Chapter II: The Palestinian Autonomy
Historical Overview


Among other things, the system of local autonomy seeks to encourage public participation in the “provision and administration of governmental services”, and hence to motivate and advance political leadership. Rural and municipal councils, which form the main building blocks of this system, are devised to achieve two goals: public participation in the provision of governmental services, and the recruitment of political leadership. Accordingly, these councils constitute important and politically powerful government institutions; as such, they are also accompanied by key national government bodies like parliament and cabinet.

In this sense it was not before the second half of the 19th century that the first signs of Palestinian access to national & local state institutions (via parliament and rural & municipal councils, respectively) occurred. At this time Palestine was controlled by the Ottomans, a population that experienced significant challenges to its rule during the first half of 19th century. The most important of these challenges was the rebellion of the Wali of Egypt and Mohammad Ali against the Porte, and Mohammad Ali's occupation of Palestine and Syria for about one decade (1831-1840). This occupation greatly alarmed the Ottomans, who were, from then onwards, deeply concerned about the potential emergence of a centre of political activities or opposition to their rule.

Consequently, once Ali's regime was overthrown with British help and Ottoman rule restored in Palestine and Syria, the Ottomans adopted a set of reform measures (tanzimat) in a bid to tighten their control over the imperial territories. The reform measures included comprehensive institutional arrangements aimed at structural adjustments in the financial, military, judicial, administrative, educational and economic sectors. It also included measures and regulations aimed at redefining the concept of “citizenship” in accordance with a Western perspective.


Of primary concern to our interests is the measure enacted in the 1850s, which set up Administrative Councils (Majlis adara) at the provincial level. These councils, which enjoyed financial, administrative, and judicial authorities, were set up to counter the Wali power and to serve as the institutional foundation for social mobilization and political participation. Three Muslims alongside a proportionate number of the non-Muslims were elected to the council. Another three Muslims (among the religious functionaries) were appointed. The nomination for these councils was open to any one who was older than 30 and paid more than 15 piaster in annual taxation.79

Due to these provisions, most of those who gained access to these councils were from rich Palestinian families — the ayan (urban notables), according to Albert Hourani’s terminology.80 The middle and lower classes of society were therefore underrepresented and non-Muslim deputies were marginalized. In the 1850s, the British Consul James Finn confirmed the situation when he noted: “it should be mentioned that a close corporation of Arab families, not recognized by law, but influential by position, usurped all municipal offices among them”.81

The most prominent of these families were El Husayni, El Nashashibi, Al Alami, and El Dajani. In the pre-reform period these families occupied important religious posts such as Mufti (official expounder of Muslim law), Shari’a court jurist, Naqib Al asharf (steward of the descendants of the Prophet), and Sheikh El Harm (guardian of Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock), and consequently had enhanced status.82


With the introduction of the provincial councils, members of these same families were elected or appointed to them as well. Gradually, these prominent families succeeded to dominate the councils at the expense of both the non-Muslim deputies and the village Sheikhs, who themselves enjoyed the right of Iltizam (Tax-farming) in the pre-reform period. According to the Musha system, this right enabled the village Sheikhs to collect taxes from the peasants who cultivated their land.83 When the provincial councils were formed, however, they were empowered to decide on the distribution of Iltizam and the ayan, used their status and membership in the councils to transfer the right from the village Sheikhs to themselves.

This shift was very much connected to other developments sparked by the land reform law of 1858. The law sought to strengthen state control over miri land (state land) and thus called peasants to register their land and pay tax on it in cash. Instead of strengthening the state’s control over miri land, however, the law enabled the ayan to consolidate and control large estates of land. The ayan were in part able to do this by taking advantage of the peasants’ illiteracy and their fears that they would be conscripted into the Ottoman army if their real names appeared in Ottoman authorities’ files. Due to this fear of conscription, most of peasants refrained from registering their land in their real names; instead they registered it in the names of the ayan who had access to the authorities in an attempt to exempt themselves from appearing in these files. In addition, the demand to pay the land tax in cash forced many peasants to register their land in the names of money-lenders (connected to the ayan) to whom they failed to repay debts (the natural result of extortionate interest rates).

These rates, estimated by one scholar at 10-50%, forced some peasants to eventually yield their land to money-lenders in exchange for having their debts written off. The overall outcome of the situation was that large stretches of land were consolidated under the control of a few ayan, and status of peasants shifted from that of a land owner to that or either a tenant or agricultural laborer on an ayan’s estate.


In 1864 the Ottomans became aware of the negative ramifications of their tanizmat in respect to local government. Accordingly, the Vilayet law was introduced to promote local government at village and town levels. The law, enacted in 1867, introduced a system of Nahiyas (rural districts) at the village and town levels. Each Nahiya was said to be under the control of a Mudir, who functioned as the chair of his local council. However, few councils were actually established, and the position of Mukhtar (Chief of the Village) introduced by the same law generally assumed the functions intended for the rural councils.

The Vilayet law also elected a municipal council for Jerusalem, and in 1876 the Ottomans enacted a second law that granted 22 towns and large villages municipal status.88 Yet while the municipal councils of these towns were said to be elected, the voting qualifications were unfairly demanding, and only those aged 25 and older, who paid more than 25 piaster in annual tax on property or income, were eligible to vote.89

In light of this narrow electoral base, the ayan control of most Palestinian land, and the fact that the Ottoman authorities retained the right to appoint mayors, it comes as no surprise that the ayan again dominated these councils. The first mayor of Jerusalem belonged to the El Husayni family (Salim El Husayni), and was succeeded by Faidy Al-Alami and Musa Kazim El Husayni.90 Moreover, the ayan were the only social stratum which had access to the Parliament provided by the 1876 constitution. In 1911 both Sa’id El-Husayni and Ruhi Al Khalidi were elected to Ottoman Parliament as representatives of the Jerusalem constituency.91


This state of affairs, in which only the ayan and Mukhtars had access to national & local level political institutions (parliament, and municipal and rural councils, respectively) continued until the First World War, a conflict which instigated two developments that vitally impacted the ability of Palestinians to access their political institutions. The first development was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the consequent termination of its rule over Palestine. The second unfolded as the capture of Palestine by British forces in December 1917 coupled with the new Zionist venture in Palestine. Through these two developments, Palestinians were still denied access to national state institutions, but were permitted to participate in local government bodies.

Palestinian Autonomy under British Mandate

In December 1917, British forces captured Palestine, and set up a military administration for approximately four years, before introducing a civil administration in 1922 to implement the resolutions of the 1920 San-Rimo peace conference. This conference placed Palestine under the British mandate; yet, unlike mandate systems instituted in the rest of the Arab world, the mandate in Palestine — which was formally recognized by the League of Nations on 24 July 1922 — incorporated the Belfour declaration and singled out Palestine to become the site of a new Jewish national home.

Due to this specific decision, the mandatory government was legally obliged to place “...the country under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as well secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home” and to “facilitate Jewish immigration” to Palestine (article 2 & 6 of the League of Nations mandate over Palestine provided). The writ of the mandate went further and enabled Jews to have their own representative body (the Jewish Agency) “...for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as may effect the establishment of the Jewish National Home and the Interests of the Jewish population in Palestine...” (Art. 4). These particulars are extremely important to consider when addressing the political motivations and concerns which guided the mandatory government in drafting legislation related to Palestinian autonomy.


From the very beginning it was clear that the mandatory government’s policy toward Palestinian autonomy and Palestinian access to any level of state power would be restrained by the provisions of the Mandate (including the Belfour declaration). In light of these restrictions, the mandatory government was going to implement the provisions of article (3) providing for a Palestinian autonomy. The first move made to promote some form of Palestinian autonomy occurred in December 1921, when the mandatory government issued an order providing for the establishment of a Supreme-Muslim Council (SMC) for the control and management of Shari’a affairs and Muslim Awqaf (land which is considered to be collectively owned by all Muslims — for example, the Dome on the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque complex). The SMC was empowered with the right to nominate, for the approval of the mandatory government, various religious functionaries, and was intended to administer the Waqf fund. Through the creation of the SMC, the mandatory government franchised Palestinians right to exercise religious authority. Amin El Husayni, a young member of El Husayni family and new Mufti of Jerusalem, was appointed head of the council.

Alongside the SMC, the mandatory government left Palestinians enjoying their own political institutions. In this regard, it tolerated, and possibly supported, the Muslim-Christian Association (MCA) founded in 1918 as an institutional expression of the Palestinian opposition for the Belfour declaration and Jewish immigration to Palestine. Later, it tolerated the Arab Executive (AE), which evolved from the MCA in 1920 and was chaired by Musa Kazim El Husayni. Though it did not recognize it as de-jure representative of Palestinians, the mandatory government dealt with the AE as a de- facto representative of all Palestinians during 1920s.

From the mandatory government’s point of view, these institutions were necessary because they provided Palestinians a voice and created a channel of communication between itself and the Palestinian population. In this sense, the mandatory government sought to appease Palestinians and to keep a balance of power between the two populations (Palestinians and Jews, the latter of which already had a representative body: ‘the Jewish Agency’). From the mandatory government's point of view this gesture was expected to pave the way for including Palestinians in formal state institutions, and thus to implement the mandate policy. But was this analysis correct?


The mandatory government failed in its estimate of the Palestinians' principle opposition to the mandate terms stipulating a Jewish national home be created in the country. This opposition supported the criticisms launched by the SMC and the AE against the seven Palestinians (four Muslims and three Christian) who joined three Jewish and ten British officials in the advisory council set up by the Higher Commissioner to pass legislations regarding issues of concern for Muslims, Christians and Jews in October 1920. This wave of criticism promoted the resignation of the above-mentioned Palestinians from the council, and consequently forced the mandatory government to declare on 10 August 1922 its ordinance “Palestine Order-in-Council”. The new ordinance, which provided for a legislative assembly comprised of twenty-two members in addition to a non-elected higher commissioner, constituted a further attempt to contain the traditional elite represented by the AE, and to enable Palestinians to take part in national level government institutions. But the proposed power and structure of this legislative body failed to secure the necessary moral approval from the AE, which remained dissatisfied with the process.

Firstly, the constitution enabled the higher commissioner to veto any legislation that “concerns matters dealt specifically by the provision of the Mandate” (Art. 26 of the 1922’s constitution). Furthermore, the structure of the legislative assembly in fact problematised Palestinian decision-making processes regarding important issues like Jewish immigration. Out of the twenty-two elected members of this body, ten members were said to be British officials, and twelve were elected (Art. 19).

According to Sir Herbert Samuel, the British Higher Commissioner to Palestine in the period of 1920-1925, out of the twelve elected seats of the legislative body, eight were assigned to Muslims, two to Christians and two others to Jews. This distribution, according to Sir Samuel, went against the wishes of the AE, which demanded an overwhelming majority of Palestinians in the council. When the mandatory government rejected the AE’s demand, Palestinians announced a boycott of the elections proposed for the following year. The High Commissioner then suspended the proposed legislative body, and continued to exercise legislative powers himself, in consultation with the advisory council.


The developments concerning 1922’s constitution might reveal the main issue of conflict between Palestinians and the mandatory government, as far as Palestinian participation in the administration of public affairs was concerned. While the mandatory government was, in principle, prepared and desired to give Palestinians the opportunity to share state authority, it was not willing to permit them any state authority in ways potentially inconsistent with the provisions of the mandate.

On the other hand, Palestinians were also aspiring to attain complete national government responsibility through a national legislative assembly that would claim all rights to decide on issues related to the country, including that of it becoming a Jewish National homeland. This position made Palestinian participation in the administration of the country, according to the terms of the mandate, impossible. Though a similar attempt was made to enable Palestinians to participate in the administration of public affairs, it too failed for the same reasons. The inability of the mandatory government to convince Palestinians to take part in national level state institutions was further problematised by the government's inability to promote effective Palestinian local autonomy.

