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  • Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins (a1)

Recent Palestinian Authority (PA) initiatives to help Palestine adapt to climate change help shine light on the role that climate uncertainties play in how political futures can be represented. UN-led adaptation has occasioned opportunities for new networks of actors to make claims about Palestinian futures and to perform PA readiness for statehood. These actors weigh scientific uncertainties about climate against uncertainties over if and when settler colonialism in Palestine will end. How they do so matters because it is the foundation of requests for capital that could be translated into some of the most important institutions and infrastructures of Palestinian governance over the next several years, including those that provide Palestinians with access to water. It also matters because it constitutes the image with which PA officials represent what needs to be “fixed” in Palestine in important international forums such as the UN. Climate change adaptation is a new approach to the management of uncertain environmental futures. This analysis offers insight into how this approach shapes and is shaped by practices of statecraft in places marked by the volatilities of war, economic crisis, and occupation.

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Author's note: I am indebted to Fuad Abu Saif, Suha Jarrar, Nedal Katbeh-Bader, Michael Mason, Clemens Messerschmid, Ziad Mimi, Taghreed Najjar, ‘Itiraf Remawi, Mark Zeitoun, and my interlocutors in Palestine who will remain anonymous for making this research possible by sharing their time and insights with me. Jessica Barnes, Tessa Farmer, Simone Popperl, Kali Rubaii, and Caterina Scaramelli read an earlier draft of this paper. I thank them, Akram Khater, Jeffrey Culang, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. Support from Bard College, the Social Science Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Columbia University allowed me to travel to Palestine for this research.

1 Per anthropology's ethical protocols, I have used real names where interviewees spoke with me on the record in their official capacity. I have anonymized or omitted names of those who spoke off the record or preferred to remain anonymous. I do not comment on which names are anonymized and which are not to protect the information of those who remain anonymous.

2 On scenarios as aids to decision making under uncertainty, see Matthews, Andrew S., “Imagining Forest Futures and Climate Change: The Mexican State as Insurance Broker and Storyteller,” in Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change, ed. Barnes, Jessica and Dove, Michael R. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2015).

3 See Lakoff, Andrew, “Preparing for the Next Emergency,” Public Culture 19 (2007): 247–71. Eminent Palestinian historian Khalidi, Walid was prescient in titling his 1978 article “Thinking the Unthinkable: A Sovereign Palestinian State,” Foreign Affairs 56 (1978): 695713.

4 A sample vision of a Palestinian future that responds to this concern is depicted in Abunimah, Ali’s One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli–Palestinian Impasse (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).

5 See, for example, Hanieh, Adam, “The Internationalisation of Gulf Capital and Palestinian Class Formation,” Capital and Class 35 (2011): 81106; Khan, Mushtaq Husain, State Formation in Palestine: Viability and Governance during a Social Transformation (New York: Routledge, 2004); Hilal, Jamil, Takwin al-Nukhba al-Falistiniyya (Ramallah: MUWATIN, The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, 2002); Hanafi, Sari and Tabar, Linda, “The New Palestinian Globalized Elite,” Jerusalem Quarterly 24 (2005): 1332; and Samour, Sobhi and Khalidi, Raja, “Neoliberalism as Liberation: The Statehood Program and the Remaking of the Palestinian National Movement,” Journal of Palestine Studies 40 (2011): 625.

6 On water in climate change adaptation, see Günel, Gökçe, “The Infinity of Water,” Public Culture 28 (2016): 291. See also Jessica Barnes, “Scale and Agency: Climate Change and the Future of Egypt's Water,” in Climate Cultures, 127–45.

7 Jasanoff, Sheila, “A New Climate for Society,” Theory, Culture, Society 27 (2010): 233–53. See also Jasanoff, “Songlines,” 140; Matthews, “Imagining,” 199; and Günel, “Infinity.”

8 See Masco, Joseph, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post–Cold War New Mexico (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006); and Masco, “Bad Weather: On Planetary Crisis,” Social Studies of Science 40 (2010): 7–40. See also Matthews, “Imagining”; and Lakoff, “Preparing,” 253.

9 On how actors weigh geopolitics against ideas of natural agency and human agency in the Middle East, see Barnes, “Scale and Agency.” On the place of uncertainty in Israeli water policy, see Alatout, Samer, “Revisiting Water Politics and Policy in Israel: Policymaking under Conditions of Uncertainty,” in Shared Borders, Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges, ed. Megdal, Sharon B., Varady, Robert G., and Eden, Susanna (Leiden: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013), 7590.

