From the Editor
At first glance the contents of this issue of the Journal appear disparate, ranging as they do over the Israeli settlement project, Tony Blair’s tenure as Quartet Middle East representative, the role of Islamic Jihad, and the effect of recent upheavals in the Arab world on the Palestinian issue. But taken as a whole they show how much the contemporary Middle East—with the Palestine question at its center—is in dialogue with its history. Although history may not repeat itself, there are nevertheless striking parallels and linkages between past and current events.
This issue leads with a historical article with contemporary resonance. In the 1930s, as it is today, the Middle East was in upheaval: Iraqi and Egyptian “independence” from Britain, the Syro-Lebanese struggle against France, and a widespread Palestinian revolt. For Zionist leaders then as for Israeli leaders now, the challenge was to shape these events to their advantage. Using materials from the Central Zionist Archives, Mahmoud Muhareb reveals an extensive Jewish Agency disinformation campaign in the Arab press, collaborated with by a willing few on the Arab side. This attempt to divert Arab attention from Palestine at the height of the 1936–39 Arab revolt brings to mind the siren song currently audible in the Arab media that it is Iran, not Israel, that is the Arab world’s real problem.
“Decolonization” may have begun in the wake of World War II with India’s independence, but the situation in Palestine shows that it is far from complete. In a fascinating essay, Lorenzo Veracini argues for a distinction between a colonial regime, such as that which Israel has imposed in the occupied territories (and which in June 2013 will enter its forty-seventh year), and a settler-colonial project like Great Britain’s white settler colonies in North America and Australasia. There, settlers eventually became “indigenized” and effaced the native population, as has largely happened within Israel itself. Veracini argues further that it will be very difficult to transform the thriving Israeli colonial enterprise in the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem into a successful settler-colonial project, notwithstanding the presence of well over half a million Israeli Jewish settlers there.
A distinctive feature of the British imperial experience in the Middle East was the entrepreneurial imperial agent personified by T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, or Harry St. John Philby. The thoroughly undistinguished trajectory of Tony Blair’s post-ministerial career as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, profiled by Jonathan Cook, shows that the tradition persists, albeit in much attenuated fashion. Blair has systematically favored Israel and has done nothing to further a resolution of the conflict—his ostensible purpose—but he has handsomely feathered his nest through lucrative deals throughout the region.
To link these strands, in this issue the Journal for the first time includes what is a regular feature of its Arabic sister publication: a roundtable discussion by regional experts. This one, in which I took part, assesses the impact on the Palestine question of the ongoing upheavals in Syria, Egypt, and a half dozen other Arab countries. These interventions range widely geographically and historically. Some participants link today’s conjuncture to the end of the Cold War, others to the unraveling of the regional settlements that emerged from World War I, and still others to even more-distant periods. Although entirely contemporary in focus, the roundtable’s historical grounding underscores the past’s continuing effect on the present, and the present’s changing perspective on the past.
—Rashid I. Khalidi