Since the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan (which had annexed it in 1948) and the Gaza Strip from Egypt (which had been holding it under military government), these areas have been under an Israeli military government. The various plans and ideas concerning their future and the sharp controversy in Israel about this matter have been extensively discussed. The question of Jewish settlement in these areas has also been heatedly debated, as have the measures taken by the Israeli authorities to deal with “security events”—terrorist actions or outbursts of violent disorder. Remarkably, however, the principles which have guided the Israeli Military Government (IMG) in administering the day-to-day life of the Arab population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a population currently estimated at 1.3 million, have been very little discussed or studied.

Yet many observers of different backgrounds and sympathies seem to agree today that Israeli control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is most likely to continue for the foreseeable future. At the same time there is grave concern among Israelis about the growing tension and the recurrent outbursts of violence between Jews and Arabs. It therefore seems that an examination of the principles underlying IMG policy is not only long overdue but highly relevant. For this policy, while not the only factor shaping the situation in the territories, remains crucial to the state of Arab-Jewish relations.


Israel's borders, which had been established through the War of Independence and the 1949 armistice agreements, left important parts of Eretz Yisrael (the historical “Land of Israel”) outside Israel's control and were strategically problematic, but they were accepted by the Israelis as a fact of life which could not be changed and most certainly should not be changed by an Israeli military initiative. Surprising though it may be, even the nationalist Herut party, led by Menachem Begin, did not in the pre-1967 period make this issue a part of its political agenda. There was no irredentism in Israeli politics until the conclusion of the Six-Day War.

Of the territories conquered by Israel in that war, only the Arab part of Jerusalem was annexed right away. This act, known as the Unification of Jerusalem, reflected a national consensus. As for the rest of the territories, the government and the Israeli public as a whole were sharply divided.

Mapai, the leading party in the government, held that most of the territories should be traded for peace. Mapai's left-wing partner, Mapam, took the same position, only more emphatically; it stressed that annexation of the territories would be deleterious to Israel, but it did support the unification of Jerusalem and also a change in the borders that would leave Israel less vulnerable than it had been before the Six-Day War.

Begin's Herut party (which had joined the then national-unity government a few days before the war) absolutely rejected any idea of giving up any part of Eretz Yisrael, and the National Religious party (NRP) on the whole tended in the same direction. Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres (of the Rafi party, which had also joined the government before the war) were somewhat vague about the future disposition of the West Bank but clearly shunned any talk about “territorial compromise.” They were thus closer to the position of Begin and the NRP than to the official line of Mapai.

Ahdut Ha-Avoda, another left-wing ally of Mapai, was also less favorably disposed to territorial concessions than Mapai. In January 1968, Rafi and Ahdut Ha-Avoda merged with Mapai to form the Labor party, and thus the inter-party differences on this issue became intra-party disagreements.

These differences of opinion on the future of the West Bank between Dayan and Peres on the one hand and the veteran Mapai leaders (Levi Eshkol, Pinhas Sapir, and Abba Eban) on the other had an immediate political consequence—namely, an alliance between the former and the NRP and Begin. It was an unofficial and undeclared alliance, to be sure, but it was nonetheless well-recognized by all parties concerned. It signaled a clear threat to Labor: should Dayan choose to split Labor, he could form a coalition with Begin and the NRP, thereby breaking the traditional coalition of Mapai and the NRP.

Yet another position within Labor, which can be best described as intermediate, was held by Yigal Allon (of the Ahdut Ha-Avoda faction). Allon rejected the idea of annexing the West Bank but demanded changes in Israel's borders far more substantial than those envisaged by Mapam. Most significantly, he demanded that the Jordan River be recognized as Israel's security border in the east and that a strip of approximately 10 to 15 kilometers along the west bank of the river remain under Israeli contol. The other crucial feature of what came to be known as the Allon Plan was that the rest of the West Bank should be returned to Jordan in exchange for peace.

Allon's intermediate position typically angered both the Left and the Right. Begin and the NRP were incensed by Allon's readiness to trade parts of the Land of Israel in return for peace, while the more dovish Left criticized him for demanding too much territory.