10 See Barak, On, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Egypt (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2013), 176.

11 See Barnes, “Scale and Agency,” 132–33.

12 Salamanca, Omar Jabary, Qato, Mezna, Rabie, Kareem, and Samour, Sobhi, “Past Is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine,” Settler Colonial Studies 2 (2012): 1.

13 Davis, Diana, introduction to Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa, ed. Davis, Diana and Burke, Edmund III (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2011), 3.

14 Barnes, Jessica, ed., Environmental Futures (New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2016).

15 On “blackboxing,” see MacKenzie, Donald, “Making Things the Same: Gases, Emission Rights and the Politics of Carbon Markets,” Accounting, Organizations and Society (2008): 440–55.

16 MacKenzie, “Making.” On commensuration as comparison of different entities according to a common metric that is also out of the ordinary, see Espeland, Wendy Nelson and Stevens, Mitchell L., “Commensuration as a Social Process,” Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1998): 313, 315.

17 Lakoff, “Preparing,” 249.

18 On collective imaginations of the state as critical in stabilizing calculations about environmental futures, see Matthews, “Imagining,” 201.

19 Thinking two types of readiness together—readiness for statehood and for climate funding— parallels what Pamela McElwee observed in her work on REDD+ readiness in Vietnam: “From Conservation and Development to Climate Change: Anthropological Engagements with REDD+ in Vietnam,” in Climate Cultures, 82–104. See also Bonilla, Yarimar, Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

20 Jasanoff, “Songlines,” 135.

21 There has been extensive work in both fields. For exemplary work on risk management as a culturally inflected practice, see Jasanoff, Sheila, Risk Management and Political Culture: A Comparative Study of Science in the Policy Context (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1986). For a recent example of anthropological analysis of uncertainty as practice, see Samimian-Darash, Limor, “Practicing Uncertainty: Scenario-Based Preparedness Exercises in Israel,” Cultural Anthropology 31 (2016): 359–86.

22 See Barnes, Jessica and Matthews, Andrew S., “Prognosis: Visions of Environmental Futures,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2016): 926; and Barnes, Jessica, “Uncertainty in the Signal: Modeling Egypt's Water Futures,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22, no. S1 (2016): 4666.

23 Andrew Barry, “Discussion: Infrastructural Times,” Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, 24 September 2015, accessed 24 September 2017,

24 See Jasanoff, Sheila, ed., States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order (London: Routledge, 2004).

25 See, for example, Mason, Michael, Zeitoun, Mark, and El Sheikh, Rebhy, “Conflict and Social Vulnerability to Climate Change: Lessons from Gaza,” Climate and Development 3 (2011): 285–97; and Mason, Michael, Zeitoun, Mark, and Mimi, Ziad, “Compounding Vulnerability: Impacts of Climate Change on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank,” Journal of Palestine Studies 41 (2012): 3853. See further references throughout the article.

26 See, for example, Barnett, Jon and Adger, Neil, “Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict,” Political Geography 26 (2007): 639–55; and Charles B. Strozier and Kelly A. Berkell, “How Climate Change Helped ISIS,” The Blog, Huffington Post, 29 September 2014, accessed 24 September 2017,

27 Important exceptions include Amra, Ziad, “The Development of Palestinian Environmental Law and Legal Advocacy,” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture 5 (1998), accessed 24 September 2017,; and McKee, Emily, Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016).

28 UNFCCC National Reports, accessed 11 November 2016,

29 Jessica O'Reilly, “Glacial Dramas: Typos, Projections, and Peer Review in the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” in Climate Cultures, 108. See also Ferguson, James, The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Riles, Annelise, “Infinity within the Brackets,” American Ethnologist 25 (1990): 378–98.

30 I conducted most of the interviews in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, and a small number by phone or e-mail, between 2015 and 2016.

31 On the relationship between “channeling finance” and ways of writing in institutional relationships, see Matthews, “Imagining,” 204, 215.

32 See, for example, Samer Alatout, “Hydro-Imaginaries and the Construction of the Political Geography of the Jordan River,” in Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa, 218–45; and Shehadeh, Raja, Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape (New York: Scribner, 2008).

33 Allen, Lori, “Getting By the Occupation: How Violence Became Normal during the Second Palestinian Intifada,” Cultural Anthropology 23 (2008): 453–87.

