Moshe Ma’oz, Palestinian Leadership on the West Bank: The Changing Role of the Mayors Under Jordan and Israel (London: Frank Cass, 1984).

Moshe Ma’oz is a current favorite in Israel and the US to guest lecture on the subject of Palestinian politics, and the Israeli media regularly defers to him as a respected Arabist. His assessment of West Bank political leadership gets more than its fair share of attention. What a shame.

Certainly this book does not represent a serious piece of scholarship. Its main contribution is that it does exhibit the dilemma of the Israeli intellectual, especially the social scientist, in terms of the interlocking embrace of the Israeli government and military with academia. Among the few Israeli professors like Israel Shahak and Daniel Amit who publicly distance themselves from the Zionist political establishment, there are none of the so-called “Arabists.”

Ma’oz, by contrast, owes his academic career to his government experience, and believes he can live both in the ivory tower and on the battlefield. He served as advisor on Arab affairs to Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and to Gen. Dani Matt, coordinator of [military] activities in the [Occupied] Territories during at least two years of the period under study. Ma’oz shrugs this off with a simple disclaimer: “I believe that my participation in Israeli policymaking on the West Bank has not prejudiced my scholarly approach to this delicate and controversial subject” and even that he has “pursued the study of the West Bank leadership with empathy.” Empathy with the population under occupation is not in evidence in the pages of this book. Ma’oz thoroughly reflects the perspective of the occupier, and openly expresses antagonism to any form of Palestinian national leadership not controlled by Israel, or any manifestation of Palestinian nationalist feeling. For him, the occupation is an indisputable given, and local leaders who oppose the occupation he regards as false leaders. Strikes are ”subversive“ activities, schools are “hotbeds” of resistance, political education is “indoctrination.” Demonstrations are never spontaneous, mass-based expressions, but are engineered by non-representative leaders.

Ma’oz has chosen to observe Palestinian leadership in a formal sense, as it has emerged through the municipal structure. His purpose is to explain how these basically non-political institutions, whose control Israel inherited from Jordan in 1967, transformed themselves into symbols of Palestinian national life. How did the potential infrastructure of a Palestinian state establish itself under the nose of the vigilant occupier? Now that Israel has banned the Palestine National Front in its various manifestations, and destroyed the overtly nationalist municipalities in 1982, how can it further control the remaining leadership to its own advantage? Ma’oz uses the immediate post-1967 period and the 1972 and 1976 elections as watersheds to sketch the history of cooperation and conflict between mayors and military. Extraneous factors are the PLO — always perceived as a unitary body pulling strings from afar — and the people, patronizingly regarded by Ma’oz as a slumbering mass which can be prodded into agitation or acquiescence by clever manipulation.

He devotes two brief, straightforward chapters to the truncated status of the municipalities under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, making the tired point that these former rulers exploited traditional tribal elites on the West Bank to prevent the emergence of strong local rule. Mayors were agents of the central ruler and given only the barest of administrative powers. Jordan delegated considerable authority to the regional muhafiz, who had the prerogative to intervene in all aspects of local political life. Ma’oz emphasizes that clan rivalries in the towns and on the councils fragmented local political efforts. He speculates that Jordan, confident of the success of its “good servant” policy, was ready to broaden municipal powers when the 1967 war intervened and the Israeli army overran the West Bank.

Apparently Israel was pleased with the methods Jordan used to milk the West Bank of resources and labor while suppressing Palestinian identity. It foresaw the municipalities as “stabilizers” which could preserve what Ma’oz calls the “continuity of Jordanian rule” and facilitate normalization of public life. But Israeli control was military in character and form. This curious belief in “normal” life under military occupation is widely held among Israelis. In Ma’oz’s formulation, “the generally mild and humane military rule of Israel in the West Bank, combined with her [sic] progressive economic and social policies there, should have contributed toward mitigating these Palestinian nationalistic and anti-Israeli sentiments among West Bank residents.” It did not, for which Ma’oz blames Labor’s failure to cultivate “pragmatic” leaders among Palestinians before 1977 and the Likud’s iron-fist policies and loose rein on settlers afterwards. Except for a few isolated events, Ma’oz argues, with some envy, Jordan was the best suppressor of Palestinian national aspirations, and Israel needs to formalize Jordan’s duplicitous cooperation — a la condominium — if it wants to maintain its long-term interests in the West Bank.

Ma’oz’s major deception forms the foundation of his political analysis: that “large sections” of the West Bank and Gaza welcomed Sadat’s initiative and the Camp David accords and even that “most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza” accepted Reagan’s plan linking the West Bank to Jordan via confederation. If ever there was an issue over which the West Bank and Gaza stood unified, it is the total renunciation of the Camp David accords and any political compromise through autonomy. But Ma’oz insists on the popularity of these American peace plans to give political weight to his choice of a Palestinian leadership, the mayors (but indeed any figure) whom he calls “moderate and pragmatic” — that is, who can accommodate Palestinian national rights to Israeli and Jordanian goals.

Like an overambitious salesman, Ma’oz portrays a rational, benevolent occupation by disguising issues and hiding facts. For example: shortly after the 1967 war, Palestinian mayors lobbied for the return of residents to the lands of three villages. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan considered it a security issue, not subject to appeal: end of discussion. Ma’oz injects it as an example of mayoral involvement in humanitarian, non-municipal matters. What he does not tell the reader is that the villages — Yalu, ‘Imwas and Bayt Nuba — were evacuated by force and systematically leveled by Israeli army bulldozers in June 1967 and a leisure area called Canada Park was erected in their place.

Ma’oz presents the “family reunion” scheme as another example of Israeli liberality. In fact, of the over 250,000 Palestinians displaced by the war, only a small fraction have been allowed to return. Israel has never revealed what criteria it uses to decide on repatriation of Palestinians and has consistently rejected even hardship cases submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. West Bank residents regard the family reunion scheme as a bare-faced political reward and punishment system.

Over 1,300 Palestinians were deported by the early 1970s, many of them leaders of local institutions and unions. Ma’oz makes no mention of these mass deportations which seriously damaged early organizing efforts. Ma’oz insists that leaders “cooperated” with Israeli authorities in the 1972 elections; Bassam Shaka‘a recalls that most of the then-current mayors were threatened with deportation if they did not stand for reelection. His discussion of the successive national fronts and national guidance committee overrates their organizational structure and underplays the constant Israeli harassment and arrests of active members. Elsewhere Ma’oz baldly states that there is no political censorship of the press. As late as 1982, virtually any comment by Bassam Shaka‘a was automatically excised by the military censors, and Palestinian editors report that 50 to 80 percent of all news and commentary is censored out.

Ma’oz’s information about Palestinian political developments, opinion and events is obviously culled from Jordanian mukhabarat (secret service) files seized in the 1967 war, and from Israeli military government records. Although Ma’oz alludes to interviews and talks with West Bank leaders during the research period, he does not make clear whether he himself conducted the interviews, and if some of the interviews were made in the course of his work in the intelligence arm of the Israeli government. Ma’oz cites Israeli authors whenever possible, even when reporting on Arab summit and Palestine National Council proceedings. Despite the over 660 footnotes, there is not a single document in the book, or even an extended quote from a primary source.

How to cite this article:

Anita Vitullo Khoury "Ma’oz, Palestinian Leadership on the West Bank," Middle East Report 136/137 ( ).
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