The controversy in Israel over the future of the territories was reflected even in the terminology used to describe them. The most common usage at first was “occupied territories,” which seemed the most suitable term for territories conquered in war. But this term raised a question: could one refer to a part of one's own homeland as “occupied”? After all, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus were at the very heart of Eretz Yisrael and at the very heart of Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel. Many Israelis on the Right of the political spectrum, mostly the supporters of Herut and the National Religious party, thus preferred the term “liberated territories.” Others, in an attempt to avoid ideological debate, called them “new territories,” but this term did not gain currency; it was somewhat awkward to refer to the ancient cities of Hebron, Nablus, and Bethlehem as “new,” and besides, for how long could the adjective remain apt?

Eventually, in September 1967, the official designation became “kept territories” or “held territories” (ha-shtahim ha-muhzakim), that is, territories to be kept or held until their status could be determined in a political settlement. The English term which was adopted, “the administered territories,” was not an exact equivalent of the Hebrew, but it at least pointed to the fact that these areas, whether “liberated” or “occupied,” did have to be administered.


This schematic list of different ideas concerning the future of the West Bank does not exhaust the variety of Israeli opinions on the matter, but it is enough to explain the reluctance of the Labor prime ministers from 1967 to 1977 to make an unambiguous decision on the future of the West Bank. For any such decision was liable not only to break the coalition government they led but also to split their own party.

It is true that this reluctance to decide, or the “decision not to decide,” as government spokesmen described it, was under constant criticism from within the Labor alignment itself and from Israeli intellectuals associated with it. Indeed, it probably would not have persisted if not for the Arab refusal to negotiate peace with Israel. This refusal, canonized in the Arab summit of Khartoum in August 1967 (“the three noes of Khartoum”—no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations), sustained the “decision not to decide” and gave it a rationale even among many Israeli politicians (such as Eban and Sapir) who were in favor of territorial compromise.

Equally true is that the question of the Arab attitude toward Israel, and of whether there could ever be a political solution to the conflict, did not begin with the Six-Day War. It had been an open question ever since the beginning of the Zionist endeavor in Palestine. However, debate over the question was not very lively, precisely because negotiations with the Arabs seemed so unlikely. It was only after June 1967 that it became a heated issue, because at that point many Israelis began hoping that in return for territories they could get peace with the Arabs. The “three noes of Khartoum” dealt a heavy blow to this hope, and the number of Israelis who came to believe that the conflict was insoluble grew in response to hostile Arab actions and pronouncements.

The common notion that Arab hostility to Israel was fundamental, even “natural,” elicited different moral judgments from Israelis. Some saw it as a symptom of the aggressive and intolerant nature of Arab (or Muslim) society. Others regarded it as an understandable and even justifiable response to Zionism. In either case, it was considered something which neither Israelis nor Arabs could change; both sides were locked into positions determined by history and culture.

In Moshe Dayan, the man who would become the chief Israeli policy-maker on the West Bank, this bleak deterministic view took root long before the Six-Day War. On May 1, 1956, when he was Chief of Staff, Dayan delivered a speech at the funeral of a young Israeli farmer who had been killed by Arabs while guarding the fields of his kibbutz near the border of the Gaza strip:

Yesterday morning Ro'i was murdered. The quiet of the spring morning blinded him and he did not see those who were lying in ambush to kill him near the furrow. Let us today not hurl accusations against murderers. What justification do we have to complain about their bitter enmity to us? For eight years they have been sitting in the refugee camps in Gaza, while before their eyes we were turning the land and villages which they and their ancestors had inhabited into our land. It is not from the Arabs in Gaza but from ourselves that we should claim the blood of Ro'i. How could we have blinded our eyes from looking at our predicament and from seeing the destiny of our generation in all its cruelty?

Here we also discern Dayan's well-known sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs. He often said that Israelis should not expect the Arabs to love them, but one may well wonder whether this repeated assertion did not in fact reveal a frustrated hidden hope. The ambivalence which many Israelis felt and feel toward the Palestinian Arabs was very intense in Dayan, who was both fascinated by and even fond of them. In conversation he once remarked: “The difference between me and Golda [Meir] is that she loves Am Yisrael [the Jewish people] and I love Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel], and therefore I feel closer to a Palestinian fellah than to a Jewish tailor from Brooklyn.”