34 The organization's name has since changed to EcoPeace Middle East.

35 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Programme of Action for the Palestinian Authority (report by the UNDP, Jerusalem, 2010), 3.

36 Ibid., 49–82.

37 See, for example, Mason, Mimi, and Zeitoun, “Compounding Vulnerability.”

38 Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing to the significance of this point.

39 UNDP, Strategy, xi.

40 Ibid., 2.

41 For analyses of climate risk as a security problem, see Mason, Michael, “Climate Change, Securitisation and the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict,” The Geographical Journal 179 (2013): 298308; and Mason, Michael and Mimi, Ziad, Transboundary Climate Security: Climate Vulnerability and Rural Livelihoods in the Jordan River Basin (London: Middle East Centre, 2014).

42 Rainfall variability projections remain highly uncertain in other regional conflicts, such as in Egypt. See Barnes, “Scale and Agency,” 128–29.

43 UNDP, Strategy, 16.

44 On how the large scale, when transposed to the smaller scale, becomes much more difficult to apply with clarity, see Barnes, “Scale and Agency,” 129.

45 UNDP, Strategy, x.

46 Jasanoff, “Songlines,” 144.

47 Lakoff, “Preparing,” 53.

48 See Kelly, Tobias, “Documented Lives: Fear and the Uncertainties of Law during the Second Palestinian Intifada,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12 (2006): 89107.

49 For an analysis of the political pitfalls of environmental peace building between Israel and the Palestinians, see Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Sophia, “Occupational Hazards,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34 (2014): 476–96. See also Hussein, Hussam, “Politics of the Dead Sea Canal: A Historical Review of the Evolving Discourses, Interests, and Plans,” Water International 42 (2017): 527–42.

50 UNDP, Strategy, 27.

51 Jasanoff, Sheila, “Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity,” in Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power, ed. Jasanoff, Sheila and Kim, Sang-Hyun (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

52 Correspondence with Kareem Rabie, November 2016.

53 Ibid., 42.

54 Ibid., 16. This is the temporal equivalent of Barnes's argument about geographical scale. See Barnes, “Scale and Agency,” 131. See also O'Reilly, “Glacial Dramas,” 123.

55 Beck, Ulrich, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage Publications, 1992), 2.

56 UNDP, Strategy, 4.

57 For data on Israeli activities in the West Bank that month, see Applied Research Institute–Jerusalem, “The Israeli Colonization Activities in the Palestinian Territories during the 3rd Quarter of 2015–2016” (report by the Applied Research Institute–Jerusalem and the Land Research Centre–Jerusalem, February 2016).

58 O'Reilly, “Glacial Dramas,” 123.

59 On diagrammatic reasoning, see Hastrup, Kristen, “Anticipation on Thin Ice: Diagrammatic Reasoning in the High Arctic,” in The Social Life of Climate Change Models: Anticipating Nature, ed. Hastrup, Kristin and Skrydstrup, Martin (London: Routledge, 2013), 7799.

60 See the published proceedings of “Climate Change, Water and the Policy Making Process in the Levant and North Africa,” a closed workshop with leading water experts from the Levant at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut (2009); Mason, Michael, Zeitoun, Mark, and el-Sheikh, Rebhy, “Conflict and Social Vulnerability to Climate Change: Lessons from Gaza,” Climate and Development 3 (2011): 285–97; Mason, Mimi, and Zeitoun, “Compounding Vulnerability,” 38–53 (the diagram appeared in the accepted version but was cut out of the published version, though both versions are available online); and Jarrar, Suha, “No Justice, No Adaptation: The Politics of Climate Change Adaptation in Palestine,” La balsa de piedra 10 (2015): 126. UNICEF included the Gaza diagram in Protecting Children from Unsafe Water in Gaza: Strategy, Action Plan and Project Resources (2011).

61 Beck, Risk Society.

62 See Ben Orlove, Heather Lazrus, Grete K. Hovelsrud, and Alessandra Giannini, “How Long-Standing Debates Have Shaped Recent Climate Change Discourses,” in Climate Cultures, 48–81; and Frances C. Moore, Justin S. Mankin, and Austin Becker, “Challenges in Integrating the Climate and Social sciences for Studies of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation,” in Climate Cultures, 169–98.

63 Lakoff, “Preparing,” 31.

64 On recent discussions of the latter, see Salamanca, Qato, Rabie, and Samour, “Past is Present.”

65 Espeland and Stevens, “Commensuration,” 316, 319.

66 Jasanoff, “Songlines,” 135.

67 UNDP, Strategy, 15. Emphasis mine. The worst-case scenario is not an event but a future continuous condition. For contrast, see Lakoff, “Preparation.”