We have seen that under the Ottoman regime the rural population were denied power to control their own affairs, and the Mukhtars managed to assume the rural councils’ functions. In 1921, the mandatory government sought to revise this situation when it promulgated the “Local Council Ordinance,” providing for the creation of local councils at both village and town levels. These councils were given the rights to impose and collect fees, taxes and other charges. Also they were empowered with the right to issue by-laws for securing good order in the village. However, the autonomy of these councils was very limited. It was the British district commissioner who enjoyed the rights to approve rates of tax, levy rates, the councils’ annual expenditure and revenue, as well as the councils’ by-laws. According to this restricted legal base for rural autonomy, by 1924 the mandatory government enabled twenty-seven rural areas, four of which were Jewish, to have rural councils.


As far as the Palestinian local councils were concerned, and in the Peel Commission's point of view, two factors kept these councils from functioning as effective tools of wide political participation. The first factor was the sweeping power conferred to the British commissioner, and the second was the social and cultural setting of the rural areas. In various occasions, the former factor left the future of these councils hostage to the political winds of the country. In 1930, for instance, following the Western Wall events, the higher commissioner abolished the rural councils in six Palestinian Villages. The latter factor (the matter of social and cultural setting) was the most serious since it dealt with issues that needed much time to be remedied. One main feature of this cultural setting was its emphasis on community affiliation at the expense of any other form of modern affiliation (for example, national affiliation). Provided for by this cultural setting, the decision-making process was thus guided by factors other than rational choices.

This means that there was an absence of any normative foundation to support efficient systems of local government at the village level. The problem was aggravated by the failure of the mandate to significantly promote education as an instrument of building such a normative foundation. In 1932, the school age population in Palestine was estimated at 215,000. Of this, only 25,000 had access to schools. In such circumstance, it would not be difficult for the traditional power-oriented or patriarchal culture to penetrate these councils and to stamp them with its traditional concept of authority, a concept which assigned a mediating role to the leader that placed him between the public and superior powers. The role of these councils, consequently, became to mediate between villagers and the mandatory government.

Due to its failure to promote an efficient system of local government in rural areas, the mandatory government abolished the 1921 ordinance, and enacted a new one (ordinance no. 36) in 1941. This new ordinance reasserted the powers of rural councils originally provided by the 1921 ordinance, and added additional powers including the right to issue by-laws in domains like health and internal administration (for example, regarding roads development) as well as in some municipal domains (to do with the supply of electricity and water, for instance). Rural councils also gained the right to impose a fine on villagers who breached the council’s by-laws. This fine was set at five pounds, and was said to increase by one pound per each day during which the breach continued.


In 1945, the mandatory government went further and promulgated its Ordinance No. 29 concerning local councils (Local Authorities “Business Tax” Ordinance). The Ordinance, which also covered the municipal councils, empowered rural councils with the right to levy tax on all persons carrying out business and trade activities within the council’s territory of jurisdiction. In this sense, the Ordinance franchised the rural council with further authorities, in addition to its extant ones. However, the causes which impeded the success of the 1921 ordinance remained unresolved in the 1940s, and the new Ordinances, notwithstanding the additional powers and authorities they conferred to the rural councils, kept the power and authorities of the district commissioner (granted by the 1921 ordinance) in place.

The district commissioner, for instance, had the right to dissolve these councils any time he considered it proper to do so. Furthermore, the duration of any council meeting was decided by the district commissioner, and any activities carried out by these councils had to be approved by the district commissioner (Article 10 of Local Council Ordinance No. 36 of 1941). The 1945 Local Authorities “Business Order” even reserved the power to approve or disapprove any verification in the Business tax which these councils empowered to levy (Article 4 Local Authorities “Business Tax” Ordinance No. 29 of 1945”) for the district commissioner.

Exacerbating the potential problems of the above political arrangements, the village’s cultural setting remained hostile to any trend of institutionalization. The failure of the mandate to bring about any significant cultural changes in this respect (through education for example) allowed for a large a percent of Palestinian villagers to be hostile to rural councils and prompted villagers to perceive such councils as threats to their traditional way of life. This belief was strengthened among Palestinian villagers by the fact that the mandatory government, which founded these councils, was a foreign power.


In fact, this situation reveals the other side of the problem. When the mandatory government enacted its ordinances, it was inspired by a European culture which emphasised horizontal relations and the individual as a self-contained entity. This contradicted the traditional cultural setting of the Palestinian village, which emphasised vertical relations and community affiliation. The facts that the number of Palestinian rural councils decreased from 23 in 1924 to 11 in 1948, the year when the mandate was terminated, and that the local Jewish councils (which mainly served European–oriented communities) increased from 4 in 1924 to 26 councils in 1948, seem to confirm how various cultural settings demote or promote the success of local authority schemes.

At the municipal level, various legal and political factors impeded the advancement of an efficient municipal system, creating to a situation in which municipalities “...serve as the collective mouthpiece of the people towards the District governors...they are permitted to carry out their functions as independently as possible, but it is at the same time essential that their activities should be carefully correlated with those of district administration; and with this end in view each District Governor is responsible for the work of the local authorities within his district”.

This was the situation in which the municipalities found themselves up to 1927, when the first municipal elections were conducted. Before that, the mandatory government appointed mayors and deputy-mayors to the various municipal councils. When the mandatory government promulgated the first Municipal Franchise Ordinance in 1926, providing for elected municipal councils, the voting qualifications were so demanding that only male Palestinian citizens of 25 years and upwards, with tax-rate paying qualifications, were eligible to vote. Thanks to this system, only the ayan, who enjoyed high standards of living in comparison to other Palestinians, had been eligible to vote and run in elections. When the elections were held in 1927, the ayan filled most of the Arab municipal councils. For instance, out of a total of 12 seats in a municipal council in Jerusalem, ten of these were occupied by the ayan and their Christian supporters.


Most of these ayan belonged to the El Nashashibi opposition camp, and were involved in politics. Mainly, they ran the elections according to their competition with the El Husayni Camp (this is to say, the AE and the SMC), whose supporters won only two seats in the municipal council of Jerusalem. The Al-Nashashibi opposition camp emerged in the early 1920s, when Raghib Al Nashashibi, then the Mayor of Jerusalem, founded the “Arab National Party” as a counter-political front for the AE and SMC. The party, which embraced members of the ayan such as Suleiman al-Taji al-Faroukhi, Arif El Dajani, Khalil al-Khalidi and Asa’ad Al-Shuqayri, adopted a more cooperative policy towards the mandatory government, notwithstanding its rejection of the Belfour declaration. In this sense, the camp stood in opposition to the non-cooperative policy of the AE and the SMC, despite the fact that its members were derived from the same social class of the AE and SMC’s members. This fact reveals the other problem that stalled the advancement of an efficient municipal system: a mixing of the civil domain with the political domain in a manner that diverted councils from their intended purposes.

This above situation forced the mandatory government to set 1930 as a year of new municipal elections; however, the outbreak of the Western Wall events abrogated these elections. In 1934, further attempts were made by the mandatory government to activate the municipal system when it promulgated the Municipal Corporations Ordinance, but once again the ordinance conferred sweeping powers and authorities on the Higher Commissioner. The Higher Commissioner enjoyed the right to appoint and dismiss mayors and deputy mayors, the right to fix their salaries, the right to dissolve the councils and call elections, the right to approve members of any committee formed by the councils to regulate and supervise the administration of the civil issues (water supplies, town planning, and so on), the right to approve council transactions, to supervise the council accounts and to approve the council loans, and to approve by-laws.

Importantly, however, the Municipal Corporations Ordinance enabled every townsman to vote in elections (Article 14). However, the Second Schedule annexed to the ordinance defined 'townsman' as every male Palestinian of 21 years or more, with tax-paying qualifications. (Article 2 of the “Second Schedule” of the ordinance). Thus the provisions maintained the municipal electoral base as very narrow. The “Forth Schedule” of the ordinance also asked that any Palestinian who wished to run for the election to said councils be literate (Article 2 of the Fourth Schedule of the ordinance). Given the fact that the ayan were the most educated among Palestinians, they alone became eligible to run for election.


Based on this narrow electoral base, new municipal elections took place in twenty-two municipal areas in 1934. Of course the elected councillors came from the ayan, who could pay the annual tax on property/income, and who had access to education. In addition to their unrepresentative nature, most of these twenty-two new elected municipalities suffered a lack of public support (mainly due to the cultural setting), as well as an inability to assume any initiative thanks to strict governmental control provided for in the 1934 ordinance. This state of affairs lasted until 1936, when the Great Revolt (1936-1939) erupted.

At the outbreak of the Great Revolt, not a few of the Palestinian mayors were involved in the revolution’s activities and some of them, like the mayor of Jerusalem Dr. Hussein Fakhri Effendin al-Khalidi, joined the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) that had been set up to direct revolutionary activities under the leadership of the SMC’s president Amin El Husayni. Owing to the escalation of these activities, a Royal British commission of inquiry (called the Peel-Commission) arrived in Palestine in November 1936 to investigate the reasons for the unrest. Its report concluded in July 1937 with the commission recommending the abrogation of the mandate, and a partitioning of Palestine into two states: one for Jews and the other for Palestinians. The AHC’s leaders, with the exception of Raghib Al Nashashibi, rejected the partition proposal and declared their fundamental opposition to a cession of any part of Palestine.

The AHC rejection of the partition plan, along with the murder of the British district commissioner of Galilee L.Y. Andrews, marked a new phase in the future of Palestinian mayors. The mandatory government, shocked by Andrews’ murder, declared AHC illegal and arrested most of its leaders. The remaining members of the AHC had to follow in the footsteps of Amin El Husayni, who fled the country after being fired from the presidency of the SMC. With the collapse of the AHC and the detention of its members, those mayors who joined the AHC, and those who were involved in revolutionary activities, were removed from office.


On the eve of the Second World War then, a total of eight Palestinian mayors found themselves removed from office for political reasons. The mandatory government measure against these mayors restrained the remaining fourteen elected mayors still in place from involving them in any political activities. This describes the Palestinian mayoral scene up to the end of the Second World War, after which point the 8 removed mayors resumed their political activities (before the State of Israel was declared in May 1948).

The inception of the state of Israel terminated the Mandate rule over Palestine, and scattered the Palestinian society throughout the Arab world. While some 160,000 Palestinians remained in the territories under Israeli control, and were then dubbed the “Arabs of Israel”, still around 750,000 Palestinian were displaced from their land and scattered throughout neighboring Arab countries, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the only Palestinian lands which remained under Arab control after the war). Of this number, tens of thousands joined the 70,000-100,000 Palestinians who already inhabited the Gaza Strip, while other tens of thousands joined the 350,000 Palestinians in West Bank. The remaining Palestinians dispersed between Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and other countries.122

The dispersion of Palestinian society throughout the Arab world left the issue of Palestinian access to national and local level state institutions subject to the good will of those Arab states, in particular to Jordan and Egypt, under whose control the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the only Arab territories remaining after the war) came to rest. While Egypt did not extend citizenship to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, leaving them to maintain their Palestinian nationality, Transjordan did. Egypt, accordingly, supported the establishment of the “all Palestine Government” in Gaza in September 1948, but the powers and the authorities of this government were shadowy, and limited by Egypt's permission (the country enacting military administration within the Gaza Strip).


The "all Palestine Government", first headed by Ahmad Hilmi Pasha before Amin El Husayni took it over, was thus used by Egypt as an instrument to abrogate the ambitions of the Amir of Transjordan Abdallah in the West Bank. Abdallah, who sought to extend his rule over the West Bank, sponsored two conferences of West Bank ayan, mainly involving those from the El Nashshaibi camp. The most important of these conferences was the Jericho conference, which took place on 1 December. This conference, convened under the leadership of Sheikh Muhammad Ali al Jabari, the mayor of Hebron and loyal to Amir Abdallah, called for the immediate annexation of Arab Palestine to Transjordan under the crown of Abdallah. This resolution urged the Transjordan Parliament to endorse the annexation of the West Bank to Transjordan on 13 December, 1948. The eventual approval of the West Bank annexation by the Transjordan parliament marked the collapse of “the all Palestine Government Scheme” and placed the West Bank under Trans-Jordanian civil rule. Due to this split between Egyptian Military administration in the Gaza Strip, and Jordanian civil rule in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and West Bank have had very separate experiences in terms of local autonomy.