In short, underlying the formation of Israel's policy (that is, Dayan's policy) in the territories we find a maze of conflicting perceptions, attitudes, and hopes: attachment to the historic Land of Israel, strategic considerations, sympathy for the Palestinians, and a bleak view of Arab intentions. And there was also another element in this mix, a hope for peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. Although Dayan was always very vague about what specific political solution he had in mind, he repeatedly spoke about “developing patterns of living together with the Arabs.” To this end, the policy of the IMG reflected a wish to control without having to feel like an occupier, and without making the people in the territories feel like an occupied populace.


Although the Israeli government never agreed to define its legal status in the occupied territories as that of a “belligerent occupant” (for to do so would suggest recognition of Jordan's sovereignty on the West Bank and would restrict Israel's own claims concerning both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), it nonetheless decided that the territories should be administered in accordance with international conventions. This meant establishing a military government, which in turn meant that the man in charge would be the Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan.

At the same time, it was also decided that the various other ministries of the Israeli government would be involved in the administration, each in its special professional area—health, education, labor, welfare, interior, police, etc. The causes of that decision were complex. For one thing, the idea of setting up a special apparatus to deal with such civilian matters as education, health, labor, etc. was alien to the Israeli army. There was, however, another important reason: the members of the cabinet did not wish to leave these new territories exclusively to the Minister of Defense; each and every one of them wanted to have a foothold in the territories and a say about how they were to be administered. Thirdly, according to Dayan's long-time aide, Shlomo Gazit, “Dayan wanted to have maximum control over what was actually done, but did not want to assume formal ministerial responsibility as the minister in charge of the territories. . . .”

Thus the professional staff officers in the headquarters of the military government were civilians appointed by and responsible to their superiors in their respective ministries. At the same time, they were ultimately subordinate to an official appointed by and responsible to the Minister of Defense, whose dominance in the affairs of the territories went practically unchallenged by other members of the cabinet or even by the Prime Minister.


What was the Israeli Military Government expected to do? There was no official Israeli document like the U.S. Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan of September 1945 defining policy in the territories. Nor has there ever been an official statement of policy or a comprehensive directive to the officers of the military government by the Israeli government or the Minister of Defense. The nearest thing to such a statement is an article by Shlomo Gazit (who headed the IMG under Dayan from 1967 to 1974) entitled “The Occupied Territories: Policy and Practice,” published in January 1970 in Ma'arachot, the monthly of the Israeli army. As a translation of Dayan's general thoughts and wishes into more or less systematic terms, this article is of unique importance in clarifying the nature of IMG policy.

According to Gazit, the Israeli military government has presented to the Arabs in the territories “two assumptions” which they are expected to understand and to accept. The first is that the residents of the territories cannot change their present fate by themselves, and certainly not by force:

Admittedly they can choose to follow a course of provocation, disobedience, and sabotage, but they will not succeed in that way to overcome Israel, they will only force it to apply preventive security measures and severe penalties.

The second assumption which, Gazit says, the residents must understand is that

Israel did not engage in the Six-Day War because of its expansionist intentions nor from a desire to rule the Arabs. We entered the military campaign because we were faced with a serious problem of defense which we had to solve. The territories which we occupied were occupied as essential defense positions for Israel, not because of [a desire to rule over] the population residing in them.

Gazit mentions five factors constraining the efforts of the IMG to maintain peaceful and normal life in the area: (1) repeated violations of the cease-fire by the Arab armies and by the terrorist organizations aimed at preventing worldwide acceptance of the new status created by the Six-Day War; (2) various resolutions by the United Nations calling for Israel's withdrawal to the lines of June 5, 1967; (3) the fact that Arab military systems have been rehabilitated, and hence that the Arabs entertain the hope of regaining the territories by force; (4) the Palestinian resurgence as a political and military revolutionary force which has an appeal “to every Arab in the territories”; and finally (5) the flow of anti-Israel propaganda coming into the territories from the Arab media.

In contending with “these adverse circumstances” Gazit attaches great significance to the economic situation in the territories. In the short term he regards economic well-being and full employment as factors discouraging terrorism:

Every resident of the territories is responsible first of all for his own home and family. The need to find a livelihood, the work which fills his day and would not leave free time for illegal activity, and a good economic situation for himself and his family enhance the chance of keeping the individual away from silly actions and will encourage him to continue his regular, calm way of life.

