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Vol. 10, No.4 Summer 1992 119 Politics in Palestine, Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration 1939-1948, by Issa Khalaf. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. 318 pp. $18.95. I Why did Palestinian Arabs fail to establish a sovereign state? Many of the conventional answers draw on ideological factors. It is often claimed that the political moorings of Palestinian Arabs were both larger and smaller than the nation-state: loyalty to a religious community, to the possibility of a Greater Syria, a united Arabia; Or alternatively identification with a city, town, or village. Incommensurate with one another, commitments to these boundaries criss-crossed and presumably impeded the emergence of a coherent Palestinian Arab nationalism. Despite their moral certainty, without a clear understanding of their territorial borders Arabs could not succeed in their struggle. This absence of political solidarity serves as the focus of Issa Khalafs insightful and provocative book, Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration 1939-1948. The book will become the benchmark for any future research on this period. The book argues that the difHculties for Palestinian Arabs were primarily organizational, not ideological. Unity of ultimate purpose could not overcome deep social and economic fissures. Even a common goal could not produce a shared understanding of how to pursue it. A political leadership weakened by rapid social and economic changes could not both survive challenges to its position and mobilize the rank and me to defeat a strong adversary. "The sublime virtues of Arab nationalism (its greatness, vitality, romanticism, and its value as a panacea to the economic, political and colonial problems and obstacles) were greatly extolled" (p. 161). But the decisions required to establish sovereignty could not simply be built in emotion. There was .. no organizational framework through which to channel the raw sentiment of the masses" or to bridge the chasms of distrust berween Palestinian Arab leaders and between them and the first generation of rulers of an independent Arab World. To achieve legitimacy, almost every organization had to be blessed by the Mufti. the most popular and powerful political Palestinian Arab personality, who in these years orchestrated the nationalist struggle from exile and whose "uncompromising nationalist stand represented the mainstream in Palestine" (p. 157). More than any other leader, the Mufti united political rivals. His calls for action reached across generations, classes, and city limits deep into the peasant countryside. Yet the Mufti's authoritarian style did not bridge the real political and social chasms: Palestinian Arab 120 SHOFAR society remained divided, often violently so, over tactics, personalities, and organizations. Here Professor Khalaf offers an intriguing explanation. Deference could be extended without building enduring alliances. The Mufti did not wish to bring new groups or individuals into the struggle; he wished to coopt them. Opponents were purged from positions of leadership and condemned as traitors. Serious rivals were assassinated. Political campaigns were ruthless, sending a clear message to those who might consider dissent. Drumming out opponents may have strengthened the Mufti, but the prospect of purges weakened the nationalist movement. Political work requires organization and economic support. In a mass struggle, a good deal may turn on solidarity. But solidarity, as Professor Khalaf shows, is a function of organization. I\. powerful organization sometimes depends on sharing power. "'1'0 the Palestinian I\.rab notability of the 1940s," Professor Khalaf observes, .. politics was a profession of continual conflict and little compromise" (p. 133). Now it is true that among members of the Palestinian Arab elite and with respect to the leaders of neighboring Arab states, there was ample ground for mistrust. Politicians in Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and Syria had political ambitions to rule over Palestine. The Palestinian Arab dilemma was to induce financial aid and political services from governments without becoming totally subordinate. The problems which bedeviled Palestinian Arabs were not, then, essentially ideological. PaleStinian Arabs remained consistent in their demand for an Arab state in all of Palestine. It is not simply that the leadership misread the situation and deployed the wrong set of tactics. According to Professor Khalaf, the leadership overestimated its power. It had outlived its usefulness in the context of rapid social changes. A new leadership had not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 119-121
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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