Beyond Analogy: Palestine in Comparative Perspective

By Manal A. Jamal
Submitted to Session P5161 (Palestine, Latin America and the Caribbean: Encounters, Crossings, Parallels, Part I, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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In recent years, there has been a notable move from the “exceptionalization” of Palestine and its uniqueness in contemporary politics, to studying it in broader comparative perspective. An overwhelming number of these studies have focused on drawing analogies between Palestine and other case studies, especially South Africa and the applicability of apartheid. The main objective in many of these studies has been to develop organizing strategies and advance policy recommendations about possible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To a lesser extent, but still quite common, scholars have also focused on parallels between Palestine and Native Americans, again as a way to help devise strategies and policy recommendations.

Challenging these approaches, this paper will discuss the concrete limitations associated with “analogizing” as a way to develop strategies and advance policy recommendations, and especially related to theory development. Instead, it will illustrate how Palestine studies can benefit from a greater appreciation for the study of parallels, similarities and divergence in contributing to advancing organizing strategies and policy recommendations, as well as to theoretical development. Throughout the paper will address the importance of rigorous methodology in this endeavor.

The paper will examine parallels in political and social movement organizing in Palestine and El Salvador and the impact of Western donor assistance in the first two decades after the signing of the peace accords in the two cases. In particular it will assess why a case like the Palestinian territories (which received relatively higher amounts of Western donor assistance, including substantial allocations to democracy promotion) lead to a more incoherent process, in which organizations had unequal access to resources, grassroots, and institutions to engage the state? And in contrast, why did other cases such as El Salvador (which had actually received substantially less donor assistance, and democracy and civil society assistance in particular) seem to result in a more coherent democratic development process. In answering these questions, the paper will illustrate how this comparative lens sheds light on different angles of inquiry, and affords greater opportunity for theoretical engagement and policy recommendation development.