The long-term interests are seen by Gazit as follows:

Since we do not know when and how the final political solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be, and we do not know where the political boundaries dividing us from our neighbors will pass, we can assert today quite confidently that any political settlement which may be achieved would not be able to hold unless it be sustained by a large system of interests on both sides which will operate and maintain pressure for the continuation of the settlement.

Besides economic prosperity, the other main goal of the IMG is normalization. Here, Gazit admits, there is a problem, but he removes the difficulty by introducing a distinction between what he calls the “abstract, philosophical aspect” of living under occupation and the practical, concrete aspect:

For those [residents of the territories] who yearn for independence, for sovereignty, for a flag, a national anthem, and all the other paraphernalia of statehood—for those, we cannot offer any practical solution. However, as for the other aspect, that is, to what extent the Israeli Military Government changes or affects the ordinary regular way of life of the Arab residents of the territories—here we can do a lot in order to dull the acuteness of the problem.

In order to help “dull the acuteness of the problem,” the IMG intends to abide by three principles. The first is “non-presence”: the removal of any sign of Israeli rule—the Israeli flag, a military patrol, visible military headquarters. The second is the principle of nonintervention: that the population should administer itself as it wishes. The third, finally, is the principle of “open bridges,” which makes it possible for the Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (as well as visitors from all over the Arab world) to move freely into and out of the area.


The first thing to say about this policy is that one of its three main elements, “non-presence,” was impractical from the start. The goal of making the headquarters of the IMG invisible to the population could not possibly be realized. Even though the headquarters were located in police stations in the outskirts of towns, they were still not that far from municipal centers. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people came every day to the district HQ. And with the expansion of the towns all over the West Bank since 1967, these buildings soon fell inside the urban areas.

The other aspect of “non-presence”—to have as few military patrols as possible—came to a tragic end in the Gaza Strip about a year after Gazit wrote his article. As the Israeli military presence was reduced in accordance with this principle, armed PLO forces became active. “By the end of 1970,” writes one observer, “the fida'iyin controlled the camps and, at night, the towns. Grenades were lobbed into marketplaces to disrupt commerce, and at places where people congregated who worked inside Israel, such as post offices, banks, and buses.”

Most of the victims were Arabs. Dozens of people accused of “collaboration” were killed; some of the victims had indeed cooperated with the Israeli authorities, but many were killed for other reasons. For a time Dayan insisted that the policy not be changed despite the violence. But then things came to a head. On January 4, 1971, Arab terrorists tossed a hand grenade into an Israeli civilian car which had stopped in one of the streets of Gaza; two infants were killed and their mother seriously wounded. At that point Dayan was forced to order the army back into the Gaza Strip to crack down on the terrorists.

Unlike “non-presence,” however, “nonintervention” has to this day remained the guiding principle of the IMG. Obviously nonintervention never did and still does not mean the absence of government involvement from all spheres of life. There are security measures: every person crossing the Jordan bridge into the West Bank (each year about a million people cross in both directions) must undergo a search, and due to security considerations, the import of goods through these bridges is severely restricted. There are also a number of other areas in which there has been direct intervention. In agriculture, Israeli instructors have introduced modern technology and increased by three or four times the average yield per acre. In labor relations, the IMG has issued a regulation requiring employers to insure their employees against accidents both at work and on their way to and from work. In auto insurance, mandatory coverage has been raised to match the Israeli norms. In taxation, when a value-added tax was introduced in Israel, it was also introduced in the territories.

But these measures were not seen by Dayan and the other proponents of his policy as conflicting with the principles of nonintervention, because they were inertial in character and did not bear directly upon the political culture of the Palestinians. It was this that nonintervention was designed to leave untouched, and it emphatically extended to such elements of the political culture of the Palestinians as their “natural” hostility to Israel. As Gazit put it in 1970:

It is the undisputed right of every Arab to continue to be a nationalist Arab with national awareness, to retain his traditions, religion, and language, to be proud of his past and of his national history. Israel does not have the illusion that it could force anyone to love us, and we certainly do not expect anyone to do it out of sycophancy, hypocrisy, or submissiveness. There is nothing more repugnant to the Israeli Military Government than anything smacking of “quislingism.”