The Gaza Strip’s Autonomy under the Egyptian Rule

The extension of Transjordanian civil rule over the West Bank and Egyptian military rule over the Gaza Strip initiated a new phase of Palestinian access to national & local level state institutions. During the mandate, as we have seen, the Palestinianswere granted access to the national level institutions; however, due to political reasons, they refused to take part in these institutions. This situated Palestinians apart from state power, badly positioning them to take part in shaping the future of their country.

At the level of local government, rural and municipal councils were made available to Palestinians. Yet while Palestinians were involved with these institutions, cultural and political factors kept the institutions from developing an effective system of local government. Generally, until the end of the mandate rule both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank shared the same historical experience in terms of Palestinian autonomy. However, once Egyptian military administration asserted itself in the Gaza Strip, and Jordanian civil rule in West Bank, these two regions were set on different paths.


Unlike the West Bankers who gained access to national level state institutions shortly after its annexation, and who managed to influence state policies through these institutions (as will later be further explained), the Gazans had to wait until 1962 for such access. In the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian military governor, appointed by virtue of Order No. 1 of June 1st 1948, vested all the powers and authorities of the former British Higher Commissioner in himself124 and was consequently able to block Gazan access to all levels of state power. This was the situation until March 1962, when the Egyptian regime enacted a constitution that provided for a legislative council.125 While this council, comprised of 22 elected and 10 appointed members (Art. 30), sought to encourage Gazan participation in the administration of the affairs of the Gaza Strip, the electoral base and the powers of this council were to narrow to attain this goal.

To start with, the ten appointed members were decided on by the military governor, and only those who enjoyed the membership of the local committees of the Arab National Union “ANU” (which had formed as grassroots institution to support the Nasser regime of Egypt) had the right to participate in the election of twenty-two members to the council (Art. 30). In addition to the right to choose the ten non-elected members, the military governor, who himself presided over the council (Art. 30) and controlled the executive authorities (Art. 15), also retained the right to call or suspend the council’s sessions, to approve or disapprove the council’s Standing Order, and to veto and promulgate laws issued by the council (Art. 36, 40, 42). In exchange, the council, with the exception of its nominal right to question executive members, was deprived of any right to hold the executive body accountable by means of motions of no-confidence, ad-hoc committees of inquiry, and other methods of monitoring (Art. 44, 45).

When the elections were held, only 345 Gazans voted. All the voters enjoyed the membership of the local committees of the Arab National Union mentioned above. The Gaza Strip was divided into four constituencies; Gaza (along with its surrounding villages and camps), Dier El Balah (along with its surrounding villages and camps), Khan Younis (along with its surrounding villages and camps), and Rafah (along with its surrounding villages and camps). The number of seats per constituency was stipulated in proportion to the number of members in the local Arab National Union committees, as the below table illustrates:


The Constituency

# of members of local committees of ANU

# of Seats




Khan Younis



Dier El Balah









Source: Articles 2, and 3 of Order (12) for the year 1962 in Al Waqea’ El Filistaniya (Arabic), op.cit., Extraordinary Volume, 20 May 1962.

The results of the elections again revealed an ayan domination over the council (the ayan being the original residents of the Gaza Strip). Out of the ten seats of the Gaza constituency, seven were occupied by the ayan, andout of the five seats of the Khan Younis constituency, four seats were occupied by the ayan. In a similar fashion, at least three seats of the seven designated to the Dier El Balah and Rafah constituencies were occupied by the ayan.126 Moreover, the Military governor appointed no less than five ayan (original residents) to the council. The ayan therefore occupied 19 seats (59%) of the 32 seats of the council.127 They constituted an overwhelming majority, by means of which they restored their earlier status and reproduced its influence over society, reversing its withdrawal forced by the inception of the state of Israel.

The tendency of the Egyptian regime to promote the idea of this council and to advance the status of the ayan in the Gaza Strip must be understood within the context of the challenges such regime encountered. In fact, the idea of the council was advanced after the collapse of Egypt’s union with Syria in 1961, and around the time of the rise to power of the Syrian Ba’ath (Arab Renaissance) party in 1963. The Ba’ath party, with its socialist-pan-Arabic ideology, proposed a serious threat to the Nasser-led pan-Arab scheme, and thus to Nasser’s hegemonic control of the Arab world.


Nasser, accordingly, seemed eager to act to counter the growing 'threat' of the Ba’ath party. Owing to its importance for Arabs, the Palestinian cause emerged as a significantly potential instrument with which to legitimize Nasser’s hegemony. In acting as a primary patron of the cause, in support of Palestinian political rights including the population's right to an independent political identity, Nasser pursued a policy which was mainly intended to restore his status and keep his hegemony intact.128 Thus it makes sense that, while Nasser appeared to support Palestinian autonomy, he was also constantly concerned that the Palestinians would remain outside his sphere of control. Consequently, he aimed to promote Palestinian autonomy only in keeping with his own terms and political calculations. This might explain Nasser’s support for the creation of a Palestinian council that would exhibit the limited powers and narrow representation described above; the Egyptian regime's policy regarding local government in the Gaza Strip only supports this analysis.

The central authority in Cairo, for instance, left the 1934’s municipal law in force in the Gaza Strip, thereby conferring sweeping powers and authorities onto its Egyptian military governor. The military governor enjoyed the right to appoint and dismiss mayors and deputy mayors, the right to fix their salaries, the right to dissolve the councils and call elections, the right to approve members of any committee formed by the councils to regulate and supervise the administration of the civil issues (water supplies, town planning, and so on), the right to approve council transactions, the right to supervise council accounts, the right to approve council loans and the right to approve council by-laws (for details on the 1934 law see the discussion of Palestinian autonomy under the British mandate).

But unlike the British Higher Commissioner, who permitted municipal elections, albeit with a narrow electoral base (only franchising male Palestinians of 21 years or more, with tax-paying qualifications), the Egyptian military governor tended to appoint councillors and mayors in large part from the ayan population.129 Due to these regulations, Gazans experienced no municipal elections from this point onwards (under the Israeli occupation, as we will see later, the municipal mayors and councillors were also appointed rather than elected). Gazans were denied any part in deciding their own political affairs and, again, most of those people appointed to municipal offices were derived from the ayan population, or from loyalists who supported the Egyptian regime.

The Political Implications of West Bankers under Jordanian Rule


With the introduction of the Jordanian civil rule over the West Bank, new developments unfolded. Unlike Gazans, West Bankers, in particular some ayan and other loyalists, had access not only to the legislative body, but also to high-ranking government posts. The El Husayni camp, which stood in opposition to the annexation of the West Bank by Transjordan, forged an alliance with the Egyptians and sought an independent Palestinian state. Alternatively, the El Nashashibi camp forged alliances with Amir Abdallah and supported unity between the West Bank and East Bank.

In response, Amir Abdallah dissolved the Supreme-Muslim Council, the main source of El-Husayni power, and put his newly established Ministry of religious affairs in charge of all Arab religious matters in Transjordan and the West Bank. On 3 May 1949, after having dissolved the Cabinet, Amir Abdallah also issued a Royal decree that appointed Ragib El Nashashibi, Ruhi Abdel Hadi, Musa Nasir and Khulusi Khairi to the Ministries of Refugees and Rehabilitation, Foreign Affairs, and Agriculture and Commerce, respectively. This set of appointments was not a unique gesture; during the period of 1952-1956 no less than 15 Palestinians were appointed to ministerial positions, most of them coming from the El Nashashibi camp.

Further steps were also taken to incorporate Palestinians into the Transjordanian state institutions and apparatus, and the most important of these steps was the ordinance of June 1949, which altered the name of the state from 'Transjordan' to the 'Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan' in acknowledgement of changes made to the country's boundaries. The June 1949 ordinance was followed by another in December, which granted Palestinians Jordanian citizenship and so enabled them to participate in legislative elections. The last of this particular set of incorporative gestures, two ordinances were issued in the same month to expand the number of parliamentary seats from 20 to 40, and to allow Palestinians to nominate themselves. However, the results of opening the legislative body to Palestinians were exactly those feared by the Hashemite regime: instead of containing and absorbing Palestinians, the legislative body ended up hosting Palestinians attempts to alter state policy against the king's wishes.


When the first legislative elections were held after the merger in April 1950, at least 175,000 West Bank inhabitants went to the polls to choose between 125 candidates (65 of whom were from West Bank). Out of the 40 deputies eventually elected, 16 were from the West Bank. Some of these deputies were affiliated with the main parties that existed in the West Bank at the time, such as the Communist Party, the Ba’ath Party, Muslim Brothers, the Liberation party and the Arab Nationalists Movement (Harikat A-Qawmiyun Al-Arab). All of these parties opposed the Hashemite regime, and more importantly, they recruited intellectuals like teachers, students, doctors, lawyers and so forth in support of their cause.

Most of these intellectuals, having benefited from educational opportunities offered by the Jordanian regime post-annexation, derived from the rich (ayan) families. However, thanks to their education, as Palestinians they broke with the conservative nature of the ayan, and challenged Jordanian activities in West Bank, seeking to realize Palestinian allegiance by way of Palestinian, pan-Arab or pan-Islam options. Moreover, Palestinians intellectuals sought fundamental changes to their extant political arrangements, in particular wanting alterations made to the Hashemite constitution that made the cabinet responsible to Abdallah, rather than to the parliament.

In the beginning, Palestinian demands to change such political arrangements encountered strong opposition from Abdallah, who refused to yield any portion of his authority. However, in the aftermath of Abdallah’s assassination in 1951, the newly proclaimed King Talal bowed to their wishes and in January 1952 enacted a new constitution that made the cabinet responsible to parliament before the king, reversing the previous case. When King Husayn assumed power in 1953, other steps toward political liberalization were also taken, although these steps ultimately failed to moderate Palestinian opposition to the Jordanian regime (particularly in light of Jordan’s foreign policy).


The split between Palestinians and the Jordanian regime over the Baghdad Pact provides a case in point. The pact, which adopted a pro-Western policy, was founded in February 1955 and at that time included Iraq and Turkey; in March, Great Britain joined in as well. The pact formalised a counter coalition that stood in opposition to the pro-Arab coalition that mainly consisted of Egypt, Saudia Arabia, and Syria. Husayn expressed a desire to join the former on several occasions, however Palestinians — along with Egyptian and Syrian populations, as well as Jordanian nationalists — opposed Husayn's rapprochement and, from December 1955 to January 1956, wide-scale demonstrations protesting the agreement broke out in various cities and towns located in the West Bank. Palestinian opposition to the pact, bolstered by the Arab states' position and coupled with the position of Jordanian nationalists, forced king Husayn to refrain from joining.

Husayn's failure to join the Baghdad Pact was a significant victory for Jordanian nationalists, as well as for Palestinians. This victory was consolidated when these nationalists and Palestinians occupied 30 of the 40 seats that made up the Jordanian legislative body following the elections of October 1956. The largest single party in the legislative body at that time was the Nationalist Socialist party, under the leadership of Suleiman El Nablusi. According to the Jordanian constitution, the party that won the highest number of seats in the legislative body forms the government, therefore at this time Suleiman El Nablusi was entrusted with this task.

Reflecting his fidelity to pan-Arabic ideology, El Nablusi placed both Jordanian Nationalists and Palestinians in key cabinet posts in the Defence, Interior and Foreign Ministries, and adopted an anti-Western political programme. This programme clashed with the King's plans to join the American coalition, and should be contextualised by the newly emerged Eisenhower Doctrine. As a result of this clash, the king refrained from his liberal internal policy, dismissed the cabinet, outlawed political parties, arrested and deported most of the nationalists, declared martial law, banned freedom of expression, and formed a new cabinet under one of his most loyal followers: Ibrahim Hashim. In doing this, the king restored royal absolutism, and tightened his control over the country's society.


This brief survey of the political situation in the early years of the annexation demonstrates how Palestinians, through their participation in national state institutions, were able to affect the Hashemite regime's national policies in spite of the oppressive measures later adopted by king Husayn. This must be recognised for the reason that it reveals the political considerations that generally guided the Jordanian legislature's treatment of the issue of Palestinian local autonomy.

