Peacemaking politics: Sulha and the negotiation of justice in Jordan and Palestine

Article in the Journal of the Swedish Bar Association – Advokaten

Project announcement and introduction by the Swedish Bar Association

Press release by the Swedish Defence University – New research project

Project summary:

Peacemaking politics is a social scientific phenomenon that is situated at the intersection of religion, customs and domestic politics. The phenomenon has arisen in societies which have experienced varying levels of state authority and during these periods have fostered strong traditions of customary dispute resolution as means to handle social conflicts – in the absence of a working (state) judicial system. In the Levant, particularly, these advanced customary mechanisms for handling disputes between members of the community, redressing wrongs and restoring the social balance between individuals and families have lingered and remained in use by the people living there.

Gradually, as several Levantine states have grown stronger and attempted to reclaim their authority and administration over society, they have particularly experienced difficulties in restoring their monopoly within the judicial field. An initial reaction from these states has then often been to illegalise all forms and streams of informal justice-making, considering them as a threat to their authority. Eventually, though, the states have experienced that the popular reliance on and deeply entrenched trust in the informal institutions have been difficult to compete with. Struggling to increase the reach of and to consolidate their power, several states have rethought their strategies for how to wield their authority more efficiently. A common shift of strategy that has been observed among several of them has been to re-allow informal justice-making to be practised in parallel with the formal system. These states have then instead opted for increased control and influence over the informal judicial institutions.

Peacemaking politics refers to how these informal institutions of justice-making appear to gradually be coming under the influence and regulation of the state, primarily to serve its own interests. The popular traditions-bound informal judicial system is transformed from earlier having constituted relatively apolitical ways and methods of peacemaking and reconciliation between private disputants into becoming venues of domestic politics, used by the state to wield its power and authority over its citizens and political opponents. As the power-related interests of the state naturally do not go hand in hand with the individual interests of its citizens, for instance in terms strengthening human rights and the rule of law, a fierce clash of both values and interests arise here.

This research project takes a critical approach to informal justice-making and how to consider its role in the processes of democratisation and state-building. This critical approach is captured in the concept of ‘peacemaking politics’, implying that the process is intertwined with politics. Theoretically, the study will be grounded in political scientific theory about governance, anthropological theory about customary dispute resolution, as well as legal scientific theory about sharia and customary law. However, as opposed to other studies, the present project will take a local point of view and consider the cases under study on their own terms and in their own cultural context (to seek to avoid any exotism or Western bias).

Although a brilliant way of social organisation as such, the project will ask questions about the actual fairness and ‘justness’ of the rulings/settlements that come out of the informal system. The project will also critically reflect on the involvement of the state in informal justice-making and the intentions that may lay behind such an involvement. The project will further scrutinise in detail the nature of the relations between the formal and informal institutions of justice-making, including the way they interact, cooperate, compete and cross-fertilise each other. The project will yet further investigate how this affects the citizens’ access to third-party settlements of legal disputes, to justice and to the rule of law.


THE FUTURE OF POLITICS IN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE: Re-orientation and re-organisation of the post-Oslo generation

Project summary:

This book investigates the recent domestic political developments in Israel and the Palestinian territories after Oslo and the Arab Spring. The activism and political participation of the youth of today looks different and is to a large extent still unknown, let alone poorly reseached by the academic community. What does the new generation of emerging political leaders in Israel and Palestine want and what do they envision in terms of future developments in their respective domestic political arenas? 

PHD PROJECT (completed)

Islamist governance Hamas style: Readings from the Palestinian experiment in Islamic democracy

Summary in Swedish

Summary in English

Press release by University of Gothenburg

Press release by Swedish Defence University

Project summary:

This study investigates how the Palestinian Islamists in Hamas came to govern following their success in the 2006 parliamentary elections. The study poses the overarching research question: How can Hamas’s governance in the Gaza Strip between 2006 and 2012 be characterised and understood? Hamas has attracted particular research interest, partly due to its seemingly contradictory nature and actions, and partly due to the fact that this was the first case of Islamists in the Arab world to ascend to power by democratic means. On the one hand, Hamas has led an armed struggle against Israel which has even included suicide bombings against the Israeli civilian population. On the other hand, Hamas has more recently shown both the will and the ability to participate in electoral processes in a peaceful and democratic fashion.

