POSTPONED: “What Use is a Piece of Paper Against a Tank?”: Palestinian Authority Land Titling and the Future of Territory in the West Bank


Dr. Paul Kohlbry, Palestinian Studies Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University

  •  A light snack is served at 12:30 p.m. Livestreamed talk begins promptly at 1:00 p.m.

In 2007, the Palestinian Authority (PA) began its first concerted foray into land registration and titling in the West Bank. Today, after a series of institutional changes, crises, and setbacks, these efforts have accelerated and expanded with the goal of titling the entire West Bank by the mid-2020s. Originally backed by the World Bank, these sorts of land titling projects are synonymous with contemporary forms of neoliberal privatization and market expansion. But the use of title as a means of holding territory is much older, characterizing not only the Palestinian experience but other Indigenous struggles against of settler colonialism as well. Based on interviews, technical documents, and extended participant observation with PA survey teams, this talk will explore how property titling is reconfiguring the relationship between control of territory and ownership of property in the contemporary West Bank.


In his talk, Paul Kohlbry looks at PA land titling within a longer history and broader geography of Indigenous deployments of land titling and private property to protect land in the context of settler colonialism. He examines the contemporary West Bank where the Oslo regime (Areas A, B, and C) is such that, as a political strategy, the titling project in Area B seeks to legally fortify—if not to prevent, then to lay the grounds for contestation—what remains of rural Palestine under PA jurisdiction. As a result, titling takes on a speculative quality, as both the legal force of the PA’s title, and the durability of its institutions, are a gamble rather than a certainly. Within this context he explores how the PA convinces landowners to participate in titling when it seems unlikely to everyone involved that the PA’s title will be able to secure a property claim indefinitely into the future. He shows that the myriad practices that surveyors turn to that allow for day-to-day work to progress while holding at bay questions about the longer-term viability of PA-issued title. These practices are a way of making due with the wreckage of the present that, by suspending the long-term, allows the near future to remain tentatively open. He argues that, in the absence of a strategy or plan of collective defense, land titling leaves the question of collective territory to the responsibility of the individual owner and the forces of corporate development, real estate speculation, and international investment that are currently transforming the distribution and use of land in the West Bank highlands.


Biography of Speaker

Paul Kohlbry is an anthropologist whose work examines the relationships between law, capitalism, and territorial politics. His current book project, Plots and Deeds: Property and Formations of Land Defense in the West Bank, explores how private property has come to orient land politics in the West Bank by tracking how shifts in rural land use and ownership have intersected with transformations in property law to shape Palestinian land defense projects since the 1980s. More broadly, his work seeks to bring Palestine into conversation with a broader range of Indigenous experiences through the lens of political economy. He has also worked with grassroots Palestinian organizations in the West Bank and is interested in the relationship between critical research and the needs and concerns of movements. His writing has been published in The Journal of Palestine Studies, Dialectical Anthropology, and Historical Materialism. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins University and is currently the Palestinian Studies Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University.










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