International donors have influenced and shaped narratives on Palestine, to the point that to speak about Palestine without reflection is an exercise in disseminating global perceptions and intent. Nadia Naser-Najjab’s study, Dialogue in Palestine: The People to People Diplomacy Programme and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (IB Tauris, 2020) provides a detailed account of how the internationally-funded diplomacy programme, known as P2PP, made use of psychology and social theory to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to dialogue, while neglecting the political process.
As a coordinator of the P2PP, as well as a solidarity activist during the First Intifada, the author is well placed to criticise the process adopted by the international community, which has failed to take the Zionist settler-colonial process into account. “Objectivity more often takes the form of an unconditional demand that is imposed upon the subaltern,” writes Naser-Najjab. This observation, made in the introduction to the book, sets the foundation for its analysis, which discusses the P2PP programme within the frameworks of settler-colonialism, historical perspectives, the intifadas and the trajectory set out by the Oslo Accords and their aftermath.
The book makes the argument that any cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis should depart from opposing Israel’s military occupation. The P2PP framework established the opposite. International donors supporting the programme expected Palestinians to adopt the biased interpretation of “equal conditions of participation” which provided a platform for Israel to promote and improve its public image. With attention focused away from Israel’s colonial expansion and ensuing international law violations, the P2PP, Naser-Najjab states, became “an instrument through which a settler-colonial project has found renewed purpose and impetus.”
By focusing on “contact”, international donors attempted to initiate a semblance of a grassroots project to accompany the political process. Drawing upon social theory and psychology, the aim was to create a neutral setting where engagement between Palestinians and Israelis could take place. The neutral platform, however, was a veneer that excluded Palestinians on several levels. By removing the political aspect from such contact, the P2PP aided the Israeli neoliberal colonial process in Palestine, which in turn manipulated the interaction between participants.
In Palestinian politics, particularly when it comes to the international funding of the purported state-building project, compromise has become a regular component. The author illustrates how the international community redefined Palestine through the two-state paradigm and, in doing so, eliminated the settler-colonial process and the 1948 Nakba. In keeping with the international consensus regarding the two-state “solution”, the P2PP built upon the power imbalance that is favoured by Israel. International funding of the Palestinian Authority enabled structural weaknesses, while the two-state ideology removed all accountability from Israel. As a result of the PA internalising the colonial framework, Palestinians were never allowed a chance to explore a political alternative to the two-state imposition.
The P2PP reinforced this restriction upon Palestinian politics and the Palestinian people. The discourse of partnership and influencing public opinion only served to strengthen the Israeli narrative, despite the attempts to raise awareness by groups within Israel which opposed the military occupation. Palestinian absence, both through Israel’s refusal to issue travel permits for individuals involved in P2PP, as well as the political compromise after Yasser Arafat recognised Israel in 1988, was an impediment to contact which the international community did not recognise.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) legitimised dialogue through diplomatic meetings abroad, which initiated the two-state hypothesis and consensus. When the Oslo Accords were signed, the author writes, these provided “the framework within which the P2PP developed and consolidated.” As a grassroots initiative, therefore, the P2PP departed from a political framework that sought to influence contact in a way that mirrored the international understanding of the two-state consensus. Hence, donor funding corrupted the contact process which was already flawed through its application of the psycho-social while disregarding the political. Politics in the P2PP was present in terms of influencing how contact was carried out, but out of reach for Palestinians for whom contact was synonymous with opposing Israeli colonialism and military occupation.
In this regard, the international community relied upon the P2PP to exploit the concept of “peace”. As Naser-Najjab states, though, “Peace is an empty signifier which assumes different meanings and implications in separate contexts.” The Oslo Accords are the epitome of such manipulation, as the author expounds in her analysis of how the “peace process” was established by the international community as if it had already occurred, and the next step “was to establish precisely how this peace should be defined and moved forward.” On the contrary, however, the absence of scrutiny in terms of the two-state paradigm and “peace” merely normalised the earlier Israeli colonial violence and left Palestinians with little recourse to challenge the hegemonic narrative which now concerned itself with the 1967 Naksa (Setback), as opposed to the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) and the earlier settler-colonialism in Palestine.
The P2PP was not concerned with historic responsibility, hence the impossibility of the programme ever achieving its purported aims of dialogue. Without acknowledging the colonial context, P2PP accentuated Israel’s dominance over Palestinian life. The author gives examples of how the P2PP went awry on occasions which further strengthened the colonial framework, such as Israeli groups involved in the programme speaking to Palestinians about water conservation when water theft by Israel is one of the ongoing violations that Palestinians have to endure daily.
Combining the international protection of Israeli privilege, donor funding and the PA’s hindering of mobilised Palestinian resistance have contributed to the P2PP failure. Naser-Najjab clarifies this: “Resistance will also be more effective if it disrupts the colonial structure.” Instead of advancing dialogue by promoting discernment regarding Israel’s colonial structure and violence, the P2PP legitimised Israel’s violations and encouraged Israeli participants in the programme to disseminate the contradiction of pretending to support Palestinians while refusing to hold Israel accountable for the position in which they find themselves. Nasser-Najjab writes with clarity, and the book makes for accessible and detailed reading which emphasises how decolonisation, not donor funding, should provide a platform for grassroots contact between Palestinians and Israelis.