure. In effect, and with American help, Israel has seemingly given the Palestinians a hard choice, which is tacitly endorsed by the United States and Europe: accept the Bantustan destiny we offer or remain forever refugees and victims of annexation, exile, discrimination, statelessness.

Israel has used its media leverage and geopolitical clout to create an asymmetric understanding of identity politics as between Jews and Palestinians. Jews being defined as a people without borders who can gain Israeli nationality no matter where they live on the planet, while Palestinians are excluded from Israeli nationality regardless of how deep their indigenous roots in Palestine itself. This distinction between the two peoples exhibits the tangible significance of Israel as a ‘Jewish State,’ and why such a designation is morally and legally unacceptable in the 21st century even as it so zealously claimed by recent Israeli leaders, none more than Benyamin Netanyahu.

Modalities of Fragmentation

The logic of fragmentation is to weaken, if not destroy, a political opposition configuration by destroying its unity of purpose and strategy, and fomenting to the extent possible conflicts between different tendencies within the adversary movement. It is an evolving strategy that is interactive, and by its nature becomes an important theme of conflict. The Palestinians in public constantly stress the essential role of unity, along with reconciliation to moderate the relevance of internal differences. In contrast, the Israelis fan the flames of disunity, stigmatizing elements of the Palestinian reality that are relevantly submissive, and accept the agenda and frameworks that are devised by Tel Aviv refusing priorities set by Palestinian leaders. Over the course of the conflict from 1948 to the present, there have been ebbs and flows in the course of Palestinian unity, with maximum unity achieved during the time when Yasser Arafat was the resistance leader and maximum fragmentation evident since Hamas was successful in the 2006 Gaza elections, and managed to seize governmental control from Fatah in Gaza a year later. Another way that Israel has promoted Palestinian disunity is to favor the so-called moderates operating under the governance of the Palestinian Authority while imposing inflicting various punishments on Palestinians adhering to Hamas.