Local Government in the West Bank, Under Jordanian Rule

Once it extended its civil rule over the West Bank, the Hashemite regime sought to establish strict control of systems of local government by tying them to the central authority in Amman. Accordingly, two decrees were issued in March 1949 dividing the West Bank into three districts: Hebron, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. These decrees subordinated the three newly appointed Palestinian civil governors of these districts to the Minister of Interior, who was entrusted with all the powers and authority once vested in the former British Higher Commissioner. In this sense, the Minister of Interior enjoyed the right to call municipal elections, the right to dismiss municipal councils, the right to appoint new ones, the right to appoint and dismiss mayors and to fix their salaries, and the right to control municipal councils’ budgets

These conditions persisted until 1954, at which time — following his 1953 inauguration — King Husayn adopted a number of liberal measures, among which was the municipal law no. 25, of 1954. This law laid dawn two mechanisms for the advancement of local government at village and town levels. According to the law, local councils comprised of 3-11 appointed members were supposed to be established in any village with a population of less than 2,500 inhabitants.


It was instructed that the members and heads of these councils were to be appointed by each district's civil governor, who was empowered to approve all administrative, technical and financial decisions made by the councils. As they had previously enjoyed such powers, civil governors tended to appoint the council members from among the traditional chiefs or Mukhtars. At least 96 rural councils were appointed and regulated by the 1954 law during the Jordanian period.141 Because this law provided the base for rural autonomy until the termination of Jordanian rule in 1967, until 1967 village councils were therefore under strict governmental control and in particular fell under the power of the Minister of Interior (even the district civil governor being subject to the management of this office).

As far as local autonomy at the town level was concerned, with the exception of a short period of time, most of the West Bank municipal councils suffered the same restrictions as the rural councils. When the law of 1954 was enacted, it included provisions that secured strong legal foundations for the advancement of effective mechanisms of local autonomy at the town level. The law, for example, called for municipal elections every four years and revised the voting qualifications of the 1934 British Municipal Ordinance to enable all Palestinian men aged 18 or older to vote in the municipal elections, even if they did not pay taxes. In addition, the law limited the power of the Minister of Interior over the municipal councils, and enabled said municipal councils to elect their own mayors and to fix their salaries independently. The law thus weakened the municipalities’ ties to the central authority in Amman, and established the legal foundation for widespread political participation.

A side note, however: the Hashemite regime refrained from the law and itself promulgated a new one in 1955. The new law revived the restrictions imposed by 1934’s law addressing voting rights, and confined these rights to males who were aged 21 years or older and who paid at least one Jordanian dinar per year in business or property tax. This clause again gave the rich families and landowners a greater chance of being elected to the councils than others for, as an example, if someone paid 1000 dinars in tax he would secure for himself, his friends or his family 1000 votes.


Furthermore, the government once again controlled the post of mayor (that is, the rights to appoint mayors and to fix their salaries) and entrusted itself with the right to appoint two ex-officeo councillors. This clause, in tandem with the narrow electoral base, enabled the government to prevent the entry of opponent political forces into these councils. Moreover, the government controlled all the financial affairs of the municipalities and thus left these municipalities dependent on the central authority in Amman.

The power of the government in this regard was used to discriminate between municipalities in the East Bank and those in the West Bank. Unlike the municipalities in the East Bank, most municipalities in the West Bank suffered a lack of revenues sufficient to cover their expenditures. In 1967, for instance, the mayor of Jenin complained that it had been "more than three years that the municipality of Jenin have requested 400 Dinars annually from the tax committee for education and culture…in order to rent a building for the male primary school in Jenin.”

Beyond their inability to carry out educational projects, Palestinian municipalities were also unable to carry out water and electricity projects. In the pre-1948 period, the main source of water in both the West Bank and Gaza strip was groundwater (pools). After the 1948 war, the United Nations for Refugees and Working Agency (UNRWA) 145 took the responsibility of supplying water to refugee camps; the municipalities supplied the cities and, in part, the camps located within their territories. This split situation continued until 1964 when the Jordanian government, after having received a grant from the Agency of International Development (AID), established the Jerusalem District Water Authority to develop water supply projects in cooperation with the municipalities. Had there been no grant, West Bank cities would have entirely lacked water such projects.


With respect to electricity, the situation was worse. It was not until 1959 that West Bank cities had an effective and uniform supply of electricity. This development took place after the municipalities of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Al Bireh, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour took the initiative and established the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDEC) in 1956. However, due to lack of financial support, this company failed to ensure a supply of electricity for all urban and rural areas. By 1967, the year when Jordanian rule in the West Bank terminated, around 20% of the urban areas did not have a regular supply of electricity, with only around 23% of rural areas enjoying electricity for but a few hours a day.

The failure of the Palestinian municipal system to provide regular basic utilities and services was not merely due to wide-scale governmental intervention and lack of financial support; rather, it must also partially be blamed on the absence of necessary social prerequisites for the attainment of an effective municipal system. Jamil Hilal noted that the Jordanian regime’s role in fortifying some Palestinian families at the expense of others (through inclusive and exclusive policy-making), was not accompanied by essential, fundamental changes to the basic principles of such elite formation. In other words, functioning as it had historically, clan and familial background remained the factor that determined a person's access to social power.

When the family or clan constitutes the basic social unit in a given society, individual decision–making processes are guided by factors other than rational choice. Consequently, even if there were a strong legal foundation for the advancement of an effective Palestinian municipal system, and even if elections for municipalities had been held, it still seems unlikely that such elections would be capable of promoting the professional talents needed for an efficient municipal system is these talents were not paired with the obligatory clan status.


Thus the main problem lay in the voting mentality. As shown, Palestinian voters would treat these councils as means to perpetuate a given family’s power, rather than as a device to encourage an effective municipal system. This meant that the social foundation needed for an efficient municipal system was absent from the Palestinian scene. Given this lack, given the comprehensive power (over these councils) that was enjoyed by the Hashemite regime, and given the absence of wide participation in the elections, the Jordanian regime of course encountered little resistance to its use of these councils as instruments with which to support its rule over West Bank.

The Hashemite regime's tendency to support its rule through certain municipalities is evident in the appointments made to those municipalities. Sheikh Muhammad Ali al Jabari, for instance, was a member of one of the principal families in Hebron, and was considered one of the most famous of the Hashemite regime's loyalists; he served as Hebron's mayor for about three decades. In other cities like Nablus, members of wealthy families like El Masri, Shaka’ and Kan’an, enjoyed status similar to that of Al-Jabari.

Until 1967 therefore, only members of the upper-level income families and big clans (ayan) enjoyed access to local level government institutions; in 1967 the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied by Israel. Around this time, Arab states then founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to enable Palestinians to play a part in liberating their country. Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat and his movement “the Palestinian National Liberation Movement” or Fatah (its reversed Arabic acronym), were advancing their own status in the Arab world.


Following the 1968 Al Karamah battle, Fatah — via a plan of an armed struggle organised with other guerrilla groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) — succeeded to dominate the PLO. The rise of the guerrilla groups within the PLO, combined with the 1974 Arab states' endorsement of the PLO’s claim that it was the sole representative of Palestinians and the following parallel endorsement made by the UN General Assembly, promoted the PLO as one of the most influential variables affecting the future of Palestinian local autonomy under Israeli occupation.

Palestinian Autonomy under Israeli Occupation

In 1967, following its war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, Israel captured the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Israel’s assumption of these Palestinian territories formally ended Jordanian rule and Egyptian military administration within both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. On 7 June 1967, the military order no. 2 was proclaimed and concentrated all powers and authorities divested from the former regimes in the hands of an Israeli military governor. Article 3 (a) of this order reads; “Any power of government, legislation, appointment, or administration with respect to the Region or its inhabitants shall henceforth be vested in me alone and shall be exercised only by me or by a person appointed by me to that end or acting on my behalf”.

Though the order enabled the military governor to assume the same powers and authorities of the former Jordanian regime and the Egyptian military administration, the manner in which Israelis exercised these powers and authorities differed. The difference lay mainly in the Israel’s systematic policy of land appropriation for the purposes of settlement. The first signs of this policy appeared in a plan made in June 1968 by Yigal Allon, then Minister of Labour in the Israeli Labour government. Allon's strategy, commonly referred to as the Allon Plan, proposed among other things a Jewish settlement strip in a 10-15 kilometer-wide plot of land that runs along the Jordan Rift Valley. Accordingly, 18 rural settlements and 12 industrial and agricultural settlements were built in the relatively unpopulated Jordan Valley between 1968 and 1977; in 1977 the Likud Party assumed power.


With the Likud party in power in 1977, the Allon plan was expanded to include settlement in the more populated areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Following an ideological commitment to a “Greater Israel” that claims the West Bank – "Judea and Samaria”, in Likud terminology – as an integral part of Israel, the Likud government stepped up settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza strip’s heartland and aimed to block horizontal expansion within these territories. This settlement policy paralleled a policy of creating full employment for Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a policy which was pursued with one eye kept on the PLO and which was designed to discourage Palestinian support for the PLO by raising the living standards in the occupied territories; the latter was intended to create Palestinian social groups interested in maintaining the status quo (in other words, the occupation). As a result of this policy, no less than 18,000 Palestinians were employed by Israel and by 1987 this number had jumped to 109,000.

Related to this policy was another policy of non-intervention in non-political Palestinian affairs (for example, religious and educational matters). From the very beginning, Israel left Palestinians to run their own religious affairs. This is illustrated by the occasion when it tolerated the re-establishment of the Supreme Muslim Council (SMC), and by how it accepted a Jordanian compensation for religious functionaries (the case before 1967). Nevertheless, despite subjecting the council to strict control and attentive supervision, Israel did not formally recognize the SMC. When some SMC members began to engage in organised resistance against the occupation, the military government deported them.

The measures carried out by Israel toward the SMC’s members reveal the main principles of the Israel’s policies toward the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Israel sought neither to Judaize Palestinians nor to extend citizenship to them. On the contrary, Israel was prepared to respond to Palestinian wishes, and sought to leave them enjoying their non-political institutions, insofar as these institutions remained consistent with Israeli rule. This was the main philosophy informing Israel’s policy of “co-existence", and remained that policy's trademark throughout the first ten years of the occupation (1967-1977). Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defence in the Labour government and the main architect of the above policy, clarified its essence in writing the following words:


“The…formula was that while they (Palestinians) were opposed to our rule and wished us to evacuate the territories we had captured, as long as the existing situation continued, normal life was to be maintained”.

What Israel sought, therefore, was some form of Palestinian reconciliation with that population's new daily reality: the occupation. To elicit this reconciliation, Israel had to find a Palestinian partner that was ready to cooperate according to such terms. Israel’s need for this partner grew more and more urgent following the Gaza-based armed resistance that emerged in 1970 to interrupt that “normal life” Israel sought to establish. This armed movement was a clear indicator of the Gaza Strip’s principled refusal to cooperate with the occupation and Israeli terms. Accordingly, the military administration assumed strict control of the Gaza Strip's local government institutions by invoking a municipal law in 1934 as the legal frame for the work carried out by these institutions.


The military administration used the sweeping powers this law conferred on territory rulers to appoint four mayors and municipal councils in the four cities of Gaza Strip (Gaza, Khan Younis, Rafah, and Deir El Balah), and eight rural councils in Jabalia, Beit Lahia, Beit Hanoun, Bani Suhlia, Abasan El Kabira, Abasan El-Saghira, Kheza’a, and Zawaida. Three local committees were also formed in three refugee camps (Maghazi, Bureij, and Nuseirat).162 Each of these institutions was subject to strict control and its future was clearly hostage to the country's changing political situation (see footnote 161).

While the military administration assumed strict control over local institutions in the Gaza Strip, it let the same institutions enjoy a margin of freedom in the West Bank in hopes of supporting the pro-Hashemite conservative Palestinian leadership's rise to power. This leadership, as we have seen, derived from the strongest families in the OPT and controlled important positions in the Hashemite cabinet, the Palestinian municipal councils and other institutions. Yet while this leadership preserved its status in the early years of the occupation, thanks to its active participation in the resistance, it failed to do so following the 1970 Palestinian-Jordanian civil war. The war weakened the prestige of this leadership among Palestinians and at the same time raised the status of the PLO within the OPT, position this leadership in a defensive position with regards to the PLO. Israel perceived this development as an ideal opportunity to proceed with its policy of “co-existence”, for it sensed the weak position of the pro-Hashemite elements and observed those elements might easily be pressured into cooperation. Israel, therefore, announced its intention to hold municipal elections and scheduled these elections for 1972.

