The very first issue of what was then known as MERIP Reports in fact featured a prescient article on Israeli policy toward the occupied Palestinian territories and its attitudes about a diplomatic settlement entitled “Divide, Delay, Conquer.” With minor revisions, this short piece would have been right at home in any of the subsequent issues produced by MERIP.
MERIP was established in the immediate aftermath of Black September, the 1970 defeat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its expulsion from Jordan by the Hashemite monarchy. Some of MERIP’s founders had witnessed the onset of fighting during a trip to the region. The meteoric rise of the Palestinian guerilla organizations after the 1967 Six-Day War had resonated powerfully with the era’s zeitgeist, and their national movement quickly achieved iconic status throughout the region and in Third World solidarity movements. In this context, the PLO’s military defeat in 1970 had an impact on the morale of progressive movements comparable to Israel’s crushing 1967 victory.
In response, MERIP—its early views on Palestine influenced by Fawwaz Traboulsi and particularly his 1969 New Left Review article, “The Palestine Problem: Zionism and Imperialism in the Middle East”—organized discussions at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC to take stock of Black September’s multiple repercussions. The published transcript of the final session provides a valuable window into the spirit of the times. More interestingly, it demonstrates that the self-identified young radicals of MERIP from the outset eschewed any partisan alignment of their organization and its publication with a particular Palestinian faction.
As the 1970s progressed, issues such as the PLO’s highly controversial 1974 adoption of a political program that laid the basis for its subsequent acquiescence to a Palestinian state confined to the Occupied Territories, and fierce debates about the respective roles of political and armed struggle, created deep fissures within the Palestinian national movement. Here again MERIP did not agitate for or against a particular position or faction. Instead, during the mid-1970s it significantly enriched its readers’ understanding of developments by featuring a series of incisive essays contextualizing the issues, as well as through interviews with Palestinian leaders arguing both for and against the proposals being hotly contested within Palestinian ranks.
At a time when most analysis of the Palestinian national movement was highly focused on the PLO in exile and Palestinian communities in the Arab diaspora, MERIP distinguished itself with a regular focus on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and within Israel. A lengthy 1975 essay on “Survival Strategies of Arabs in Israel” by Sharif Kanaana, together with a 1976 contribution by Sabri Jiryis, “The Land Question in Israel,” enabled readers to grasp the background and context of growing Palestinian activism inside the Green Line, culminating with Land Day in 1976. In the decades since, MERIP has continued to regularly feature coverage of this pivotal Palestinian community, its confrontations with escalating Israeli racism and internal dynamics.
MERIP was similarly early to grasp the broader significance of developments within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories that prior to 1982 and arguably until 1987 many viewed as peripheral to Palestinian affairs. Thus, MERIP Reports (which was renamed Middle East Report in 1986) consistently offered reporting and analysis of Israeli policy and Palestinian resistance. Particularly noteworthy in this respect are Sheila Ryan’s brilliant 1974 analysis of “Israeli Economic Policy in the Occupied Areas: Foundations of a New Imperialism,” Joan Mandell’s pathbreaking and comprehensive 1985 essay, “Gaza: Israel’s Soweto,” the extensive coverage of the development of the Palestinian National Front (such as interviews with deported PNF leaders in 1974 and 1976) and of Palestinian efforts in the Occupied Territories to confront the autonomy scheme hatched by Israel, Egypt and the United States in 1978 at Camp David. Together with additional articles, such as Joost Hiltermann’s 1985 “Mass Mobilization: The Emerging Trade Union Movement in the West Bank,” MERIP’s regular readers were well-prepared for the 1987–1993 Intifada, which it extensively covered in the May/June 1988 issue “The Uprising,” the September/October 1988 issue “The Uprising: The Next Phase” and the May/June 1990 issue “Intifada Year Three.”
As the first Intifada gave way to the Oslo Accords era, MERIP was quick to recognize the relationship as one of “Palestinian Authority, Israeli Rule,” and in 1996 accurately assessed that Oslo’s transitional arrangements had for all intents and purposes become permanent. MERIP authors writing for Middle East Report and, since 1999, Middle East Report Online (MERO) provided incisive reporting and analysis on the twists and turns of the Oslo process, its impact on Palestinian society and the transformation of Palestinian politics, including within both Fatah and Hamas. Catherine Cook’s 2003 reports were among the first to demonstrate, rather than merely assert, that the West Bank wall was but one more massive land grab conducted under the pretext of security.
MERIP from its earliest days also provided robust coverage of Palestinian affairs in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere, including a special issue on the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and another devoted to the 1983 PLO schism. Closer to home, MERIP at various times engaged with the representation of Palestinians, most prominently with Edward Said’s landmark 1978 essay, “The Idea of Palestine in the West.” It was also among the few US publications to publicize forensic scholar Norman Finkelstein’s demolition of the Joan Peters fraud, featuring perhaps the only interview with him as well as a review of Peters by Said.
During most of its existence, and particularly when it was a monthly publication, MERIP’s magazine featured Palestine on its cover at least once a year, and significantly more often between the covers. The analyses, interviews and reviews, often solicited from well-regarded authors from its extensive regional and international network, typically brought refreshing insights to the subject. Palestine was also the subject of MERIP’s first primer and two of its earliest books—the edited collection Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation and Palestine in Crisis: The Struggle for Peace and Political Independence After Oslo by Graham Usher—which remain widely consulted to this day. In view of MERIP’s deliberately regional focus, this extensive coverage speaks to the abiding centrality of Palestine in the region and to progressive agendas more broadly.
[Mouin Rabbani, a MERIP contributing editor, is an independent researcher and analyst specializing on the contemporary Middle East. He is a co-editor of Jadaliyya.]