Sonja Ganseforth: Occupying Infrastructures – Contested Development in Palestine
Since the 1990s, Palestine has attracted intense attention from international development institutions. Development has come to be a powerful dispositive shaping politics and spaces in the West Bank and Gaza. Based on the perspectives of post-development theories, I argue that the disparities and sometimes absurd effects of developmental interventions become particularly clear through the lens of uneven power relations in occupied Palestine. Japanese official development assistance has also come to put a spotlight on Palestinian development, choosing it as the prime location for a Japanese peace initiative for the Middle East conflict(s). The Japanese flagship project, the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity”, in the Jordan Valley aims to promote export-led industrial development and foreign investments through the establishment of an agro-industrial border park. Conceptualized as a joint project with Japanese, Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian partners, it is supposed to further regional peace and understanding via economic cooperation. This coherence with dominant discourses of development, peace and security makes the project an exemplary – yet highly contested – case for development politics in Palestine, even if the project remains rather unknown beyond the local context and has failed to introduce Japan diplomacy to the negotiating table on the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. Based on repeated field research in Palestine, this contribution analyzes how multi-scalar infrastructures are contested in the underlying dynamics of development projects, with actors from Tokyo to Ramallah and Tel Aviv trying to leverage these projects in order to assert their particular interests. I argue that this is not a straightforward process, as fundamental, far-reaching decisions are intertwined with highly localized, small-scale negotiations aimed at infrastructures at different scales and occupying different spaces.
Sonja Ganseforth is senior research fellow at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) in Tokyo. She has received her doctorate from the University of Leipzig and the DFG graduate school “Critical Junctures of Globalization” after studying Arab Studies, Japanese Studies and German as a Foreign Language in Leipzig, Kyoto and Damascus for her Magister degree. Her dissertation dealt with Japanese development politics in the Middle East and was published with Transcript (Bielefeld) in 2016. Her main research interests include critical studies of development, the social and economic geography of the globalization of agrifood systems, rural livelihoods, maritime territoriality, property rights in natural resources and the political ecology of food. At the DIJ Tokyo, she is conducting research on Japanese fisheries in the context of major global transformations.