The 1972 Municipal Elections

With the 1972 elections Israel sought to achieve two goals: to institutionalize the PLO's defeat in Jordan’s civil war by reviving the status of the pro-Hashemite elements within the OPT, and furthermore to proceed with its policy of co-existence (playing off the fact that pro-Hashemite Palestinians would be more moderate negotiators than the pro-PLO faction). Toward these ends, Israel not only pressured the pro-Hashemite elements to present their candidates in the 1972 elections, it also threatened some (for example, Hajj Ma’zuz al-Masri, the mayor of Nablus, and Hafiz Tuqan, head of the Nablus chamber of commerce) with punitive measures in the case that they did not present candidates.


It was under such pressure and bullying that the pro-Hashemite elements took part in the 1972 municipal elections, which were held according to the Jordanian municipal law of 1955 — therefore being held in two rounds and excluding women and young men from participating. The first round took place in March, covering the northern cities of the West Bank, while the second round took place in May and covered the southern cities of the West Bank. With exception to Hebron, where the ex-mayor Muhammad Ali al Jabari was nominated for the mayoralty by consensus, the elections took place in all West Bank cities. Around 32,000 Palestinians were registered as eligible voters. Of this number, approximately 26,000 voted for 337 candidates (from 22 municipal councils) who sought 182 municipal seats, excluding the aforesaid municipal seats in Hebron.

Most important were the results of the elections and, in particular, the socio-economic background of those who won seats in the municipal councils. Though more than 50% of the councillors were new faces, these councillors enjoyed the same socio-economic background of the incumbent mayors and councillors re-elected in cities like Nablus, Qalqilya and Tulkarm. The elections therefore brought about no significant changes to the factors that determined Palestinian access to local state institutions. In other words, most of those who were elected or re-elected yet again belonged to extensive clans or wealthy families (ayan). Politically, this social set possessed a conservative-moderate view and sought a peaceful solution for the West Bank — either through unity with Jordan, or through another formula to be agreed upon with Israel.

For Israel this conservative elite was more acceptable than the pro-PLO elements and the wishes of their exiled leadership (the PLO); the latter refused to take part in the elections for the reason that they were held under Israel’s “flag”. In spite of this defiance, however, the results of the elections constituted a great victory for Israel and for Moshe Dayan in particular. Dayan perceived the results as a significant step towards “co-existence” with Palestinians in line with Israeli terms. Only through this conservative leadership, Dayan believed, would Israel enjoy its desired normalization. In his words:


“The acting leaders of the Arab population in the occupied territories were the city mayors. They were the link between the Arab community and the Israeli authorities. It was through them that the administrative procedures were conducted governing commerce – the grant of export and import licenses; entry permits for relatives in the Arab states to visit their families; education and health services; grants and loans for municipal projects; and other affairs of local government requiring the help of the central administration."

Accordingly Israel, by means of its contact with this elite, could now open a channel of communication between itself and local Palestinian populations, and hence could proceed with its policy of co-existence. Curiously, the other success facilitated by these elections was achieved by King Husayn, who understood the victory of his supporters as a step towards the realization of his own plans for the West Bank. The only loser then was the PLO, whose future in the OPT had suddenly come under serious threat. To remedy its loss in the municipal elections, the PLO turned instead to establishing footholds in various Palestinian academic institutions that had been built under the occupation. Ironically, these institutions were being promoted by the same strategy that had restored the status of the pro-Hashemites: Dayan’s policy of “non-intervention”.

Israel’s Policy of Non-Intervention: The Path Toward Political Mobilization


While the occupation's policy of co-existence helped the traditional leadership to restore its status, the policy of non-intervention actually promoted a new elite that challenged this leadership. The new elite was better educated, younger and more radical than its predecessor. Most of its members derived from village and refugee families, making its font of power the educational programmes that flourished under the occupation.

Prior to the occupation, education services had mainly been provided by the UNRWA. In the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA ran the elementary and preparatory schools. The UNRWA did not operate any secondary educational programmes (excluding some vocational programs). Up until 1948, most secondary schools were private and run largely by Christian and religious institutions, and concentrated mainly in Ramallah and Jerusalem. At the time, the only social stratum with access to these schools was that of the ayan.

After the occupation, secondary schools were developed and made available to all refugees (a detailed discussion of education under the occupation unfolds in chapter V). While Israel assumed the running of these schools, the UNRWA continued to manage the elementary and preparatory schools. During the early years of the occupation Palestinians were inspired by the feeling of insecurity evoked by their stateless condition to develop a strong commitment to education. In the academic year 1973-1974, for instance, more than 31% of the territories’ total population (excluding East Jerusalem) attended schools (elementary, preparatory, and secondary).




Total Population

Number of Students

West Bank



Gaza Strip



Source: Reproduced from Munir Fasheh: “Impact on Education”. In Nasser Aruri (ed.). Occupation: Israel over Palestine. London: Zed Books, 1984, P.296.

Two curriculum and examination systems were applied within the territories. While the Jordanian curriculum and examination system were deployed within the West Bank (Excluding East Jerusalem), education in the Gaza Strip was characterised by the Egyptian curriculum and examination system. By 1977, no less than 8,300 Palestinians completed their secondary education (according to the Jordanian/Egyptian examination system), as opposed to about 5,000 in 1969. The following figures illustrate the number and percentage of students who took the Tawjihi (secondary school general examination) in 1969 and 1977.






































Source: Munir Fasheh: “Impact on Education”. In Nasser Aruri (ed.). Occupation: Israel over Palestine. London: Zed Books, 1984, P.303.

These students, in particular Literary and Scientific students, originally attended neighbouring Arab countries’ universities (mainly in Egypt and Jordan); however, during 1970s, the OPT underwent important developments in terms of postsecondary education. Many higher education institutions were established, making it possible for Palestinian students to engage in higher education without leaving the territories. The most important and prestigious of these institutions was Bir Zeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah; its history dates back to 1924 in Bir Zeit Village, when the Nasser family established it as a preparatory school. Gradually the university developed to offer a two-year diploma, and in 1973 was granted a licence by the occupation to operate a four-year study programme.

Along with Bir Zeit, there is El Najah University in Nablus and the University of Bethlehem in Bethlehem. While the former started as college in 1968 and was granted the licence to operate four-year programme in 1975, the later was established by the group Brothers of Christian Schools and was permitted to operate a four-year programme in 1973. Other Universities and higher academic institutions were established around the same period, such as the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip and the University of Hebron in Hebron. These universities and institutions attracted a considerable number of Palestinians who had passed the Tawjihi.172 In 1979-80, for instance, no less than 4,586 Palestinians were enrolled in the universities and other higher academic institutions.


Most of the students who attended university came from the peasant and refugee populations which had born the brunt of the occupation; many of their fathers and mothers had been uprooted from their original villages by the 1948 or 1967 wars. Over the course of their lives, these students had been subjected to what Rosemary Sayigh calls “a process of re-creating Palestine through memory”. This process, in which fathers and mothers play a crucial role, sought passed on to these students the home that was their heritage. When they arrived at university therefore, these students were not only looking for education, they also sought the “Palestine” they knew through their fathers and mothers.

In this sense, student bodies were seen as “good soil” for political recruitment to various PLO factions like Fatah, PFLP, DFLP and the Communist Party. As Glenn E. Robinson observed, the various PLO factions succeeded, through these students, in establishing political footholds in each university and higher academic institution. According to Robinson, the pro-PLO Palestinian prisoners who were released from Israel’s jails in 1970s took leading roles in recruiting these students.

In each university, thus, one could find a student bloc associated with one or another PLO faction. The Al Shabiba student movement emerged as the biggest and most influential student movement, and was associated with Fatah. Several Palestinian leaders who would eventually play influential roles in the post-Oslo scene (Marwan El Bargouthi for example) were also affiliated with Al Shabiba movement. Alongside Al Shashiba, the Progressive Student Labour Front was associated with the PFLP, the Student Unity group was associated with the DFLP, and the Progressive Student Union was associated with the Communist party.


All of these blocs engaged in stiff competition, with each trying to recruit more students to that PLO faction with which it was associated. Over time, the influence of these blocs extended outside the University campuses and into the Palestinian villages and streets. Each bloc succeeded at developing its own Voluntary Work Programme, through which students involved with the bloc devoted some days to helping villagers reclaim their uncultivated land by planting trees and repairing roads, sewage lines, water pipes and so on. This programme, inaugurated by Bir Zeit’s students in the 1970s, was developed to include voluntary work committees in each camp, village, town and city. All committees were associated with main PLO factions. Through these committees, therefore, the PLO succeeded at strengthening its ties to the wider Palestinian community, and thus at enlisting these people in its cause.

Related to this development were the social changes Palestinians had undergone since 1967. Though these changes were the outcome of numerous variables (e.g., Israel’s settlement policy, the remittances of Palestinians employed in Gulf countries in the 1970s); the influence and interaction of these variables are difficult to isolate, but there is some indication that economic policy during the occupation, in particular the policy of full employment, had a huge impact on Palestinian social structure (largely in the rural areas in which 70% of the population lived).

Traditionally, in the rural areas the family functioned as the main productive unit. Most family members (including females) were involved in agricultural activities on their own or ayan’s farms. These farms constituted the main source of a rural family’s livelihood. The social equivalent of this economic infrastructure was a social structure in which the extended family (hamula) functioned as the basic social unit, and authority rested in the head of the hamula (which was the patriarch). These were the general social circumstances up to 1967, when the occupation introduced the aforementioned policy of full employment.


With the introduction of a full-employment policy, many peasants (or members of the rural family) preferred to benefit from the high-scale wages of Israel’s labour market and so left their farms to pursue work opportunities in Israel. If Tamari’s figures are accurate, the percentage of the West Bank labour force employed in agriculture in 1976 did not exceed 26.1%, in comparison to 50% in 1969. This factor (the migration of rural family members into Israel to pursue other work opportunities) “has hastened the process of the break up and nuclearization, in part because younger bread-winners in the family established a source of earning independent from their fathers”. This implied the withdrawal of collective identification (though not its absence) in favour of an individualistic perspective and, accordingly, the decline of the role of hamula and that mode of patriarchal authority associated with it.

At the same time, employment within Israel promoted economic prosperity among villagers by enabling them to send their sons to universities and the other Palestinian institutions of higher education that had been established in the 1970s. Villagers’ access to education further weakened their hamula identification, instead paving the way for a new social identification that was associated with various PLO factions. Moreover, the migration of so many peasants into Israel created a new situation in which land ceased to be the sole livelihood of rural families; consequently the correspondence between land and economic power was reduced. This reduction of land as a major source of the economic power implied the collapse of the ayan economic base, and thus implied the collapse of their political power as well.

The socio-economic developments experienced by Palestinian villages after 1967 might be best represented by the situations in the Palestinian refugee camps and towns; all of these camps and towns supplied labour forces to Israeli labour markets. In 1973, for instance, the West Bank supplied 66.6% of its labour force to the Israeli labour market, while the Gaza Strip supplied 65.7% of its labour forces to the same market.182 Providing these statistics, it becomes possible to sum up those socio-economic developments experienced by Palestinians after 1967 as the following:


All of these developments favored the PLO in its competition with pro-Hashemite elements in the occupied territories. Furthermore, in addition to localised changes, regional political developments also favored the PLO. The most important of these developments was the war of 1973. That war, which erupted on the 6th of October, was the first by which the Arabs achieved some limited victory over Israel and it paved the way for two related shifts: first it weakened the myth of the “invincible army” of Israel and so prompted a strong Palestinian nationalism, and secondly it weakened the status and prestige of the Hashemite regime (specifically, in the eyes of Palestinians) when the that regime failed to contribute to the war.

