Palestine and Globalization
A review of Adel Samara's 'Epidemic of Globalization'
by Justin Podur; ZNet; March 23, 2003
"Epidemic of Globalization: Ventures in World Order, Arab Nationalism and Zionism." Dr.Adel Samara
198 pp. Order from publisher: Palestine Research and Publishing Foundation,
PO Box 5025, Glendale, California 91221, U.S.A. @ $13.00
In February 2003, Adel Samara faced an Israeli journalist, Samuel Segev, on a Canadian debate television show. The opponents of Palestinian rights, both in the audience and on the panel, were perplexed at Dr. Samara's position. Such opponents are used to wagging their fingers at Palestinians, telling them that they will have rights when they prove that they deserve rights (as if human rights are something that can be granted or revoked), or posing as victims of Palestinian terrorism and irrational hatred of Jews. Dr. Samara neither begs nor hates, and that is what makes his work so refreshing.
Adel Samara holds a PhD in development economics, but he makes his living as a poultry farmer on the outskirts of Ramallah in the West Bank. He can't find a teaching job in Occupied Palestine because he has long been an opponent of the Palestinian Authority and the Oslo framework. His story, like that of so many Palestinians, is one of being punished for his beliefs-with multiple arrests and years in prison.
In his most recent book, 'Epidemic of Globalization', Samara offers a unique analysis of the situation in Israel/Palestine. On the book's jacket he is described as a 'Marxist-Nationalist Arab-Palestinian thinker'. Here at 'the end of history', both Marxism and Arab Nationalism are 'out of fashion', but Samara is far from nostalgic. His application of these ideas to the current situation produces results that are challenging and compelling. There is a great deal that is controversial in this book-and even this reviewer had quite a few disagreements with Samara's analysis-but as the US continues to escalate its war on the Arab world in particular, in Iraq and in Palestine, ideas like Adel Samara's deserve to be heard and discussed.
Samara's Analysis of the Global Economy
Samara's analysis of the global economy uses the ideas of 'center' and 'periphery'. In the 'center':
'Within the center, accumulation and monopolization of wealth by the bourgeoisie have continued… this increase has taken place in recent years at the expense of gains that the working classes realized through a long class struggle, especially in the post WWII era including relatively adequate salaries, the [welfare] state, low unemployment, and an increase in the number of working women.
Under globalization, recent economic policies led to the division of the working class… into three main sectors. At the lowest level are the ordinary service workers in malls, retail, fast food, and restaurants, etc. and other manual labor which has [few] rights, minimum wage, and suffers from significant unemployment. This sector is not well organized in trade unions. The second sector is composed of workers in the [industrial] economy who are at risk of losing ground if they do not develop trade unions into a labor movement. At the top are the high-tech workers who are nearly separated from the rest of the working class.
'What neoliberalism offers now is low wages, no job security, unemployment, and Christian fundamentalism preaching that women should stay home…. it is estimated that the US has 30 million poor people, 500,000 homeless, and 1,381,000 prisoners. ' (pg. 6)
Meanwhile, in the periphery, neoliberalism has meant:
'The national bourgeois no longer protects the national market which they supposedly monopolize. The classical economic analysis states that the national bourgeoisie insists on controlling its own national market under the guise of protecting its national economy and for the sake of its interests. This national bourgeois has collapsed…
'Most of the regimes of the Third World have deteriorated into nothing more than self-rule regimes, if not colonies. Their markets are widely open to the foreign (center's) products. Their industries are obligated to become mere subcontractors to the foreign companies or to simply melt and leave the market. The profitable public sector companies have been sold cheaply to foreigners. The capital of the center bought whatever it chose of the periphery's national assets, especially recently in the 'Tigers' of South-East Asia, Brazil, Egypt, and the Russian Federation'. (pg. 2)
The Arab World and Globalization
What are the implications of neoliberalism for the Arab world? The oil regimes of the Arab world are a key link in the neoliberal chain. The fantastic surpluses that come from oil production in these countries flows, for the most part, to the 'center', where it is used to further undermine the economies of the 'periphery' and purchase their national assets, while it could and should be used for the development of the periphery.
The imposition of neoliberalism comes about by violence and the threat of violence, but also, in Samara's view, by the co-optation of elites and intellectuals in the periphery.