The meaning of such an approach becomes clearer when we contrast the Israeli policy in the territories with that of the United States in occupied Japan. The United States openly aimed at changing the political culture of Japan. To this end it instituted a general censorship of all Japanese media, a comprehensive revision of educational curricula and school texts, and a “purge” of public figures, debarring some 220,000 Japanese from public office and from important positions in the private sector.

By contrast, censorship of the Arabic press, which is published in East Jerusalem and distributed in the territories as well as in Israel, is restricted only to military and security matters. Editors do not have to get prior approval for the publication of the whole paper; they only have to show the censor those items which they consider problematic from a security angle. The tenor of the Arab papers is openly pro-PLO. The Israelis do not look into the sources of the papers' financial support. Pro-PLO editorials are permitted, and only overt and direct incitement to violence is prohibited. Sometimes editors get around this prohibition too. A paper might come out with a front-page headline, “The Merchants of Nablus Are Striking Today,” and since the papers are distributed a couple of hours before the opening of the stores, this “news” item serves as a call for a strike.

As for education: although Jordanian school texts were replete with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish materials, nonetheless, according to Dayan's biographer (and admirer) Shabtai Teveth, the IMG decided “not to censor [from the Jordanian school texts used in the West Bank] historical facts, even if their symbolic significance [in the textbook] was not palatable, nor to censor anti-Jewish sentiments extant since ancient Islam; and not to censor general slogans about homeland and nation, which were the essence of nationalistic education.” Hence, sentences such as “I will not forget Jaffa as long as I live,” “This is the weapon that will liberate our plundered homeland,” or “Holy War is obligatory” (included in grammar books as model sentences) were not censored. Geography books, maps, and atlases used in the schools of the West Bank to this day do not contain Israel's name.

The most concrete aspect of the nonintervention policy had to do with the flow of funds into the occupied territories. Initially Dayan did not allow the transfer of Jordanian government money into the West Bank, fearing rightly that this money would serve to undermine Israel's position in the area. In the first months after Israel took over, he prohibited local government officials from receiving salaries from the Jordanian government. “Salary couriers” caught crossing the bridges from Jordan were arrested, as were the recipients whose names were found in the lists of the couriers. However, the flow of salaries from Amman to the government employees in the West Bank was hard to stop, and in the end Dayan decided that it was not worth the effort.

A policy of preventing West Bank municipalities from receiving financial support from Jordan in the form of loans and grants was maintained by Dayan until the end of 1973. From then on, however, it became an established Israeli policy to allow the free influx of money. At first the funds were controlled by Jordan, but after 1977 they were increasingly controlled by the PLO. Responding to a question on this issue (in 1978), the then Minister of Defense Ezer Weizman announced, “It does not matter that they get money from the PLO, as long as they do not build arms factories with it.”

Thanks to this attitude, in the past five years alone (as was revealed just a few months ago by Dr. Fu'ad Bisisu, Secretary of the Joint PLO-Jordan Committee), a total of $436 million was tunneled into the territories. And PLO chairman Yasir Arafat recently announced, “There is no problem in transferring funds [into the territories]; they are brought in legally.”

Finally, and again in striking contrast to analogous American practices in occupied Japan, the IMG has tolerated anti-Israel and pro-PLO political action. Thus, to cite one example of many, the IMG did not prevent the pro-PLO groups in the West Bank from organizing a series of public rallies at which the Camp David accords signaling peace between Israel and Egypt were denounced just after they were signed, and at which the speakers called for the elimination of all the “traitors” who supported these accords.

In short, nonintervention, the self-imposed requirement of the IMG that it remain politically neutral, has had the effect of permitting the growth of PLO influence. As Aryeh Shalev (the Commander of Judea and Samaria, 1974-76) has said of this policy: “Had the aim been to prevent PLO influence in the territories, then I think [one could say] that we failed, but there was never such an aim.” Indeed, not only has the IMG conspicuously refrained from any attempt to curtail PLO influence, it has also refrained from any attempt to encourage the formation of alternative political forces to the PLO among the population of the West Bank.