These developments promoted anti-Hashemite sentiment in the territories, and strongly recommended the nationalists associated with the PLO as an alternative to the pro-Hashemites. New points of reference and feelings of political allegiance were developed, and were institutionally expressed in the Palestinian National Front (PNF) that emerged in the early 1970s to embrace all anti-Hashemite nationalists. The PNF, which adopted a political programme that intended to establish a Palestinian State in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, was formally recognized by the PLO and assigned seats in the Palestinian National Council (the Palestinian assembly in exile) in 1973. Its political programme paralleled the PLO’s “ten-point programme”, which was adopted during the twelfth Palestinian National Council meeting that took place in June of 1974; the programme sought to establish Palestinian Authority on any part of Palestine.

The 1976 Municipal Elections: PLO Factions Rise to Office


The previous discussion demonstrated how the Israeli policy of non-intervention, coupled with the socio-economic transformation experienced by Palestinians since 1967, promoted political mobilization and hence a new, more radical and younger leadership. This leadership, institutionally expressed in the PNF, adopted a political programme that sought to establish statehood for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The program paralleled the PLO’s “ten-point programme”, as mentioned above.

This political shared by the exiled PLO and their internal supporters (the PNF), along with the intensely national mood that characterized the territories at this time, gave the traditional ayan elite and their pro-Hashemite programme little chance to make a mark in the municipal elections of April 1976. These elections were conducted just two years after the UN General Assembly and the Arab states’ endorsement of the PLO’s claim to be the sole representative of Palestinians. This complicated timing and the growing national support for the PLO make Israel’s decision to hold these elections a perplexing one.

However, it seems probable that Israel would have sought to counter the PLO’s regional and international political victories with an attempt to reinvigorate the power of the pro-Hashemite factions within the territories (thus undermining the PLO’s local power). This analysis, if true, reveals Israel’s failed estimation of the socio-economic developments in the OPT since 1967. More importantly, it also implies Israel’s failure to gauge the political ramifications of these developments, including the growing number of nationalists associated with the PLO. Whatever the considerations and motivations behind Israel’s decision to call these elections, post-elections events proved that decision to be a big mistake.


When the elections were conducted, they were held according to new regulations. Unlike the 1972 elections, which restricted the vote to older males (of 21 or more years), Israel extended the vote to females and young males without property. Israel’s extension of the voter prompted opposition from the Hashemite regime, which considered the change a grave violation of international law, in particular the Forth Geneva Convention obliging occupying powers to preserve the status quo of their occupied territories. Unlike the Hashemite regime, the PLO supported this extension of the vote and urged its supporters (members of the PNF and other nationalists) to take part in the elections when it became clear that those elections would put PLO supporters in office.

It seems unlikely that the Hashemite regime's opposition to Israel's extension of the vote actually issued from concerns regarding Israel’s failure to carry out the obligations assigned in the Forth Geneva Convention. The main reason for the Hashemite opposition, rather, was likely an awareness of its own weakened support and the growing popularity of the PLO (among young people in particular). In light of the contemporary situation, Israel's extension of the vote undeniably favoured the PLO. Supporting this analysis, there was also the fact that — once it became aware of Israel’s determination to hold the 1972 elections, and noted the determination of the PLO’s supporters to run in these elections — the Hashemite regime strongly urged its supporters to participate in the elections despite the new regulations.

Both sides, PLO supporters and pro-Hashemites, were thus motivated by political considerations in running for election. This fact can be inferred from the following figures comparing the 1976 elections with the 1972 elections in terms of the number of eligible voters, those people who actually voted for candidates, and the municipal seats:


The number

Eligible Voters

Actually Voted


Municipal Seats



88,467 (appro. 33,000 W.)

62,998 (appro., 21,000 W)

577 (4 W.)









Source: Ma’oz. Palestinian Leadership, op.cit., P.136 & Sahliyehop.cit., P.66.

The results of the 1972 elections further demonstrate the politicization of the municipalities. Among the 205 elected councillors, there were 153 (75%) new faces, which included 14 of the 24 mayors. 40% of the new councillors and 33% of the new mayors were pro-PLO or leftist nationalists. Moreover, the new elected councillors and mayors were younger (67% were under the age of 50, and 10% were under the age of 30), and better educated (53% had higher education). In addition, 40% were white collar, 40% were traders and businessmen, and 20% were farmers and landowners. The nationalist orientation of these councillors and mayors did not correspond with the new sociological orientation. In other words, as noted by Sahliyeh, these mayors and councilors “came from the same well-to-do and socially prominent families in their towns that they had always provided leadership”, notwithstanding their pro-PLO and leftist political orientation.

This was particularly clear in regards to the new mayors. In Nablus, for instance, Hajj Ma’zuz al-Masri, was replaced by the nationalist Bassam al-Shak’a (derived from a big family in Nablus). In Hebron, Sheikh Muhammad al Jabari, who had dominated the mayoralty since 1948, was replaced by the nationalist Fahd al-Qawasma. Similarly, the following nationalists replaced pro-Hashemite mayors in a number of towns and cities: Hlimi Hanun, Ibrahim al-Tawil, Muhammad Halhul, Abd-Aziz al-Suwwayti, Ziyadah Ya’kup, Amin Nasser and Bishara Dawud. All of these mayors were affiliated with the PLO and other leftist parties, but at the same time they either derived from big families or had undergone higher education; this statement excludes the re-elected mayor of Bethlehem Elias Freij, who was among the old guard and had a pro-Hashemite orientation.


In this sense, the 1976 elections brought about no significant change in terms of the sociological orientation of the Palestinian mayors and councillors. Due to this, Israel received the results of the elections with little concern, and ruled them out as any indicator of “a deep transformation” or “radical change in the social structure and political orientation of the West Bank leadership”. Jordan in fact had a similar view of the results, and accordingly welcomed them and even offered financial and logistical support to the new mayors. The PLO, mainly Fatah, considered the election results encouraging since they brought young nationalist ayan into the office and therefore supported the results of the elections, even forging an alliance with the newly emerged nationalist ayan.

Therefore, all the major players (Israel, the PLO and Jordan) perceived the election results as satisfactory, and no exhibited an interest in changing the status quo. For instance, in accordance with its policy of co-existence, Israel still sought to cultivate the newly elected mayors as an alternative to PLO leadership. Jordan, on the other hand, believed the socio-economic background of these mayors would prevent them from adopting an anti-Hashemite policy. Meanwhile, the PLO considered these mayors part of its political army in the territories thanks to their pro-PLO policy and nationalist ideology. This was the situation until May 1977, when the Likud party assumed power. Under the Likud government, Israel’s policy toward the nationalist mayors turned radical, sparking new developments for Palestinian autonomy.

Palestinian Local Autonomy under the Likud Government: Toward a Bottom-Up Model

While the Labour government (1968-1977) pursued a policy of co-existence with Palestinians, and thereby enabled the nationalist mayors to run for office in hopes of cultivating them as an alternative to PLO leadership, the radical national orientation of the Likud government prompted it to consider all Palestinians, including the mayors, as potential enemies.


The Likud government denied the nationalist mayors any powers and authorities to manage civil affairs. It took over water sources in the territories and denied the municipalities any practical power in fields like that of water management. Instead, these powers were put in the control of the Israeli Water Company Mekorot in a way that limited the municipalities' role to collecting water bills from residents and administering the daily distribution of water.

In a similar fashion, the Likud government denied the municipalities any powers to manage electricity. All municipalities were asked to obtain permission from the military administration before initiating any electricity-related project. This permission was rarely granted, most requests being rejected. Due to this increased Israeli control, many municipalities were unable to meet local demands for electricity and were forced to link to Israel’s national power grid.

In 1980 the military administration refused to grant the municipality of Jenin a permission to import new units for the generation of electricity to allow it to meet an increasing demand. Owing to this refusal, the municipality agreed to link to the Israeli national grid. By connecting the Palestinian towns and cities to Israel’s national grid, the Likud government left only the tasks of collecting electricity bills and administering daily supplies of electricity to the municipalities.


These measures were inspired by Likud’s belief the nationalist mayors posed a threat to Israel’s national security and sought to weaken the ability of these mayors to handle civil affairs (and so undermine their influence on the local community). At the same time as enacting these measures, the Likud government also initiated secret talks with pro-Hashemite elements that aimed to enlist those elements to support a proposed plan for Palestinian autonomy that would allow for only some self-rule arrangements in the territories. The plan, the general framework for which was provided for by the Camp David treaty, constituted a further attempt by Israel to unilaterally decide who should lead Palestinians, as well as the forms of their autonomous institutions.

This attempt provoked wide-scale Palestinian opposition, and transferred the disagreement into an almost a “zero-sum” conflict. In the face of Palestinian opposition to the Camp David scheme, the Likud government adopted harsh measures against nationalist mayors who actively participated in opposition activities. On 2 May 1979, the military administration deported the mayors of Hebron and Halhul. The following month Israel launched an assassination attempt against three leading mayors in the West Bank, leaving the mayors of Nablus and Ramallah (Bassam El Shaka and Karim Khalif, respectively) maimed. Further measures were taken against these mayors, including restrictions placed on their movement outside the country, reduction of their rights to engage in political activities, and so forth.

In response to these measures, Palestinians broke with the formal state institutions (the municipalities), and instead performed para-state functions via their own informal institutions. In doing this, Palestinians were supported by Arab states which had decided, in a summit convened in Baghdad in November 1978, to allocate hundreds of millions of USD in support of the Sumud (steadfastness) of Palestinians in the territories. A joint Jordanian-Palestinian committee was also set up to facilitate communication between Arab states and the territories. In the period of 1979-1985, this committee distributed about 400 million USD to the territories. This fund was of crucial importance to Palestinians at this critical juncture in their conflict with Israel; through it, Palestinians were able to disengage from occupation control and proceeded to build grassroots organizations.


These organizations, which offered health, social, economic and legal services, constituted institutional manifestations of the Palestinian disengagement, and they were all accordingly affiliated with main factions of the PLO and employed voluntarism as the main principle of their daily operation. In 1979 the Union of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC) was established in the West Bank to offer health services to uncovered villages and camps in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. A few years later the Union of Heath Work Committees (UHWC), the Union of Health Care Committees (UHCC) and the Health Services Council (HSC) were also founded for the same purposes. In 1992, one year prior to the signing of the Oslo accords, these organizations operated some 132 clinics in 118 communities, and served nearly half of the territories’ population.

Other grassroots organizations were founded during the same period that offered economic service; an example of this is the Agricultural Relief Committees (ARC), which offered various materials, technical and logistic services to farmers. Furthermore, some 23 charitable organizations were founded in the territories to offer similar services. The most prominent of these charitable organizations was Jam’iyat In’ash el-Usra (the Society for Family Rehabilitation), which operated vocational centres, offered partial and full university scholarships, provided health services and ran cultural projects (e.g., kindergartens, Palestinian folklore centres, et cetera).

Most of these grassroots and charitable organizations, depended on the funding distributed by the joint committee and a number of international and Palestinian benefactors who offered their services without charges (or with minimum charges). They mainly recruited their members from the middle class and intellectual circles, and included women. The changes indicate early steps toward expanding the social base of those people who carried out state and Para-state functions. Even though the 1976 elections brought a new political orientation and ideology into office, they failed to achieve a new social orientation. In other words, those who rose to office — despite their nationalist orientation and pro-PLO ideology — still issued from the upper class.


When Palestinians decided to break with formal state institutions and began to establish their own, the input they provided these institutions with was sociologically different and yet still politically similar to that given the 1976 municipal councils. Those people who dominated and operated the new grassroots and charitable organizations embraced the same national ideologies of the people who achieved office in the 1976 elections, but they came from an altogether different social class. So with the grass roots organisations we see an extension of the social base of those who were practising state/Para-state functions. It is therefore safe to claim that from 1979 onwards a new social class, a middle class, joined the ayan in carrying out state and para-state functions.

A question remains to be asked: did the Likud government tolerate this development, or did it take some measures to abrogate it? The Palestinian response to Likud measures against the municipalities manifested in institutions, as we have seen; the Likud government's response to this development was institutional as well. In November 1981, the government issued its military order no. 947 and declared a civil administration was to be established in the territories. Section 2 of the order states that the civil administration was established to “administer the civilian affairs in the region in accordance with the directives of this order, for the well-being…of the population, and in order to supply and implement the public services and taking into consideration the need to maintain an orderly administration and public order in the region”.