68 On “realistic” models of risk perception, see Jasanoff, Sheila, “The Political Science of Risk Perception,” Reliability Engineering and System Safety 59 (1998): 9199.

69 Messerschmid, Clemens, “Nothing New in the Middle East: Reality and Discourses of Climate Change in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict,” in Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict, Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace, ed. Scheffran, Jürgen, Brzoska, Michael, Brauch, Hans Günter, Link, Peter Michael, and Schilling, Janpeter (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2012), 453.

70 On the politics of thinking water as scarce in Israel/Palestine, see Alatout, Samer, “States of Scarcity: Water, Space, and Identity Politics in Israel, 1948–59,” Environment and Planning D 26 (2008): 959–82. See also Barnes, “Scale and Agency,” 129.

71 Jarrar, “No Justice.”

72 See, for example, Hussein, Hussam and Grandi, Mattia, “Dynamic Political Contexts and Power Asymmetries: The Cases of the Blue Nile and the Yarmouk Rivers,” International Journal of Environmental Agreements: Law, Politics, and Economics 17 (2017): 795814. For a discussion of the power asymmetries involved in water management between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, see Zeitoun, Mark, Power and Water in the Middle East: The Hidden Politics of the Palestinian–Israeli Water Conflict (New York: I.B.Tauris, 2008). For a sample text on the concept of “problemsheds,” see Kneese, Allen V., “The ‘Problem Shed’ as a Unit for Environmental Control,” Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal 16 (1968): 124–27.

73 On the need for flexibility in other climate analysis contexts, see O'Reilly, “Glacial Dramas,” 122.

74 Lakoff, “Preparation,” 260.

75 Mimi, Ziad and Jamous, Sireen Abu, “Climate Change and Agricultural Water Demand: Impacts and Adaptations,” African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology 4 (2010): 191.

76 On killing two birds with one stone, see Lakoff, “Preparation,” 21.

77 Beck, Risk Society, 8.

78 Lakoff, “From Disaster to Catastrophe: The Limits of Preparedness,” SSRC, 11 June 2006, accessed 3 April 2018, Unlike the preparedness ethos in the US, Palestinian publics do not tend to express a widespread demand for preparedness. This is a PA-specific ethos.

79 Wedeen, Lisa, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

80 Navaro-Yashin, Yael, “Make Believe Papers, Legal Forms and the Counterfeit,” Anthropological Theory 7 (2007): 85.

81 See Patrick Goodenough, “Senators Target U.S. Funding for Kerry's Prized UN Climate Change Programs,”, 20 April 2016, accessed 3 April 2018,

82 Kelly, “Documented Lives”; Navaro-Yashin, “Make Believe.” See also Zureik, Elias, “Constructing Palestine through Surveillance Practices,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 28 (2001): 205–27; and Ticktin, Miriam, Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2011).

83 See Tawil-Souri, Helga, “The Politics and Materiality of ID Cards in Palestine/Israel,” Social Text 29 (2011): 6797; Khalidi, Rashid, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Gordon, Neve, Israel's Occupation (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2008); Kelly, “Documented Lives”; and Zureik, “Constructing.”

84 Climate documents serve, in these senses, as boundary objects. Star, Susan and Griesemer, James, “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39,” Social Studies of Science 19 (1989): 387420.

85 Matthews argues that calculation requires imagination of the state as a center of political and institutional order. Matthews, “Imagining,” 203.

86 Similar shifts occur in other contexts of environmental problem solving, as with water scarcity. See, for example, Mehta, Lyla, The Politics and Poetics of Water: The Naturalization of Water Scarcity in Western India (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2005).

87 On “charismatic data” in the writing of climate reports, see O'Reilly, “Glacial Dramas,” 122.

88 Matthews, “Imagining,” 212.

89 This contrasts with other climate adaptation plans by other governments whose status is perceived to be pending due to political volatility and occupation. See, for example, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan National Environmental Protection Agency, Afghanistan Initial National Communication to the UNFCCC (The National Environmental Protection Agency of Afghanistan, 2013).

90 Espeland and Stevens, “Commensuration.”

91 Jasanoff, “Songlines,” 138.

92 Scott, James, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998).

93 See Navaro-Yashin, “Make Believe,” 86.

94 Wedeen, Ambiguities.

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