Given these consequences of the policy of nonintervention, an insistent question naturally presents itself: what, beyond economic prosperity and “normalization,” has been Israel's long-term goal in the territories?

The goal desired by Prime Minister Eshkol and his colleagues Sapir and Eban in the late 1960's was eventually to negotiate a territorial compromise with Jordan, as it was also the goal of Prime Minister Rabin (1974-77). But this was not the goal of Dayan, who determined what actually happened in the territories and who declared many times that he did not view a political agreement with Jordan as a feasible solution.

Many observers of IMG policy believe that Dayan, shunning the notion of territorial compromise, was instead trying to build the foundations of some kind of partnership or condominium with Jordan in the West Bank. The retention of Jordanian law, Jordanian educational curriculum, and Jordanian currency, as well as the “open bridges,” are all cited to support this thesis. However, Shlomo Gazit has a different interpretation of these matters, considering them aspects of the principle of nonintervention. Gazit, who was intimately familiar with Dayan's plans, knows well that what some have regarded as a consciously designed (if officially undeclared) policy of cooperation between Israel and Jordan in the administration of the West Bank was simply the consequence of Israeli acquiescence in Jordan's involvement in affairs there. A line of action thus pursued may also be a policy of sorts, but such unintended policy should certainly be distinguished from deliberate policy.

Dayan's initial purpose, according to his directive, was “to bring about a separation between Jordan and the West Bank,” “to prevent political contacts and the smuggling of money,” and specifically, as we have seen, “to prevent the distribution of salaries from Jordan.” When he reversed his orders on Jordanian salaries and, later, on Jordanian financial support to the municipalities, he did so in response to pressure from within the territories. His attitude toward Jordan as a state remained on the whole negative—for instance, he was reportedly opposed to Israel's complying with an American request in September 1970 to mobilize the Israeli air force against a Syrian invasion of Jordan that threatened to topple Hussein's regime—and it was he who reportedly brought an end to the secret government contacts with King Hussein in August 1977. This could hardly be the attitude of one interested in establishing a condominium with Jordan in the West Bank.

As for Dayan's thinking about a prospective role for the Palestinians in a future political settlement, here matters become most confusing. Gazit, in his 1970 presentation of IMG policy, does not mention the term Palestinians at all. This omission reflects a fundamental assumption, never spelled out in Gazit's article but crucial to an understanding of Israeli behavior in the territories. A long-standing article of faith among Israeli policy-makers has been that when Israel reaches a political settlement with the Arabs, it will come in the form of an agreement struck between Israel on the one hand and the Arab states on the other. The Palestinian issue, in this view, is part and parcel of, and inseparable from, the larger conflict; the Palestinians in the territories, who depend politically on the Arab states, are simply unable on their own to play a role in any political process which might lead to a peace agreement. This idea helps to explain the liberal attitude taken by the IMG toward the pro-PLO stance of local West Bank leaders—the positions of those leaders have simply been considered of no real consequence.

In a book published last year, however, Shlomo Gazit has disclosed that there was an element of conscious intention at work here as well. In addition to the principle of nonintervention, he now writes, another persistent principle of the IMG was that “Israel should prevent the population of the territories from participating in shaping the political future of the area and they should not be seen as party to negotiations with Israel” (emphasis added).

This is a striking and revealing statement, to the best of my knowledge the first public acknowledgment by a proponent of the IMG that its approach to the issue of a possible role for the Palestinians was a matter of deliberate policy. Israeli critics of IMG policy used to attack it for slighting the potential role of the Palestinians in the peace process and underestimating their political significance. Defenders of the IMG would retort that these critics were being unrealistic, and that all the IMG was doing was accepting the objective situation. Gazit's statement that one of the principles of the IMG was to prevent the population from participating in the political process discloses that the policy was in fact directed at ensuring that the assessment of the presumed political insignificance of the Palestinians in the territories would be proved right. In other words, this assessment was intended to be a self-fulfilling one.


But if both Jordan and the Palestinians were excluded as possible partners to a negotiated agreement, what then was the overall plan which Dayan's nonintervention policy in the territories was meant to serve?

