Dr. Janice Terry's recently published book, William Yale: Witness to Partition in the Middle East, World War I-World War II sheds a bright light on the machinations of American foreign policy and intelligence after World War I into the late 1940s. Its main value lies in Terry's close inspection of the shifts and tensions between the British, French and American diplomats with Arab leaders and early Zionists. Using Yale's memoirs, reports and correspondence, Terry offers readers commentary and eyewitness accounts of the political maneuvering surrounding the Sherif Husayn-McMahon agreement, Sykes-Picot Agreement, the King-Crane Commission and Paris Peace conference, among other developments in the Middle East.
Although a timeline of the historical events would have been helpful, the book's personal angle provides historians-armchair and professional alike-with insights into the roots and causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Terry offers comparisons to the present-day status quo and many details that diverge from common perceptions of the region's history. For example, Emir Feisal signed an addendum to his 1919 agreement with Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization, that voided his assent to the national home for Jews in Palestine as laid out in the Balfour Declaration. The chapter on the King-Crane Commission is particularly informative in understanding why and how its conclusions were blithely ignored, to the detriment of all.
The book centers on the figure of William Yale, who first went to the Middle East in 1913, as an employee of the Standard Oil Company (SOCONY). As an oil scout, he was tasked with writing long and detailed reports on conditions in the Ottoman Empire. His reports were also sent to the Department of the Navy and the State Department. Unsurprisingly, Yale was later offered a position as an intelligence agent for the U.S. Department of State, then as a military officer on assignment to observe British Gen. Edmund Allenby's campaign in Palestine. As he approached old age, Yale reflected on the U.S. role in the conflict and wished to "bring about a cooperative effort of Jewish leaders who are pro-Israel with non-Jewish Americans who want to see a reconciliation between Israel and the Arab States and see that something positive will be done for the Arab refugees."
Terry follows Yale's long career through meticulous research into collections of his papers at the U.S. Department of State and in special collections at four libraries: Yale, Harvard, Boston University and the University of New Hampshire, where he taught for many years. Terry also incorporates additional primary-source materials on the King-Crane Commission located at Oberlin College's library, as well as Yale's contribution to the Oral History Project at Columbia University. In an interesting twist, Terry writes four narratives from Yale's life in the first person, drawing from his memoirs and letters.
Yale, who died in 1974, never published his memoir, and his superiors at the State Department and White House marginalized his recommendations and reports. Terry partially corrects that oversight by providing her readers with Yale's critical examination of the historical roots and motivations behind U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past 100 years.
Review by Randa A. Kayyali, the author of The Arab Americans and a postdoctoral research fellow at George Mason University. She recently received her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 2015, pp. 66