The elites, or ruling classes, of the Arab regimes, are in a war against their own populations: 'As long as each regime is guarding a set of foreign interests inside the arab homeland, that regime has no alternative but to oppress the popular classes… these interests vary from the plunder of raw material and oil to an open market where the regime becomes the agent that saturates it with foreign products and permits the spread of MNCs with their branches in many Arab countries chasing cheap and oppressed labor.' (pg. 26)
Another interest is what Samara calls 'normalization'. The role of Israel in the global economy is that of an outpost of the center in the Arab periphery-a military, economic, and cultural outpost that is to be a European settler state in the Arab world. The 'Anti-normalization' position is the position of the Arab masses, according to Samara, and is one that refuses to recognize Israel so long as Israel continues the occupation, refuses the right of return for Palestinian refugees, continues to maintain itself as a pure Jewish state, and continues to be an 'imperialist watchdog in the Arab Homeland'.(pg. 64)
According to Samara, the 'free trade agreements' signed between the US, Israel, and the Arab regimes, had little to do with trade. The Arab countries' markets were already saturated with US products, and they conducted relatively little trade with Israel. The purpose of the free trade agreements was, instead, political. The agreements were 'rewards' to the Arab regimes for normalizing, just as Egypt receives billions of dollars in military aid from the US for being one of the 'normalizing' regimes.
Meanwhile, 'for financial gains, many Arab intellectuals and acadamecians accepted the role of propagandists for these regimes.' Samara devotes a long discussion to the destructive role played by NGOs ('non-governmental organizations') that are nominally autonomous from the state but in fact serve the interests of the center, co-opting radicals and organizers away from their historical mission of struggle and into cushy offices with salaries and expense accounts, where they, also become advocates of normalization.
Israel/Palestine, Oslo, and Globalization
The application of this analysis to Israel/Palestine, and particularly to the Oslo 'Peace Process', yields interesting results. First, the economy of the Occupied Territories is under the complete control of Israel. But more than this, the economy of the territories, in the design of Oslo, 'may be alone in having been designed from its very beginning by the policies and prescriptions of globalizing institutions.' (pg. 114)
By following the prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank, the PA abandoned any hope of protectionism, state-led growth, or the public-sector, leaving Palestinians exposed to all the destructive force of the global economy.
This is combined with the legacy of direct occupation, in which 'Military orders cut the occupied territories off from the rest of the world, making Israel their main supplier (90% of the OT's imports come from or through Israel). Thus the wages paid to the workers were returned to Israel as payments for Israeli consumer goods. By absorbing the labor force, while at the same time pursuing a policy of rejecting Palestinian applications for licenses to start productive projects, the Israelis were able to destroy the occupied territories' economic infrastructure, thus facilitating the integration of the latter's economy into that of Israel.' (pg. 116)
This had different effects on different classes. The business class became marketers of Israeli products in the territories, leading to 'the evolution of a subcontracted Palestinian business class'. The peasants, 'further weakened by Israel's policies of land confiscation (60% of the land, especially the most fertile parts, had been expropriated or come under Israeli control), banning Palestinian agricultural exports, and encouraging the production of crops required by the Israeli market… surplus labor power that failed to find jobs in the towns… looked for work inside Israel.' (pg. 117)
Workers in Israel are in a precarious situation because of the Israeli closures policy, by which Israelis shut down any movement between the territories and Israel at will. The recourse for Palestinians is 'futile complaint', and even recourse to a boycott of Israeli goods is near-impossible, since 'how could the Palestinians replace Israeli imports, when all trade routes are in the hands of the Israelis?' (pg. 118)
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is also culpable for this state of affairs. 'The PA leadership deeply admires neoliberal economic policies… [and] has approached development in conventional terms: spending tax income, loans, and grants on either short-term employment or infrastructure for the purpose of enticing foreign (including diaspora Palestinian) investors.' (pg. 119). But the population is not benefiting. Between 1993-98, the PA received billions of dollars in aid while the economy was contracting, unemployment soared, and a bureaucracy of '150,000 civilian and military personnel totally dependent on and therefore loyal to the regime' was built up.
Meanwhile, the PA has created its own monopolies, of at least 13 commodities (like petroleum, tobacco, gravel, flour, sugar, soft drinks, vegetable oil) under the control of the PA's inner circle. 'Being neither public nor private, they are subject neither to public scrutiny nor to regulatory laws. Equally important… is that the PA has become a competitor to local business. Meanwhile the PA is declaring that it will not 'intervene' in the economy. Products are hence free of quality control, and the West Bank remains a free market in which Israel can dump defective and already expired products.' (pg. 121)
The Alternative: Development by Popular Protection and Arab Nationalism
Samara's work does not stop at analysis and criticism. Instead, he asks the crucial question: 'How can the periphery challenge this dangerous capitalist project?' Drawing on the experience of the first intifada, Samara suggests a model called 'Development by Popular Protection'. Recognizing that 'there is no longer any 'national/patriotic' regime on which to apply… radical socialist… models of regional self-reliance… even the availability of a socialist party in power is not a guarantee against bureaucratic degradation.' (pg. 21).