It would seem that Dayan had no conception of a peaceful solution to the conflict. Once, in explaining the state of relations to which he aspired between Israel and the Arabs, he invoked the following image: “like the land and the sea, with waves invading the land and the land entering into the waves. . . .” The simile was meant to suggest a condition of coexistence and integration, but it also suggests, significantly, a never-ending struggle between natural forces. Thus—and notwithstanding the derision in which he used to hold his indecisive colleagues—Dayan nevertheless, as Gazit writes, “basically agreed to the then government policy not to decide,” and prevented any discussion within the General Staff and within the IMG of plans for a political settlement.

According to a recent book by Abraham Schweitzer, a leading Israeli political analyst, Dayan believed that the pattern of life he was establishing in the territories “could last forever.” Schweitzer, a former supporter of Dayan, now regards his actions in the territories as vacillating and equivocal. And so indeed they were, though this fact was often obfuscated by rhetoric. Shlomo Gazit could write in 1970 that the occupation of the territories represented an opportunity to influence “the whole complex of relations and contacts between us and the Arabs residing in the territories, and in this way, indirectly, also between us and the Arab mass surrounding Israel,” but this, though it may have reflected a benevolent hope, was surely not a defined goal. Shmuel Goren, the present Coordinator of Government Operations in the territories, was being more truthful when he said, bluntly: “We have been assigned a policy for dealing with the population. I am not speaking about a political goal—which does not exist—but [about] the day-to-day dealing with this complex population.”

Of course, where there is no larger goal to be achieved there can be no failure. Thus, summing up seventeen years of the Israeli Military Government, Gazit has said:

One can describe the Israeli policy in the territories as a success story. . . . Israel continues to hold the territories and rule over their population, while the burden resulting from it is minimal, neither an unbearable security burden nor an economic burden nor even—as far as the local Arab population is concerned—a political burden.

Is this true? Gazit's statement that Israel's control over the territories has not brought about an economic burden can on the whole be accepted. The question of security is controversial, but it is nevertheless the case that the burden here is not unbearable. But when it comes to the question of the political burden, even when qualified by the clause “as far as it concerns the local Arab population,” it is difficult to accept Gazit's evaluation, even in terms of the limited aims defined by the architects of the policy.

Elsewhere Gazit has explained that “one of the cornerstones of the policy of the IMG was the desire to manage the territories in such a way that the government . . . would be free to choose any direction [it might want].” In the Camp David Framework for Peace in the Middle East, the government actually chose a direction, involving the institution of Palestinian autonomy in the territories for an interim period of five years. Yet this choice was absolutely untenable without active participation by the Palestinians in the territories. It is ironic that Dayan, the architect of the policy of the IMG, was also one of the architects of the Camp David accords. For to champion the Camp David accords (which provide for the participation of representatives of the Palestinians in the negotiations) and simultaneously to maintain that these people cannot, or should not, participate in determining the future of the area was either an absurdity or a deception.


During my own brief tenure as Head of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria (November 1, 1981 to September 22, 1982), I tried to implement a new and very different policy. Instead of assuming that the Palestinians in the territories could not or should not play a role in the political process, the new policy assumed that they could and should; instead of the requirement that the IMG remain “neutral,” the IMG would actively attempt to curtail PLO influence and simultaneously encourage those Palestinians who openly recognized Israel. There was a clear political goal to this policy: to develop conditions conducive to the emergence of Palestinian leaders ready for peace negotiations.

No sooner had I myself left office, however, than this new approach was discarded and the old one reinstated. One incident tells the story. A group of young Palestinians who had become politically active during my period laid the groundwork for a new political organization, the Palestinian Democratic Movement for Peace, calling for negotiations with Israel. Several months after my resignation, the IMG forbade them from holding a rally at which they planned to announce the official establishment of their party and ordered them to stop their political activity. Here, in other words, was a case in which the IMG actively prevented a development that might have signaled at least a challenge to the existing political culture, and in effect extended its protection to that culture.

A few months later, when a large group of West Bank personalities informed the IMG of their intention to go to Amman to meet Arafat (in fact to affirm their allegiance to him), the IMG gave its permission. Similarly, the restrictions imposed by my administration on the transfer of PLO money were abolished after my resignation, first in practice and later formally.

