Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Patrick Higgins

Ph.D. Candidate, University of Houston

Return, Not Dependency: Palestinian Resistance to the “American Project” in the 1950s

Recent scholarship has aimed to globalize Palestinian history. These histories have emphasized Palestinians’ bonds of solidarity across national boundaries (e.g., Fischbach) and their place in the Cold War (e.g.,Chamberlin). My own contribution to this field seeks to place Palestinians as protagonists in an ongoing struggle against the inequities of a US-led and US-dominated world
system. Within this framework, I emphasize the strategic importance the global struggle against imperialism has held historically for Palestinian liberation (that is, in addition to the related struggle against Zionist settler-colonialism). I also establish that the Palestinian struggle against imperialism has been characterized by thoroughgoing organization: that it did not by any means proceed exclusively by slogans and armed attacks, but rather that such popularizing tactics and strategic imperatives were informed by intensive collective research dedicated to dissecting the constitutive parts of the US-led world system, mapping for their connections, and accounting for this system’s role in the oppression and exploitation of Palestinians and Arabs on the regional level. To illustrate the depth and detail of this collective theoretical work, I turn to the analyses of three radical organizations in which Palestinians played a paramount organizational role, namely, the Palestine-based branch of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, the Movement of Arab Nationalists, and the Israeli Communist Party. Specifically, I look at their research and published works regarding several interconnected US-led projects in 1950s West Asia: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine in the Near East (UNRWA); the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, also known as the “Johnston Plan”; and the Baghdad Pact. By examining these proposals closely, Palestinian refugees active in Arab nationalist and socialist organizations came to understand the linkages between US economic and military policies, and the necessity of defeating these projects in order for Palestinians to seize their right of return to their homes. My focus on the 1950s is a very deliberate choice, an attempt to expand on the nuts-and-bolts of Palestinian political life in these crucial years that preceded the emergence of better-known organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The research I cover informed Palestinian political activity and shaped its programs, including various actions ranging from mass demonstrations to military operations, which ultimately succeeded in hampering the Johnston Plan and the Baghdad Pact. Intriguingly, these analyses presage–and at the very least are compatible with–various modes of worlds-systems, dependency, and unequal exchange theory that would gain currency in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in the 1960s and 1970s.

Patrick Higgins is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Houston. He is working on a history of U.S. imperialism in West Asia (“the Middle East”) as told primarily by those who struggled against it in the movement to liberate Palestine from colonialism and military occupation. This dissertation focuses on Palestinian and Arab revolutionary perceptions of U.S. imperialism in the Arab world from the 1940s to the 1970s, and how those perceptions shaped theory and strategy around the Palestinian cause. To address these questions, the project explores the ideas and activities of the Palestine Communist Party, the Movement of Arab Nationalists, the Nasserists, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, and the constituent parties of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

His broader interests include colonialism and imperialism in West Asia, Arab republicanism and socialism, and internationalist practice and solidarity in Arab revolutionary movements. Additionally, he seeks to trace the impact of the diverse currents within Arab revolutions on broader traditions of anti-imperialist thought, such as dependency theory, world-systems theory, unequal exchange, and Third World Marxism in general. He holds an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from University of Texas at Austin and a BA from Wayne State University. He has shared his work as a Fellow at the 2019 Middle East Political Economy Summer Institute and has presented at the Middle East Studies Association.