Passage to Palestine

Palestinian Leadership on the West Bank

by Moshe Ma'oz
Frank Cass (London), 217 pp., £9.95 (paper)

The First Israelis

by Tom Segev
Domino Press (Jerusalem), 354 pp., 12,920 shekels

Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres; drawing by David Levine

During the war with Japan, so the story goes, American intelligence succeeded in breaking the Japanese code—all except one adjective. This adjective would occur in sentences like “This nation is…,” “That leader is not….” Having gathered much data the decoders concluded that this adjective must be “pro-Japanese.” It was only after the war, when the code books were captured and studied, that it turned out that the adjective was “sincere.” In the Israeli case, the missing adjective in expressions like “This Arab nation is…” or “That Arab leader is not…” would probably have been interpreted, in the light of the evidence, as “pro-Western and willing-under-duress-to-consider-the -Labor-party’s-Jordanian-solution.” It would have taken the capture of the Israeli code books to learn that the adjective is “moderate.”

The use of the word “moderate” is acceptable only to one element of the Israeli regime, the Labor party and those on its periphery. For the other ruling group, the Likud, a moderate Arab leader—by any interpretation—is a contradiction in terms. Had an Arab leader been found who accepts the Likud position, they would have found a way to disagree with him.

These are days of search for Palestinian leaders who will meet the American–Israeli notion of moderation. Such people, when found, would be allowed to take part in a Jordanian–Palestinian delegation to the peace talks within the framework of the “peace process.”

The timing of Moshe Ma’oz’s book might seem to be perfect. He attempts to delineate the features of “moderate” Palestinian leaders who might be acceptable to (part of) the Israeli government as participants in a joint Jordanian–Palestinian delegation. His answer, in short, is: the mayors of the major West Bank towns. However, by the time Ma’oz finished writing his last chapter it turned out that all but one of the mayors he deals with were no longer mayors: all were deposed, some were expelled (Muhamad Milhem and Fahd Qawasma), some were badly wounded by “non-moderate” Jewish terrorists (Karim Khalef and Bassam Shak’a). Khalef died in the meantime, while Qawasma was murdered—in Jordan—by “nonmoderate” Arabs. The one exception is Elias Freij, still the mayor of Bethlehem. Except for him, Ma’oz’s candidates are no longer candidates.

The question of a Jordanian–Palestinian delegation is no doubt “on the agenda.” But it is doubtful whether it is indeed an important question. When we hear talk of a delegation that will join the “peace process,” two senses of that phrase have to be distinguished. The first is the ordinary one—a series of events and negotiations aimed at achieving a settlement between the warring parties. But there is also another, more Mediterranean, sense to the notion—something more akin to a “cease-fire in Beirut” than to a “cease-fire.” The peace process on this second interpretation is a game of let’s pretend, in which the parties behave as if they were negotiating; and while some, or even all, of them are interested…

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