Thus we see again how a policy with no larger goal than that of perpetuating itself in an orderly fashion, and thereby—it was hoped—laying the basis of some form of coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, has had the effect of augmenting and consolidating the influence of those forces most opposed to coexistence and bent on a radical and violent course of action to undo it.


As far back as 1970 Shimon Peres wrote: “Certainly, no political solution is possible so long as there are no West Bank Arab leaders prepared to step forward and publicly declare their readiness to reach one.” In 1982 Yitzhak Rabin observed that the emergence of Palestinian leaders in the West Bank who were openly ready for negotiations with Israel must be seen as a necessary precondition for progress toward peace, whether it be peace according to the plan of Labor or of Likud. Today Peres is Prime Minister and Rabin is Minister of Defense. Are they likely to adopt an active policy, deviating from the established principle of nonintervention, in order to encourage the emergence of such Palestinian leadership? The answer is: most probably not.

The reality of the current National Unity government discourages initiatives aimed at breaking the stalemate in the peace process, because the two major parties have conflicting ideas about the future disposition of the territories. Some critics of the policy of nonintervention argue (much as Rabin did in 1982) that the breaking of PLO political dominance in the area is a necessary precondition for either a Labor-style solution (negotiated agreement on territorial compromise) or a Likud-style solution (limited administrative autonomy). This is a logical argument, but unfortunately it is politically naive. Neither party is likely to agree on an active policy which can be perceived as advancing the political program of its adversary.

In dealing with the security problems in the territories, both Labor and Likud prefer, for different reasons, to focus on anti-terrorism rather than to engage in a larger struggle against the PLO's political influence. Likud leaders not only view the emergence of a non-PLO leadership which might agree to peace negotiations as a threat to continued Israeli control over the West Bank; they are also wary of the ideological implications of a struggle directed at the PLO as a political force and not merely as a terrorist group. Such a struggle implies that there is a Palestinian problem, that there is a Palestinian people. It may even suggest that if the PLO recognizes Israel, it will be acceptable as a partner to peace negotiations. All of these propositions are unacceptable to Likud spokesmen.

Labor ministers are not likely to consider a shift from the nonintervention principle to a political struggle against the PLO and the encouragement of a non-PLO alternative because it might entail immediate political costs. Such an initiative would certainly raise objections on the part of many in the Israeli Left and in Labor itself. In order to calm liberal objections, Labor leaders would have to explain the long-range goal—namely, a territorial compromise—but in stressing the “dovish” purpose of the interventionist approach, Labor leaders would anger Likud and the annexationists within their own party. Labor's European friends in the Socialist International all recognize the PLO and while Labor could justify to them Israel's struggle against terrorism as such, it would find it more difficult to justify a political struggle aimed at breaking the PLO's dominance in the territories. The same applies to the Western liberal media.

Finally, although the present situation may make it impossible for the Palestinians in the territories to institutionalize an autonomous national community, the Arab elite in these areas also tacitly supports continuation of the status quo.

The core of this elite is made up of some seventy rich urban families with strong concrete ties to the Arab world (especially Jordan and the oil countries) in the shape of financial investments, trade connections, and relatives in high government posts. Hence, members of this elite (the “notables”) prefer not to make decisions which are likely to arouse opposition in Arab capitals. They are not politically inactive, but their role is ancillary and peripheral. Toeing the line of the Arab “consensus,” they tune their public statements to the signals received from the centers of this consensus—Amman, Beirut (until 1982), Riyadh, or Tunis. Privately they criticize the consensus as a paralyzing factor, but they will not defy it publicly. They are embittered and politically frustrated. They complain about their situation under Israeli rule, which seems to be precisely what everybody (including the Israelis) expects them to do. They are not pleased with the status quo, but they will not take the initiative to change it. Their national pride is hurt, but their material interests are not. The current Israeli approach is therefore compatible with their own preference for political peripherality.

Thus, while Israel's policy in the territories has not succeeded in creating a “new pattern of coexistence,” as some of its proponents hoped, it has represented for both Israeli policy-makers and the Palestinian elite the path of least resistance, which is the path generally preferred by politicians everywhere.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link