The head of the civil administration was to be appointed by the area commander, considered the ultimate authority. However, the head of the civil administration was empowered with the rights to issue second-hand legislations (or secondary legislations) in civil domains, and to appoint officials in the civil administration whose purpose was to execute these laws. Nevertheless, all issues related to security remained under the control of the area commander, who enjoyed absolute (over the civil administration as well).


In other words, all the powers and authorities exercised by the head of the civil administration were delegated to him by the area commander, and were exercised in that area on the area commander’s behalf. Ultimate authority was thus vested in the area commander, and the civil administration functioned as an executive body only, in spite of its right to issue secondary legislation in civil domains. In January 1982, military order no. 947 was issued to emphasize this fact. The order reads: “in order to remove any doubt, there is nothing in the provisions of the Order (Order No. 947) which restricts or abrogates any of the privileges or rights vested in the Commander of the Israeli army in the area or in any of those appointed by him”. The area commander thus retained all the powers he assumed through order no. 2 of June 1967 (for more regarding this order see P. 74), including the power to issue first-legislations.

If the new order kept all powers in the hands of the area commander, then what exactly changed in terms of the administrative setup of the territories? To understand whether essential changes took place or not, the below figure showing how the military administration operated prior to 1981, might be helpful.


The area (local) governor was asked to perform two tasks. The first was civil; in this regard, as the figure illustrates, he presided over a number of army officers who ran for a number of civil offices in each area or district. In doing this he was subordinate to the West Bank/Gaza Strip governor, whose own main task was a civil one and who was himself subordinate to the Coordinator of the Territories' Activities (who worked under the direct supervision of the Minister of Defense). The other task a local governor had to perform was: to keep order in his district or area. In this capacity he was subordinate to the army Commander assigned to the area, and through the Commander also subordinate to the Chief of Staff (who was also under the direct control of the Minister of Defense).

With the introduction of the civil administration, two developments occurred: the Chief of Staff assumed the functions of the Coordinators of the Territories’ Activities, and thus integrated the civilian tasks with the military ones. This implied that army Commander assigned to an area assumed the functions of that area's governor. However army officers were denied the right to run civil offices, and only civilians assumed posts in the civil administration. The below figure illustrates this shift:


What happened was therefore a revolution to change Dayan’s policy of non-intervention. In other words, while the Labour government sought a minimal armed intervention in civil domains, and thus left Palestinians to run their own civil affair, the Likud government sought direct armed control over these civil domains and entrusted itself with the right to run Palestinian civil affairs. However, this shift was not accompanied by any fundamental changes in the source of legislation. Both governments retained the area commander as the final source of legislation.

The Likud government's policy of directly controlling Palestinian civil affairs stemmed from its concern regarding the (in its opinion) harmful ramifications of Dayan’s policy of non-intervention, these having enabled PLO factions to take office. Prof/Colonel Menachem Milson, the first civil administer of the territories, summarized the Likud’s position towards the PLO's status in the territories when he pointed out: “combating the PLO in the territories had been perceived by the Israeli policy-makers as a military and security matter…while the PLO attach a special political importance to its quest for influence in the territories….{its success} facilitated the mobilization of people for terrorist acts.” Therefore, “a political infrastructure opposed to the PLO and ready to cooperate with Israel” should be created.

It is against this background that the creation of the civil administration must be examined. The civil administration was in fact that very political apparatus through which the Likud government sought to minimize the PLO’s influence in the territories by franchising some of the civil administration’s powers to those who were ready to cooperate; consequently, it sparked the creation of counter-institutions for the pro-PLO municipal offices, as well as the development of Palestinian grassroots and charitable organizations. At that time, the village league was the only institution that had been qualified to assume this role (of counter-institution and host for pro-PLO municipal offices and grassroots organizations).


The league, created by Mustafa Dudin in the Hebron district in 1978, was designed as an institutional protest against the hegemony of the urban-based, pro-PLO groups in regards to state institutions (eg, formal institutions like municipalities, and informal institutions like grassroots organisations). Among its main objectives was “the encouragement of rural cooperatives and social and charitable societies which will work for the benefit of all villagers”.

The Likud government found in this league a proper institution through which its goal of eradicating the PLO’s social base in Palestinian towns might be realized. So the new established civil administration started supporting the creation of village leagues in various rural areas, and franchising them with some of its own powers. These powers ranged from the provision of family reunion permits to issuing building permits, permits for the acquisition of driving licenses, and travel permits. The civil administration even went further and allocated sums of money to these leagues which enabled them to carry out water and electricity schemes in their local areas.

These measures did not, however, ensure wide constituencies of support for the village leagues. Two factors were to blame for this: firstly the attachment of these leagues to a given family or clan alienated them from most of Palestinians (who emphasized national identification at the expense of family or clan affinities), and secondly Likud designed radical measures against Palestinians that, among other things, confiscated land in the villages. The failure of these leagues to halt the latter measures weakened their credibility among Palestinians and forced some of them to distance themselves from Israel’s policy and to adopt a more nationalist position. This distancing brought the leagues into conflict with Likud policy, and thus prompted their dissolution by the Likud government in summer of 1983.


Regardless of the failure of the village leagues and the political considerations surrounding their creation, these leagues still enabled other stratum in the society to practice state functions. Despite the fact that the head of each league was still constituted by a family/clan chief, the leagues embraced villagers with peasant backgrounds and thus — whatever their political goals and ideologies — they enabled peasants to join the ayan and middle class elements in carrying out state/para-state functions. Though this development was short-lived, it signified a new expansion of the social base to include those people who practiced state and para-state functions; previously the only social stratum that had been denied the right to do so were refugees, who remained far outside any government institution (formal and informal alike), notwithstanding their active contribution to Palestinian resistance to the occupation as manifested in the Gaza-based armed movement of 1970 (for further information see Pp. 78-79 and footnote 161).

The situation of exiled refugees, or rather refugees settled in surrounding Arab countries, in particular in Lebanon, was slightly different. In Lebanon, the PLO succeeded at establishing down some para-state institutions, and consequently enabled the exiled refugees there to practice para-state functions. In 1969, for example, the Sons of the Palestinian Martyrs Institute (Samad), was founded, begun as an orphan-aid project and gradually expanding to include large factories for textiles, carpentry and so forth.

This institute, which established permanent venues in various Arab countries and developed networks of relations with some Western countries like Italy, France and Norway, employed thousands of Palestinian refugees. Alongside it there was also the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), which was headed by Arafat’s Brother Fathi Arafat. The PRCS ran various medical facilities in Palestinian refugee camps and by 1979 had been operating 30 hospitals and 100 clinics.


Coupled with these foreign developments was another which related to the PLO para-state security forces that emerged in 1979. Said forces, through which the PLO’s various guerrillas were organized, were promoted by the resolution of the 1978 Arab Summit which, as mentioned above, donated hundreds of millions of USD to the PLO. A considerable part of this fund was invested in transforming the guerrillas into proper para-state armed forces. Consequently, various regular forces like Ain Jalut, Qastal, Yarmuk , Karamah, Unit of 17 (Arafat’s bodyguards), the Political Security Forces, and the Chairman Security Agency (to name the most important), were formed.

Most of these armed forces enjoyed permanent bases and were led by officers with conventional military training. Their members were recruited mainly from Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and elsewhere. One of the forces’ top priorities was to defend Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Though the PLO as an organization lacked the formal authority to issue and implement binding rules for refugees, and thus in Joel S. Migdal's point of view lacked a defining feature of statehood, most of the refugees were inspired by a national commitment to obey the PLO’s instructions and so could ultimately be coerced by its armed forces.

In this sense, it is possible to assume that those refugees who had access to PLO armed forces assumed para-state functions as well. Was this assumption accepted, the exiled refugees can then be understood as having practiced para-state functions in parallel to their ayan and middle class counterparts inside the territories. Similarly to the fate of the village leagues, however, this development was to be short-lived. The Lebanese war of June 1982 and following dispersion of the PLO para-state forces throughout the Arab world ended that particular opportunity for the refugees to engage in para-state activities; the war, coupled with the necessary shift of the PLO headquarters from Lebanon to Tunisia, ended a phase in which the refugees had access to the forces that afforded them this opportunity. Moreover, the war signified an escalation in Likud’s radical treatment of autonomous Palestinian institutions inside the territories.


This escalation can be traced through the civil administration's June 1982 decision to replace five elected municipal councils with loyal appointed committees, and the following measures adopted against Palestinian universities (including closures, the detention of students, shootings and consequent killings of students, and the deportation of college staff members). In the period between 4 November 1981 and 2 April 1984 Bir Zeit University was closed five times for a total of eleven months. In 1983 Al-Najah University was closed three times for a total of five months, and Bethlehem University was closed twice for a total of one and a half month. In the period lasting from December 1986 to April 1987, three students from Bir Zeit University were shot and killed.

Similarly brutal measures against college staff were taken. In the fall of 1982 the civil administration required non-resident Palestinian college members (those who did not hold military-issued identity cards) to sign an anti-PLO pledge in order to obtain residence and work permits. When these members refused to sign the pledge, the civil administration deported them. Approximately 100 of the 500 college staff who worked in Palestinian universities were affected by this measure.

In addition to the above, the civil administration granted itself the right to annually license Palestinian universities, as well as the right to control the creation of additional departments, programs and colleges. No university was allowed to operate new departments, programs or colleges without permission granted by civil administration; in most cases, such permission was denied. Two requests to operate a college of agriculture and a hotel management program were made by the Al-Najah University and Bethlehem University, and both were rejected by the administration. Further exerting its power, the civil administration also assumed strict watch over the universities’ educational materials. and many books on subjects like philosophy, Palestinian history and politics, folklore, and more, were banned without explanation.


Considering these measures, along with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the following semi-destruction of the PLO military and civil infrastructure, we can conclude that they were not only related to issues of the academic freedom. Rather, they also related to wider issues concerning Israel’s intention to foreclose on the option of statehood for Palestinians. In fact, Israelis hesitated very little in expressing this intention when they re-elected the Likud party under its slogan “…no to Palestinian state…”

The First Intifada (1987-1993): Palestinians Attach Further Themselves to Grassroots Institutions

As discussed above, Israeli policy toward autonomous Palestinian institutions had changed drastically since the Likud party’s assumption to power in 1977. Likud policy sought to abrogate any Palestinian attempts to lay down institutional infrastructure for Palestinian state. In response, Palestinians continued to break with formal state institutions and deepened their attachments to grassroots organisations. This was clearly the case during the Intifada (literally translating as "a shaking off").226 The Intifada (1987-1993) was the most spontaneous of Palestinian uprisings against the occupation, and encompassed all segments of the population: young and old, male and female, rich and poor, intellectual and illiterate, religious and secular, rural and urban. It expressed the Palestinians’ protest against the humiliating conditions imposed on them by the occupation, as well as their desire for complete disengagement from that occupation's control.

The most notable expression of this disengagement appeared in the Popular Committees set up in each village, town and city. These committees were arbitrated by the Unified National Leadership for the Uprising (UNLU), which was established in early 1988 to steer Intifada activities. Comprised of four members representing the main factions of the PLO (Fatah, PFLP, DFLP and the Palestinian Communist Party), the UNLU issued weekly leaflets providing detailed instructions for how Palestinians should act.


Usually, these instructions related to political, social and economic issues. The Popular Committees functioned as the executive body to enforce UNLU decisions and were backed by Strike Forces. These forces were established to punish Palestinian collaborators and those who breached UNLU decisions — for example, hours for commercial strikes fixed by the UNLU, or boycotts of Israeli products and labour markets. The Popular Committees also assumed the considerable challenges of guarding camps at night, distributing food to refugees to support their steadfastness, and collecting funds to support families of martyrs, detainees, and injuries. Finally, these committees also assumed the considerable task of organizing rites of conciliation between disputing families, and acted as arbitrators between said families.