The 'DBPP' model is autonomous from the state: 'It assumes that those in power are against it. The best case scenario is that those in power might be neutral towards it'. It concentrates on 'consuming local products, not those imported from the imperialist center', in order to develop a local market for local production. In the next stage, co-operatives are formed 'to produce as much as possible to meet the needs of the popular masses… [in a process of] re-shaping the deformed structure of the national economy.' The co-operatives associate with one another in a network, 'so as to terminate the merchant's monopoly'. They move towards local financing. They embark on a process of economic education, to move people towards conscious consumption and increasing use of the growing parallel economy. Along with the parallel economy, the movement creates a democratic, political party that forms a parliament.
Can DBPP work with a state? It could work 'in cooperation with, or separate from, the state, depending on whether and to which extent the state economic policies, economic plan, and social policies are in harmony with those of the DBPP. It depends on how much the state marginalizes the popular classes in both decision-making and production planning in the workplace. DBPP applies pressure on the state to re-distribute the social surplus… including land reform, work guarantees, more spending on infrastructure, consistent wage increases, protection of the national economy, ending of repayment of debts, etc.' (pg. 24)
In addition to the positive program of Development by Popular Protection, Samara presents Arab Nationalism as an alternative to globalization. To Samara, 'Nationalism… is a mechanism for liberation, unity, development and socialism and not the chauvinistic nationalism of the reactionary classes.' (pg. 27) Instead of this chauvinism, Samara envisions the creation of a pan-Arab, socialist state, dedicated to development, in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians have full and equal rights.
Criticisms of the book
Samara's book provides indispensable insights into the situation in Israel/Palestine and the Arab world more generally. But I have a number of criticisms of the book as well.
First, I believe the Arab Nationalist program has flaws. If Dr. Samara is correct that the assertion of the existence of a primordial 'Jewish Nation', existing for thousands of years, used to justify claims to land and resources was a flawed one, then surely the same must be true of the existence of an Arab Nation? Rather than entering the field of debate as to whether a nation really existed or didn't, whether it is shared history or language or culture or territory that gives a people a claim to 'nationhood', I would prefer the discussion center around people and their rights.
Should those rights include the right to associate as a nation, the right to cultural and religious and linguistic expression, the right to a decent and just share of the world's resources? Of course. Are the borders built by colonialism artificial, and in many cases destructive? Yes, and if there are more just and sensible arrangements to be made, they should be made.
But talking in terms of the Arab Homeland, and a statement like: 'the ambition of this nation is to achieve unity, development, and the liberation and restoration of all its occupied regions, not only Palestine. These regions include part of Syria that is occupied by Turkey, a part of Iraq and a part of Bahrain that are occupied by Iran, and a part of al-Maghrib (Morocco) that is occupied by Spain.' (pg. 111) seems to me to go too far, for much of the 'Arab Homeland' is also a 'Kurdish Homeland' that is 'occupied' by Iraq and Syria, and an 'Assyrian Homeland', also occupied, and a 'Berber Homeland'.
These issues aren't unique to the Arab Homeland, with all of the other overlapping Homelands that exist on that territory. I believe that the solution lies in taking Samara's ideas to their logical conclusion. A confederal arrangement, where religious and ethnic minorities and majorities have autonomy in a larger democratic framework, is a better vision to pursue than one of a united Arab nation.
Related to this is a second criticism, that Samara could be over-estimating the strategic value of an Arab boycott and under-estimating the importance of dividing the societies of the center. While he recognizes the class divisions in the center and the periphery, his emphasis on Arab nationalism and Arab unity causes him to under-value the potential of an alliance of what he calls the 'popular classes' in the center and in the periphery. This alliance was part of the power behind the anti-globalization movements and the current anti-war and solidarity movements. Why shouldn't the Development by Popular Protection strategy be an international one? In Latin America, a very similar strategy is called the 'Economia Solidaria'. Could there not be links between the strategies? If there were activists in the US or even Israel who accepted Palestinian rights, including the right of return, should they not be encouraged to work in their own societies to undermine the forces that are squashing those rights?
In spite of these criticisms, I wholeheartedly recommend the book, precisely because it opens up debates and conversations based on a set of assumptions that is wholly different from that normally offered on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Now that Israel seems to have abandoned the Oslo agreement in favour of full military occupation and, perhaps, outright ethnic cleansing, Samara's proposal of a single democratic state and his insistence on the right of return are welcome. There is now little to be gained from trying to work within Oslo, and giving up the right of return is now an incentive for Israel to expel as many Palestinians as possible. Adel Samara's work is a starting point for serious discussion on solutions for this tortured region.
"Epidemic of Globalization: Ventures in World Order, Arab Nationlism and Zionism." Dr.Adel Samara
198 pp. Order from publisher: Palestine Research and Publishing Foundation ( email@example.com),
PO Box 5025, Glendale, California 91221, U.S.A. @ $13.00