(Palestinian) Workers & (Israeli) Capital

Theory of the Offensive has a couple of posts — one of which also has an interview with Leila Khaled of the PFLP — that make some good points about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Particularly I like the discussions of the head-in-the-sand politics of some “principled internationalisms,” of the differences between Palestinian and Israeli nationalisms, and of Palestinian “national unity”:

There is no solution for the Palestinian population as a whole in such unity, but the dull, daily imperative to survive and struggle in the face of Israel’s constant destructive efforts does not diappear because “national liberation” turns out to be a bourgeois mirage.

I commented that perhaps TOTO and Khaled both overlooked the importance of the relationship between Palestinian labor and Israel, which TOTO asked me to elaborate on. And I will, in a post, where I can feel free to ramble on for too long. What follows is more about trying to complicate the relationship than offering any answers, especially stark conclusions along the lines of declaring Israel’s dependence on Palestinian labor or the ability of Palestinian labor to, as TOTO says, drastically affect the functionings of the Israeli state.

Even though the absolute number of Palestinians working in Israel has decreased substantially since the second intifada — which followed the large increases after Oslo — the number of Palestinians that depend on the income of those workers has not decreased. This is because wages earned in Israel are much higher than wages in the Occupied Territories but even more because of the immiseration of the overall Palestinian economy. So despite the 90% decline in the number of workers Israel directly commands, the total Palestinian population that falls within the orbit of Israeli capital is equal to what it was in the 90s. Israel has made Israeli-Palestinian dependency mostly a one-way affair.

And it’s not just the direction of the dependency that has changed but also the nature of it. Whereas the relationship had been based on Israel exploitation of Palestinian workers, control now rests in the modulation of the Palestinian population, exercised through border closures, checkpoints, and refusal of work permits, among other means. To put it in other words, today direct Israeli control is exerted through the economic sphere, while Hamas and Fatah fight over who controls through politics. This would not be possible without a degree of command over Palestinian labor (which, in another way, Israel also controls when it withholds tax receipts that the PA would use to pay its employees).

As TOTO says, there’s a strong tendency in the Israeli imaginary to act as if Palestinians did not exist, just as there’s a desire for their expulsion from greater Israel. Unfortunately, these fantasies have run into many blockages, the largest and most implacable being the actual bodies and political will of Palestinians. One way Israel has tried to bypass this reality over the last decade is by importing guest workers from other parts of the world, mostly Turkey and Southeast Asia, to replace Palestinian workers in its thoroughly neoliberalized economy. But this has created another problem, namely that these foreign workers actually live in Israel and many guest workers stay past their visa time and end up as illegals living in Israel permanently. This is anathema for an overtly racist state like Israel, and could be called its other demographic timebomb. Some Israeli administrators and bureaucrats are worried about this, even if politicians aren’t right now:

Israel needs labor. Palestinian labor is preferable to other foreign labor, because the latter becomes a demographic problem while the Palestinian worker goes home after a day’s work.

It seems probable that the solution to this “problem” is that Israeli capital reembraces and reattaches itself to Palestinian labor like it did after Oslo.


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