For much of the past decade, all diplomatic initiatives designed to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process have had in common a concern for the future of the West Bank. This region, along with the Gaza Strip, has often been discussed, but rarely studied. Palestinians living under occupation were often seen as passive and leaderless. This view is no longer tenable.
The uprising, or intifadah, that began in the West Bank and Gaza in late 1987 and continued into 1988 represents a new phase of the Palestinian resistance to occupation and search for self-determination. Palestinians in these areas, especially the youth, are politically mobilized and highly nationalistic. The uprising needs to be seen in perspective. It is the product of profound political, social, and economic changes that have taken place over the past twenty years.
Emile Sayliyeh analyzes in detail and with great personal knowledge the internal politics of the West Bank Palestinians and their international implications. Traditionally, West Bank politics had been the domain of elite, prominent families used by the Ottomans, the British, and the Jordanians to control local politics. Recent social changes, such as the growing trend toward higher education, exposure to the mass media, and labor mobility, have coincided with recent political changes—the consolidation of the communist movement, the radicalization of the student population, and the resurgence of Islam—to challenge the political order and give more power to the mass-supported local politicians.
In Search of Leadership offers the first comprehensive look at the social and political bases of the factions and groups in the West Bank and suggests how they will affect Palestinian politics in the years ahead.
Emile Sahliyeh is associate professor of International Relations and Middle East Politics at the University of North Texas and wrote In Search of Leadership while a guest scholar in the Foreign Policy Studies program at Brookings.