AS THE GREATEST POWER of the region in control of the whole of Mandatory Palestine (plus areas of Syria), Israel has never been shy about making demands on the Arabs, especially the Palestinians. The latest of these, dating back only a few years, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand, as a core component of any peace agreement, that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. This is the subject of Ahmad Khalidi’s essay “Why Can’t the Palestinians Recognize the Jewish State?” Khalidi explores the moral and practical implications of the demand, concluding that such recognition would effectively make of the Palestinians Zionists, denying their own moral and historical claims.
The summer issue also features two articles whose underlying theme is Palestinian dispossession, though in different time frames—one in the immediate wake of the 1948 war, the other spanning a decade and a half thereafter. Gish Amit chronicles the “appropriation” by Israel’s National and University Library of the tens of thousands of books abandoned by their Palestinian owners fleeing their homes in West Jerusalem, driven out along with nearly thirty thousand other Arab residents when the western sector was captured by Zionist forces in the spring of 1948.
Books form a very minor part of the massive seizure of Palestinian patrimony in land, buildings, orchards, businesses, factories, and other movable and immovable property that was seized by the new Jewish state—booty that played a vital role in the construction of modern-day Israel. Geremy Forman’s article looks at the legalized expropriation of vast amounts of Palestinian land through the “land settlement” process. Specifically, he examines the evolution of the judicial doctrines whereby the Israeli Supreme Court facilitated the land grab. By showing how the justices consistently turned the arguments of government advocates justifying mechanisms of plunder into the law of the land, the article shatters the myth of the court’s independence from the state.
Those Palestinians who became Israeli citizens are the focus of Maha Nassar’s article, which shows through a study of the local Arabic press how the right of return discourse evolved within the community and its principal political formation, the Israeli Communist Party, throughout the 1950s. In telling this story, Nassar demonstrates that far from being quiescent in this period, as is generally believed, Israel’s Palestinian citizens were in fact increasingly politically active, despite the oppressive military rule and intensive police surveillance to which they were subjected up until 1966. Noha Radwan, meanwhile, traces the theme of Palestine in Egyptian popular poetry using the colloquial dialect, via an exploration of the poems on Palestine of the leading poets in the genre.
Raja Shehadeh’s essay uses as its starting point his latest book, A Rift in Time: Travels with my Ottoman Uncle, which traces the steps of his great-great uncle, the renowned journalist Najib Nassar, fleeing the Ottoman police during World War I. In following his uncle’s wanderings, the acclaimed author and legal expert ponders the wrenching changes in the area’s political realities, landscape, and mentalities since then. The essay ends with reflections on the future of the region, especially in the light of the Arab Spring.
Finally, the Quarterly Update is worth noting this quarter for its long cogent overview of the various fronts of the “Arab Spring” (under Regional Affairs) and its comprehensive and detailed account of the Fatah-Hamas unity talks (under Intra-Palestinian Dynamics).