Some 43 years ago, a group of activists in the movement to end the war in Vietnam founded the Middle East Research and Information Project.
The impetus was that the American public, including the anti-war left, was poorly informed about the Middle East and the US role there. The region was commonly depicted as alien, its politics uniquely determined by religion and impossible to explain with ordinary categories of analysis. The original idea behind MERIP was to produce better reporting that would get picked up by existing left outlets.
That didn’t work so well, so we at MERIP decided to publish our own magazine. One of our signature issues over the years has been the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict — partly because of its intrinsic interest but largely because so much myth and cant clouds the mainstream media coverage of this subject that independent analysis is particularly necessary.
It’s probably for that reason, as well, that “Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” the primer by Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar, has always been the most popular item on our website. Last week, we published a comprehensively revised and updated version of the primer.
A lot has changed since we last updated the primer in early 2001.
The “peace process” inaugurated by the 1993 Oslo agreement sputtered to a halt, as Israel went back onto a war footing with the blessing of the Bush administration. The subsequent attempts to restart negotiations have failed.
In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has built settlements and other “facts on the ground” at an accelerated pace since evacuating soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. Gaza remains under de facto Israeli control and has been under international siege since Hamas won legislative elections in 2006. The Palestinian Authority is split between its Gaza and West Bank branches.
Settlement blocs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are increasingly accepted in Israeli Jewish opinion as part of Israel. The security forces of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah are often deployed to disperse Palestinian protests against Israeli settlement and occupation.
Twenty percent of Israel’s citizens are Palestinian Arabs. They are caught as always in the contradictions of Israel’s self-identification as both a democracy and a Jewish state. A new poll indicates that Americans are more aware of these contradictions. Meanwhile, the United States finds itself ever more isolated when it defends Israel’s military operations before the court of world opinion and blocks Palestinian efforts to rally international support.
All of these developments have intensified doubts about the viability of the “two-state solution,” the vision that animated the Oslo accords and is backed by international consensus. This spring, Israeli and Palestinian leaders will come to the White House, where the president will push them to accept Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for reviving talks about a two-state solution.
There are lots more sources of news about Israel-Palestine than there were when MERIP was founded. But misinformation still abounds and nuanced, no-nonsense analysis is still hard to find. The Beinin and Hajjar primer is a good place to start in understanding what is at stake as events unfold.