Later, the Popular Committees created a system of informal classes to provide educations for Palestinian students who had been denied access to their schools when Israel instituted a formal, mass closure of Palestinian schools in the West Bank, and in light of the spot closure that had been in place in the Gaza Strip since February 1988. These classes, which relied on volunteer teachers, were organized in all Palestinian neighborhoods. Usually, they took place in camp houses provided for elementary, preparatory and secondary level students.

Many factors hindered this system from achieving more success and replacing the students’ lost formal education. Among these was the involvement of the students in the daily activities of the Intifada, which left them subject to Israeli measures including detention, shootings (potential death), and so forth. The students' Intifada involvement and the important absence of a system to confer certificates or degrees created little incentive among students to attend the informal classes, and so destabilized the good intentions of the system. Despite this, the act of organising such classes again signified an expansion of the social base of the Palestinians who practiced para-state functions. The Popular Committees, which operated this system, recruited their members from the refugees of camps and in most cases these refugees led and supervised the committees’ activities. Thus the Intifada, enabled the refugees of the territories to join with ayan, and middle class Palestinians in participating in para-state activities.


The notable development here not only relates to the inclusion of a new social stratum in the practice of para-state functions, but also to the emergence of a new political ideology alongside the extant pro-PLO political ideology (secular ideology), as expressed in the Islamist Popular Committees. These committees were associated with the main Islamic movements that emerged in the late 1980s: Hamas (the Arab acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, which translates as “zeal” or “bravery”) and Islamic Jihad. Both movements, which gained momentum during the Intifada, followed ideological lines that differed from that of the PLO.

While the PLO advocated the establishment of a secular state comprised of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Islamic Jihad advocated the establishment of an Islamic state on the whole of Mandate Palestine, and claimed Palestine as Waqf land owned by Muslims throughout the world; consequently, no one had the right to cede control of any part of it to a non-Muslim. In this sense, they did not distinguish between land occupied during the 1948 and 1967 wars.

The ideological coincidence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad regarding these general principles did not at first imply an agreement on the instruments necessary to realize the goal of establishing an Islamic state all over Mandate Palestine. While Islamic Jihad placed equal emphases on the important of resistance and the revival of the Islamic society in attaining this goal, Hamas perceived greater import in the revival of Islamic society. However, as the Intifada unfolded, out of a fear of losing its constituencies of support Hamas revised its approach and adopted one more in line with that which was articulated by Islamic Jihad.


Hamas’ revision of its approach toward the struggle with Israel enabled it to claim wider constituencies of support in the territories, and thus to emerge from then onward as an influential player in Palestinian politics. Hamas could therefore stand in opposition to the PNC’s resolutions of November 1988 (announced in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip), which provided for PLO endorsement of the right of Israel to exist in peaceful relations with the state of Palestine, and at the time gained the recognition of around 100 states.229

Hamas also stood in opposition to those peace initiatives made during the Intifada, including the peace initiative of President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak — the so called Ten Points Plan — and the following Five Point Plan. The latter, which was advocated by USA secretary of state James Becker in the summer of 1989, was formed along the same lines as the Mubarak plan and called for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be sponsored by Egypt and the United States.230 Hamas was not the only party to oppose these initiatives. The Likud government also refused to deal with any of them, despite the PLO having given them its blessing (in particular, the Mubark initiative). The following right-wing government, formed in 1990, pursued the same anti-peace policy and refused to negotiate any peace initiative.

After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War (1990-1991), and in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US began to intensify its diplomatic efforts in the post-war Middle East with the aim of re-drawing its political map. At the time, the American administration envisaged a peace conference co-chaired by the United States and Russia, designed to negotiate a “land for peace”. The Likud government, under huge pressure from the American administration to participate, conditioned the Palestinian participation in the conference by attaching insider Palestinians (Palestinians of the territories) to a Joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation.


The PLO, which had suffered the loss of the logistical support of the Arab states (due to its support of Sadam Husein’s invasion of Kuwait) and the financial support of Gulf countries (cut off for the same reasons as that of the Arab states), had no option but to accept Israel’s conditions with few modifications. The PLO demanded Jerusalem be represented by the Palestinian team, and the right to decide the team’s members. The Likud government, under U.S. pressure, responded to PLO demands and so the Madrid Peace Conference began on 30 October 1991. This did not imply a successful conclusion for the conference. In fact, Israel adopted a tactic that, according to Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, sought to prolong the negotiations for 10 years (during which it might accelerate settlement building and accomplish further changes on the ground).231 This tactic made the round of talks in Madrid and those that followed in Washington (1991-1992) unproductive.

The deadlock of the peace talks intensified already extant opposition to the Madrid process, and prompted Hamas, which had taken the leading role in opposing the Madrid process, to escalate its Military operations against Israeli targets. The most notable of these operations was carried out by a group of Izz al-Din Qassam brigades, the Military wing of Hamas, which shot and killed three Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahya on 7 December 1992.232 Less than a week later, Hamas succeeded in kidnapping the Israeli soldier Nissim Toledano, and demanded the release of its spiritual leader Ahmad Yassin in exchange for its own release of Toledano.

This act, considered intolerable by the newly elected Labour government led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, enabled Hamas to claim further constituencies in the territories. In retaliation for the deaths of the three soldiers and the kidnapped Toledano (whose body was found by Bedouin women in a village near East Jerusalem on 15 December), Rabin’s government detained more than 1,200 Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters, and expelled over 400 to Marj El Zuhur in South Lebanon233 Hamas' actions bolstered its credibility among Palestinians, and introduced the organisation as a serious alternative to the PLO. When it became clear that the Madrid process was useless, Arafat perceived this development as a particularly serious threat to his status and organization within the territories. To counter the growing status of Hamas then, Arafat urgently needed a political achievement of any sort.


In January 1993 Arafat endorsed the Norwegian-sponsored backchannel initiated by Ahmed Qrieh (better known as Abu Alla) and Yair Hirschfeld, an Israeli Senior Lecturer on Middle East Affairs at Haifa University. The first round of negotiations between these two men was held during the period of 20-22 January 1993, before being upgraded to include top officials from both sides; on 20 August 1993 the negotiations culminated in the Declaration of Principles (DOP) or, as it is more commonly known, the Oslo accord.234 The DOP stipulated autonomous Palestinian institutions (national level state institutions) in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Art. I of DOP stipulated that “the aim of the Israeli-Palestinian, among other things, to establish Palestinian Interim self-Government, the elected council (the “council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period no exceeding five years...”235

The DOP enabled Palestinians, for the first time in their history, to enjoy their own state institutions, in particular at a national-level. Though Palestinians had access to national-level institutions under Ottoman and Jordanian rule, as well as under Egyptian rule, these institutions had remained not their own. More importantly, they took part in these institutions not in their capacity as Palestinian citizens, but rather as either Ottoman or Jordanian citizens (excluding the Gazans, who had been under the Egyptian rule discussed earlier); therefore their access to these institutions was conditioned by their loyalty to a ruler, and confined to a particular social stratum. The situation was worse under British Mandate and Israeli occupation. Under both rules, Palestinians had been denied all access to national level government institutions, although they were permitted to take part in local level institutions. In both cases, however, their access remained hostage to the political atmosphere of the country, and was limited to a specific social stratum.

With the signing of the DOP, Palestinians were for the first time permitted a cabinet, a legislative assembly, a bureaucratic system, and other para-state institutions, and the decision of who should enjoy access to these institutions was to made by Palestinians alone, rather than by foreigners as was the case before. The next chapter discusses the system of the Palestinian autonomy promoted by DOP (eg. the Oslo process), and shows how this system operated. It will focus therefore on the structure of the newly emerged Palestinian Authority, the relation of this authority to political society, civil society, and general publics — finally addressing the mode of government that emerged in the autonomous areas.

Footnotes and Endnotes

79  Alfred Bonne’. State and Economics in the Middle East: A Society in Transition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1955, Pp.41-42.

80  For Hourani’s discussion of the ayan see chapter. “Ottoman Reform and the Politics of Notables”. In William R. Polk and Richard L. Chambers (eds.). Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East: The Nineteenth Century. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968.

81  Quoted in Y. Porath. The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement: 1918-1929. London: Frank Class, 1974, P.14.

82  Mordechai Abir. “Local Leadership and Early Reforms in Palestine: 1800-1834.” In Moshe Ma’oz (ed.) Studies on Palestine During The Ottoman Period. Jerusalem: The Manges Press, 1975, P.292. See also Butrus Abu-Manneh. “The Husanynis: The rise of a Notable Family in 18th century Palestine”. In David Kushner (ed.). Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social and Economic Transformation. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Press, 1986, Pp.94-95.

83  According to this system, Ottomans monopolized the ultimate right to land title, which empowered peasants with the right to land tillage in exchange for paying the land’s taxes on tith and on community bases. For a detailed discussion over the Musha system, see chapter IX (Pp.213-248) in A. Granott. The Land System in Palestine: History and Structure. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952.

88  Elazar & Kalchheim (ed.). Local Government, op.cit., p.12

89  Bonne’, op.cit., P.43.

90  Porath, op.cit., Pp.13-14.

91  Rashid Ismail Khalidi. British Policy towards Syria & Palestine 1906-1914: A Study of the antecedents of the Hussein-the McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Belfour declaration. London: Ithaca Press, 1980, P.227.

122  Figure sourced from Don Peretz. “Palestinian Social Stratification: The Political implications”. In Palestine Studies25. Vol. Vill, No. 1, (Autumn 1977), P.56.

124  Order # 1 in Al Waqea’ El Filistaniya (Arabic). The formal Gazette of Gaza Strip, Number 1, 31 December 1949.

125  Ibid. Extraordinary Volume, 29 March, 1962.

126  See Ibid. Extraordinary Volume, 30 May 1962.

127  Ibid.

128  Moshe Shemesh. The Palestinian Entity, 1959-1974: Arab Politics and the PLO. London: Frank Cass, 1988, Pp.1-14.

129  Sara Roy. The Gaza Strip Survey. Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Post, 1986, P.131.

141  Moshe Drori. “Local Government in Judea and Samaria”. In Meir Shamgar (ed.). Military Government in the Territories Administered by Israel. Jerusalem: Alpha Press, Vol. 1, 1982, P243.

145  On 8 December 1949, in response to the refugees' crisis, the United Nations General Assembly decided to set up the UNRWA in order “to carry out…the direct relief and works programmes” for the assistance of the Palestinians refugees. See Resolution No.302 (IV) in George J. Tomeh (Ed.). United Nations Resolutions on Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: 1947-1974. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1975, Pp.18-20.

162  Roy. The Gaza Strip, op.cit., P.132.

172  For more details of these universities see Adam Roberts, Boel Joergensen, & Frank Newman. Academic Freedom Under Israeli Military Occupation. London & Geneva: World University Service & International Commission of Jurists, 1984, Pp. 38-51.

182  Brian Van Arkadie. Benefits and Burdens: A Report on the West Bank and Gaza Strip Economies since 1967. New York, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1977, P.71.

226  Numerous works deal with the Intifada. For an excellent and first hand account of the movement see Ze’ev Schiff & Ehud Ya’ari. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising-Israel’s third front. New York/London: Simon and Schuster, 1989. For a more recent assessment see Andrew Rigby. Living the Intifada. London & New Jersy: Zed Books, 1991 & F.Robert Hunter. The Palestinian Uprising: A War by Other Means. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.

229  See Jerusalem Post on 14, 15, 16, November 1988.

230  For a discussion of the peace initiatives put forth during the Intifada see Edgar O’Ballance. The Palestinian Intifada. London: Macmillan Press, 1998, P.50-84.

231  Afif Safieh. “The Peace Process: From Breakthrough to Breakdown”. In Palestine-Israel Journal. Vol.IV. No.1 1997, P.75.

232  Jerusalem Post on 8 December 1992.

233  See Ibid. On 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 December 1992.

234  For a detailed account of the negotiations of this Norwegian-sponsored backchannel see David Makovsky. Making Peace with the PLO: the Rabin Government’s Road to the Oslo Accord. Washington D.C.: Westview Press, 1996.

235  The full text of the DOP is cited at <>

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