The Quandary of 'Made in China': Economic Survival in the Safe Zone Palestine's Import Trade from China since 1994
Date: 18 May 2020
University of Exeter
PhD in Middle East Politics
This thesis provides an alternative prism to analyse China’s prevailing influence in Palestine. Rather than a focus on China’s potential role as a mediator of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it examines the impact of China-Palestine trade (specifically Chinese imports) on the West Bank since the signing of the Protocol on Economic ...
This thesis provides an alternative prism to analyse China’s prevailing influence in Palestine. Rather than a focus on China’s potential role as a mediator of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it examines the impact of China-Palestine trade (specifically Chinese imports) on the West Bank since the signing of the Protocol on Economic Relations in 1994. The study argues that Chinese imports play a key role in supporting what this thesis terms the ‘Safe Zone’ of Palestinian economic activity: an opportunity for economic survival in the absence of viable alternatives following decades of Israeli occupation. I investigate how and why this commerce emerged, where it is most prevalent, and what are its political implications. This nuanced perspective into the complexities of a globalised Palestinian economy is achieved by adopting the conceptual framework of ‘globalisation from below’ (GFB) to unpack this trade through an inductive and interpretivist research paradigm. This entails sidelining the use of official trade data for a more ethnographically informed methodology utilising participant observation and both semi and unstructured interviews conducted in trader cities in China, the ports and checkpoints governed by Israel, to the markets in Palestine. In Palestine, a ‘diverse’ and ‘extreme’ case selection strategy (Hebron and Barta’a) are employed to show that practices associated with GFB are not homogenously experienced in the West Bank. The thesis finds that the rise and proliferation of such commerce is an outcome of Zionist settler colonialism enacted through a range of formal and informal Israeli occupation policies: specifically, de-development and deterritorialisation. The resultant trade economy that emerges under such conditions is, therefore, not deemed a response to an ‘event’, but part of the ‘structure’ of an ongoing settler colonial project. Concurrently, the findings show that the Safe Zone is double edged, as Israel’s preeminent capacity to regulate this commerce means that it can use it as a mechanism to offer a Palestinian the rewards of economic gain, but at the cost of subservience to ongoing Israeli control. The case studies evidence this by showing the different economic practices that prevail at these sights, but also the spectrum of responses a Palestinian trader might adopt in the absence of a unified strategy of political struggle. This includes behaviours of both individual and collective acquiescence as well as non-violent political resistance towards Israeli settler colonialism. Those engaged in Palestinian commerce are shown to play notable roles beyond economic actors, but for their impact on broader political dynamics. This approach from ‘below’ contributes to an additional interpretation of the Palestinian economy by researching a lesser studied form of economic activity and their affiliated actors. The implications of this are notable as they firstly stress the limited insights that are available from formal trade data in a study of globalised trade in general, and Palestinian commerce in particular. Secondly, they highlight the pervasiveness of Israeli settler colonialism upon all facets of Palestinian life while challenging misleading paradigms such as ‘conflict’ that are more regularly deployed to explain that which transpires in Palestine. Thirdly, they offer Chinese policy makers a valuable perspective to better understand the impact of their trade with Palestine and how it is invariably entangled in broader issues of Israeli domination. In so doing, hopefully informing Chinese policies that recognise the importance of the Safe Zone to Palestinian livelihoods, but also ones that are effectively contextualised and contingent on challenging ongoing Zionist settler colonialism.
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