The question of Palestine has consistently been of great importance to our work ever since the first issue of MERIP Reports was published ten years ago, in May 1971. More recently, in our introduction to “The PLO at the Crossroads” (July-August 1979), we wrote that MERIP is interested “in encouraging further efforts to evaluate specific conditions at any given time and appreciate their implications for Palestinian strategy.” Reports since then have discussed the impact of Camp David on Palestinians in the occupied territories (“Palestinians Confront the Treaty,” December 1979) and examined aspects of the current crises in Israeli society (“Israel’s Uncertain Future,” November-December 1980).
With this issue we draw away from the consequences of diplomacy and the immediate dilemmas of those who contend and suffer in Palestine to reflect upon the struggle for self-determination and socialism in that land. Three years ago, in 1978, Ithaca Press in London published Towards a Socialist Republic in Palestine. Edited by Fouzi el-Asmar, Uri Davis and Naim Khadar, this volume featured the transcript of a debate among two Palestinian Arabs, one a citizen of Israel and the other a refugee (“Yasin” and “Qasim”) and Jewish citizen of Israel (“Zvi”). The editors of Socialist Republic solicited responses to their pioneering effort and have now produced a second volume, Debate on Palestine (Ithaca Press, 1981). The text by Fred Halliday in this issue is edited and slightly revised from his contribution to Debate on Palestine. It appears here with the permission of the editors and publisher of Debate.
We decided to publish Halliday’s text, despite its detailed references to a book which few of our readers have had an opportunity to read, because it poses serious and necessary questions about Palestinian strategies and goals from a stance of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. The Socialist Republic debate breaks new ground in attempting to envision the concrete institutional and political arrangements in a unitary, “liberated” Palestine. Halliday, drawing on the specific content of this discussion, argues forcefully that the goal articulated by the Palestine Liberation Organization of a democratic secular state, even with the added qualification of “socialist,” does not address the reality of the situation in the Middle East or the difficulties inherent in any transition to socialism. Such a state, in Halliday’s view, cannot be reconciled with either socialism or democracy. His conclusions, and his suggestions for appropriate approaches and steps, are correspondingly controversial, if not entirely novel.
Anticipating at least one critique of this position, we invited Khalil Nakhleh to respond to Halliday’s comments in the section on “the national question.” Nakhleh contests Halliday’s assertion that a relatively clear principled socialist position exists on the matter of national oppression and self-determination, disputes his arguments for Israeli national rights, and rejects Halliday’s support for partition as neither realistic nor desirable. Hopefully this isjust the first of many contributions we can publish over the months ahead which will discuss the range of Palestinian strategies for liberation on both theoretical and practical levels. We feel a responsibility to present analyses that challenge as well as elaborate on prevailing opinions, and hope to be able to devote another issue to this topic.
We are especially pleased to be able to publish our interview with Saleh Baransi in this issue. Baransi is an historic figure in the protracted and difficult struggle for Palestinian rights in Israel. In his conversation with us he provides rich insight into many dimensions of the Palestinian experience, going back to the revolution of 1936-1939. His unique testimony and intense commitment to the Palestinian cause despite decades of Israeli repression and harassment represent an invaluable addition to the themes of this issue.
We are also publishing the full text of a document obtained on our behalf under the Freedom of Information Act by Rex Wingerter, a freelance writer and friend of MERIP in Washington. This transcript of a private meeting of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with influential American Jewish leaders in the midst of negotiations for the Sinai accord in 1975 sheds important light on the motivation and consequences of US policy around the Palestine question. There may be few shocks and surprises for readers of MERIP Reports in the substance of Kissinger’s views, but his candid summary of US policy toward the Palestinians, the Arab states and the Soviet Union gives our long-standing analysis a useful degree of personal documentation.