The goal of this paper is to critically examine two Trade Facilitation Programs (TFPs) (the ‘known trader’ and the ‘door-to-door’), which were advanced by the U.S. at the Tarqumiya checkpoint in Hebron in the West Bank. Despite the abundance of scholarship on donor aid in the OPT, up to now, far too little attention has been paid to these programs, and to the effects of donor projects on indigenous businesses and the structure of the private sector more generally.
Drawing on data collected from Wikileaks documents, media reports, and in-depth interviews with donors and Hebron’s businessmen who benefitted from TFPs, this paper interrogates donors’ official discourse on these programs. It highlights how TFPs, which are presented in technical terms as benefitting the Palestinian private sector, are emblematic of a spider web of deeper control within the OPT and are part of a larger nexus of power that aims at further pacifying and co-opting Hebron’s business elite to ensure stabilization. More specifically, the paper makes two arguments: Firstly, it shows how TFPs have represented a new form of privilege that is embedded in and further reinforces dependency relations with Israel. Secondly, building on counterinsurgency theory, the study frames TFPs as a technology of counterinsurgency that has wedded Israeli colonial priorities with U.S. counterinsurgency practices, by seeking to achieve stabilization and conflict management through the employment of pacification techniques that co-opt domestic elites and coerce their political quiescence.
The paper also reveals for the first time that through TFPs, the U.S. has introduced a new condition for business growth by requiring beneficiary businessmen from the elite to become counterinsurgency actors managing an ‘anti-terror’ infrastructure and a self-surveillance regime under Israel’s control. The research also shows how TFPs have added another layer of colonial control, by extending Israel’s counterinsurgency practices and disciplinary mechanisms into the industries of Hebron’s elite, thus reconfiguring Israel’s regime of colonial governance and surveillance while strengthening dependency relations with Israel.
This research contributes to the counterinsurgency literature by providing new empirical evidence of local agency in counterinsurgency and by highlighting the convergence of interests among western and local elites in stabilization. The research also offers insights into the latest development in Israeli and American counterinsurgency strategy in the OPT, which now emphasizes the role of local business elite in policing their own population to ensure stabilization.