What does geopolitics tell us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

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 Interview with V. Piolet

By  Pierre VERLUISE , Vincent PIOLET , November 18, 2023   

Doctor in geopolitics from Paris 8 University, Vincent Piolet is an associate researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics (IFG). He has just published with Nicola Gobbi “  Géopolitics – History and theories” (Steinkis edition, 2023)

Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict relevant to understanding the geopolitical concept of “representations” developed by Y. Lacoste? To what extent are geopolitical theories mobilized after the attacks of October 7, 2023? Why the comic strip by Vincent Piolet, Nicola Gobbi, “  Géopolitics. History and theory  ” (ed. Steinkis), would it have its place in high school libraries and documentation centers, or even as an end-of-year gift? V. Piolet answers questions from P. Verluise for Diploweb.com . With 7 extracts from the boards of this comic book that is both educational and… geopolitical. And at the bottom of the page an audio interview with Yves Lacoste!

Pierre Verluise (PV): In this new work, in comic book form, “Géopolitics. History and theory” (ed. Steinkis), you describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by referring to the concept of “representations” developed by Yves Lacoste in his geopolitical theory. Why is this conflict relevant to illustrate this concept?

Vincent Piolet (VP): Breaking with the geographical determinism long theorized in geopolitics – where individuals and their politics are in some way prisoners of their geographical environment – ​​Yves Lacoste takes up a possibilist conception of geopolitics, following geographers like Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918) or Jacques Ancel (1882-1943): geography is not an insurmountable obstacle thanks to the political action carried out by men . He thus attempts to define the engine that pushes individuals or a people to lead a balance of power in a given space . This “engine” is explained by the representations of the world that individuals have of this space. These representations are defined by the ideas that individuals have of a territory. These ideas can be true or false, that is not the issue – they can constitute, for example, beliefs – but they come into conflict at some point with other actors because far from remaining abstract ideas, they influence ways to act and political actions. Interestingly, the concept of representation may resemble that of habitus developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu around the same time, in the early 1980s, defined as “systems of durable and transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is to say as generating and organizing principles of practices […]”  [ 1 ] .

Despite itself, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ideal for illustrating this concept because the actors have strong antagonistic beliefs, some of which even go back several millennia and touch on the three monotheisms.

In the representation of traditionalist Jews, God promises Palestine from the Nile to the Euphrates to Abraham and his descendants  [ 2 ] . Here, it is interesting to note that for some this representation could be understood as a project of territorial conquest in Palestine, but let us remember that the founder of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century, Theodor Herzl, a secularist, was not so formal, present-day Kenya was for example considered as a welcoming land for a Jewish national home. His notes also mention the Congo region.

Extract from V. Piolet (screenplay) and N. Gobbi (drawing) “  Geopolitics – History and theories”, Steinkis edition

Whatever the case – and let us remember, it is not the veracity of a representation that matters here – certain Israeli political forces have currently made the representation of a Palestine promised to the Jewish people from the Nile to the Euphrates their own. . But it has escaped no one’s notice that this representation collided with a significant geographical reality , namely the presence of Arab populations in the region.

This situation gave rise to several wars leading to the establishment of borders which evolved according to a balance of power favorable to the Israelis.

Extract from V. Piolet (screenplay) and N. Gobbi (drawing) “  Geopolitics – History and theories”, Steinkis edition.

Representations also evolve. I mentioned that the Zionist project was initially a secular project. Indeed, most traditionalist Jews considered the Zionists to be impious because only the coming of the Messiah could re-establish the kingdom of Israel. Some haredim , or ultra-orthodox Jewish, communities still maintain this idea but it has become a minority. Israeli colonial conquest is no longer considered more or less contrary to the will of God. The spectacular victory of the State of Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 convinced them that ultimately the Zionists had been victorious with God’s help . Therefore, in their eyes, it is necessary to complete this triumph and above all to reconquer the true territory of Israel, Eretz Israel , as it is described in the Bible.

There is – also – a Christian Zionism which can make anti-Semitic remarks…

The comic strip thus takes up in an illustrated way several of its representations and – faithful to Yves Lacoste ‘s analysis on several scales (or diatopic) – it returns, for example, to a representation which plays out very far from Palestine, namely the Christian Zionism primarily present in some evangelical churches in the United States . If these Christians support a maximalist Zionist project – from the Nile to the Euphrates – it is out of millenarian hope. In the same way that certain Jewish fundamentalists believe that a total conquest of Palestine will allow the arrival of the Messiah, Christian Zionists see it as the condition for the reappearance of another Messiah, Christ – who incidentally will punish the Jews for their impiety… When the American administration sent two American preachers in 2018 to bless the transfer of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, they were two representatives of Christian Zionism, who once back home did not hesitate to hold anti-Semitic remarks, replaying the antiphon of the deicidal Jewish people, doomed to end up in hell. But geopolitics quickly regained its rights: the Israeli power considers this alliance of circumstance as beneficial in its current balance of power , and we will see the day of the Last Judgment…

Extract from V. Piolet (screenplay) and N. Gobbi (drawing) “  Geopolitics – History and theories  ”, Steinkis edition.

PV: To what extent are geopolitical theories mobilized following the attacks of October 7, 2023?