As a result of this, the case of Hamas relates to two scholarly debates in particular. The first debate concerns the nature of Islamism – whether Islamist ideals can be considered fully compatible with democracy. Ultimately, this debate has come to focus on what the democratic potential of Islamists would mean in practice, should they get the chance to hold power. The second debate concerns the nature of Hamas – how to comprehend the paradoxal conduct of this actor and in what direction it is heading politically. There is also a strong extra-scientific relevance to the study, as Hamas remains a powerful force in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. How Hamas is dealt with, both by Israel and the international community and by the Palestinians themselves, will have repercussions on when and in what shape the pending Palestinian state will materialise.

Based on existing scholarship on this subject, the aim of this study holds theoretical, methodological and empirical ambitions: Theoretically, the study seeks to contribute to the two debates mentioned above. Methodologically, it seeks to contribute by suggesting a new framework for the analysis of Islamist governance. Empirically, it contributes by adding a new case study to the existing research on Islamists in power.

The study addresses the research question by focusing on how the new government perceived and reacted to three key challenges to its exercise of power: relating to the political system and the main opposition party; countering violent radicalisation and local splinter groups; and re- establishing societal order and reforming the legal system. The analysis is based on a recently collected set of primary data consisting of both observations and interviews. The respondents include ministers, advisors and civil servants in the government, as well as military commanders, internal security personnel and members of the Qassam Brigades. They also include some of the Hamas government’s fiercest critics, notably Salafi-Jihadis, youth dissidents and members of the Fatah party.

The study finds that the Hamas government lacked the necessary organisation, knowledge and experience to carry out its duties. It also finds that the government perceived itself to be subjected to an imminent threat of being overthrown. The study shows that while the Hamas government was far from fulfilling the democratic promises it had set out in its reform programme, it did not proceed to change the political system into a sort of Islamic theocracy governed by sharia. As the analysis concludes, Hamas’s governance could be characterised neither as singularly authoritarian and Islamic, nor as merely democratic and secular. Rather, Islamist governance Hamas style has been a blurred combination of all these traits together, firmly guided by a far-reaching ideological pragmatism and a continuously perceived necessity for further power consolidation.

RECOMMENDED READING (works by other authors at I.B. Tauris)

Israeli politics:

Cecolin, Alessandra (2015) Iranian Jews in Israel: Between Persian Cultural Identity and Israeli Nationalism (London: I.B.Tauris).

Plonski, Sharri (2016) Palestinian Citizens of Israel: Power, Resistance and the Struggle for Space (London: I.B.Tauris).

Schonmann, Noa (2015) Israel’s Phantom Pact: Foreign Policy on the Periphery of the Middle East (London: I.B.Tauris).

Shindler, Colin (2014) (ed.) Israel and the World Powers: Diplomatic Alliances and International Relations Beyond the Middle East (London: I.B.Tauris).

Thorleifsson, Cathrine (2015) Nationalism and the Politics of Fear in Israel: Race and Identity on the Border with Lebanon (London: I.B.Tauris).

Palestinian politics:

Achilli, Luigi (2015) Palestinian Refugees and Identity: Nationalism, Politics and the Everyday (London: I.B.Tauris).

Faris, Hani (2013) (ed.) The Failure of the Two-State Solution: The Prospects of One State in the Israel-Palestine Conflict (London: I.B.Tauris).

Kuruvilla, Samuel (2012) Radical Christianity in Palestine and Israel: Liberation and Theology in the Middle East (London: I.B.Tauris).

Louis, Roger and Wilson Stookey, Robert (2016) The End of the Palestine Mandate (London: I.B.Tauris).

Rangwala, Glen (2016) Palestinian Politics in the West Bank and Gaza (London: I.B.Tauris).

Jordanian politics:

Allinson, Jamie (2015) The Struggle for the State in Jordan: The Social Origins of Alliances in the Middle East (London: I.B.Tauris).

Bradshaw, Tancred (2012) Britain and Jordan: Imperial Strategy, King Abdullah I and the Zionist Movement (London: I.B.Tauris).

Cantini, Daniele (2016) Youth and Education in the Middle East: Shaping Identity and Politics in Jordan (London: I.B.Tauris).

Gandolfo, Luisa (2012) Palestinians in Jordan: The Politics of Identity (London: I.B.Tauris).

Lutz Hupp, Clea (2013) The United States and Jordan: Middle East Diplomacy During the Cold War (London: I.B.Tauris).