Arab/Jewish Engagements: Regionalism and Borders

Bashir Bashir Kurator des Kreisky Forums

Curator: Bashir Bashir

Associate Professor at Open University Israel, Senior Research Fellow at Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

Regionalism and Borders seeks to capitalize on the Forum’s extensive engagements in the analysis of the politics of the Middle East and Europe. It invites leading intellectuals and politicians to a series of workshops to discuss in a protected environment the rising new political order and the most pressing and critical questions and challenges that face the people of this region. A particular focus is paid to the question of Israel/Palestine, which ought to be seen as a regional question rather than a local or a national one.

For centuries, the logic of Empires dominated the world’s political, economic and cultural domains. According to this logic, the international political order was made of Empires, which served as powerful political entities that expanded territorially and economically through war, imperialism and colonialism. Indeed, one should be careful not to exhaustively impose this imperial order and trajectory on the entire world. One should also pay attention to the dynamic and changing scope, boundaries and character of these imperial forces. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire controlled huge parts of the Middle East. The First World War and the Sykes-Picot Agreement (sought to divide the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire among European Imperial powers) marked the decline of the imperial political order and the rise of new political order manifested partly in the formation of the League of Nations. Sykes-Picot paved the way for the Balfour Declaration and for the introduction of the Mandate System and Westphalian notion of sovereignty.

It is in this context that decolonization and national movements of liberation and independence emerged in the third world. The meeting between decolonization and nationalism has considerably contributed to the rise of the national order in several parts of the world in which the nation-state became its main agent and force. The national order drew new boundaries, created identities, cut and split communities, and exercised excessive violence that resulted in oppression, displacement and sometimes ethnic cleansing. The national order that operated according to state sovereignty and making borders dominant also in the Middle East. As a result, new borders and entities were created cutting across communities and groups and shuttering longstanding webs of overlapping interactions and exchange. Under the national order and its colonial coordinates, several groups (Palestinians, Kurds, and numerous minorities) experienced oppression and fragmentation. Furthermore, alternative and possibly competing forms of political configurations to the nation-state and its political, economic, social and cultural coordinates were side-lined, silenced, underdeveloped or eradicated.

Through a series of closed international workshops, the project has addressed thus far numerous themes like partition, decolonization, interrogating nationalism, Antisemitism and Islamophobia, and Arab and Jewish questions. The succesful behind closed door seminar series under Chatham rules has culminated in the publication of Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh (eds.), The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2020). As such Regionalism and Borders represents a further deepening of our focal international politics series Rethinking Israel/Palestine.

Regionalism & Borders Program_2012- 2022