VP: The violence and scale of its attacks on the Israeli population – 1,300 victims to date, the vast majority of them civilians – have created a real traumatic shock in a country used to seeing its army protect it thanks to its technical superiority . These war crimes – unprecedented in these proportions since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 – nevertheless remain another episode in an old conflict which does not seem ready to end. In recent years alone, note for example that the Gaza Strip has suffered five armed expeditions from the IDF since the end of the second intifada  : “Summer Rain” in 2006, “Cast Lead” in 2008 and 2009, “Pillar of Defense » in 2012, “Protective edge” in 2014 and “Guardian of the walls” in 2021. If the concept of representations is mobilized in traditional geopolitical analyzes in specialized publications, it is interesting to note the gap with media discourses and discourses politics of these events. We were thus able to read and hear that any attempt to understand or explain the situation – or to recontextualize it in the long term – amounted to wanting to minimize the atrocities committed by the armed wing of Hamas. The story of the conflict was scheduled to begin on October 7, 2023, and any references to previous events were inaudible.

We are in a situation analogous to September 11, 2001 , the same traumatic shock, which “forced” American political power to respond militarily. The analogy does not stop there because we find – always in media and political speeches – a strong return of all the neoconservative rhetoric which subsequently defined the GW Bush doctrine and the disastrous conquests in the Middle East. At the time, the writings of Samuel Huntington, mainly his well-known work The Clash of Civilizations published in 1993, took on a prophetic value. Its deterministic vision of geopolitics becomes hegemonic in the circles of influence which put pressure on the foreign policies of several states. Each civilizational area is locked into its geography, inevitably leading to the essentialization of peoples with their own supposed qualities.

Extract from V. Piolet (screenplay) and N. Gobbi (drawing) “  Geopolitics – History and theories  ”, Steinkis edition.
Extract from V. Piolet (screenplay) and N. Gobbi (drawing) “  Geopolitics – History and theories  ”, Steinkis edition.

With the first deterministic geopolitical theories of Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) and Karl Haushofer (1869-1946), all people are not equal. For them, the German people are given superiority and therefore justification for dominating other peoples. We find the same deterministic reasoning where the civilizational area replaces the concept of people among the neoconservatives. US President George W. Bush did not hesitate to consider that only the West could boast the title of “civilization”, and not other areas. Some states were described as “barbaric”. Here, the vision of the world becomes Manichean, Good versus Evil, “with us” or “against us” , we are far from taking into account an analysis based on ideological rivalries, as the previous one may have been. covering the Cold War (1947-1990), Western liberalism versus communism for example. We currently find this neoconservative Manichaeism with this new episode of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the analysis of ideological rivalries is completely absent, several great powers do not want to consider that this conflict is of a colonial nature with an occupying power and a population under supervision . The speech of UN officials attempts to recall this but once again, it is inaudible, because it is in contradiction with the determinist geopolitics defended by the neoconservatives who currently significantly influence the actions of Western chancelleries.

Extract from V. Piolet (screenplay) and N. Gobbi (drawing) “  Geopolitics – History and theories  ”, Steinkis edition.

PV: Your work, “Géopolitics. History and theory” (ed. Steinkis), features a teacher of history-geography, geopolitics and political science (HGGSP) through her questions for the implementation of the program, through a question/answer game. Why would it make sense for your work to be in high school libraries and documentation centers?

VP: I am not a teacher by profession but when I learned that geopolitics was included in the programs, I put myself in their place . It is already known that the history and geography programs are busy, so we added to these teachers the task of teaching geopolitics during specialty hours. And political science too, by the way. It’s a huge project! Having to address all these theorists should not be easy. Myself, by occasionally giving geopolitics courses to Masters level students, I realized that the students had limited knowledge of theorists . For them, geopolitics was essentially seen through the prism of conflicts and wars between states, without consideration for theorists. However, if we omit the analysis of these theorists, we lose sight of the mechanisms of understanding by definition. Also, we must not forget that these reading grids must be subject to criticism . Indeed, it is not uncommon to find certain political actors fueling their speeches and justifying their actions with a worldview incorporating these theories, presenting them as immutable, as arguments of authority . It is therefore preferable to learn these various theories in order to be able to provide critical analysis .

It’s good to have an overview with the pretty drawings of the illustrator Nicola Gobbi, with whom I also tried to put a little humor on a subject which can seem a little austere.

Through comics, I tried to popularize this entire body of theories which represents a significant number of books. I have mentioned them in the bibliography if anyone wants to go further. But for a high school student, reading these works is tedious, especially when you start with the Pan-Germanists who were able to write long, sometimes difficult works, like the writings of Friedrich Ratzel for example, borrowing references to German romanticism, or those of Karl Haushofer who gets lost in dubious esoteric considerations… Of course, readings by recent authors like Yves Lacoste, Samuel Huntington or Zbigniew Brzeziński are accessible, fortunately, but once again, I don’t think that high school students simply have the time to delve into these works, so you might as well have an overview with the pretty drawings of the illustrator Nicola Gobbi, with whom I also tried to put a little humor on a subject that can seem a little austere. They are free to explore further, which I do not doubt for some.

Copyright November 2023-Piolet-Verluise/Diploweb.com

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