Israel's plan to grant greater municipal authority to Arab officials on the West Bank and Jordan's efforts to foster the emergence of a more conciliatory Palestinian leadership have both been struck major blows by the assassination of Zafer Masri, the mayor of Nablus. Already two West Bank Palestinians who had been considering Israeli offers for mayoral appointments have indicated a change of mind. Their reaction is prudent and understandable. What the tragic event in Nablus has shown again is that in the cockpit of Palestinian politics moderation can too easily serve as an invitation to murder.
It is an old story, and a grim one, going back a half-century or more, and in its acting out has contributed immeasurably to the repeated political failures suffered by the Palestinians. Even in the 1930s, when Palestine was still governed by Great Britain under a League of Nations mandate, Arab leaders who expressed a willingness to talk about political accommodation and power-sharing with the Zionists could find their lives forfeit. Arab extremists who would not permit compromise in the 1930s or the 1940s stand as firmly as ever against it today. Even moderates within the hierarchy of the Palestine Liberation Organization itself have not escaped the vengeance of the assassins.
Zafer Masri, member of an influential family that is active in both West Bank and Jordanian affairs, had unquestioned credentials as a Palestinian nationalist. He accepted appointment as mayor of the West Bank's largest city with the encouragement of Jordan's King Hussein and with the tacit approval of the PLO. His aim was not to be a collaborator, but to help ease the burdens of Israeli occupation and to give the citizens of his city greater control over their own affairs.
Masri was an example of the alternative leadership that Hussein, openly disgusted by the equivocations and double-dealing of the PLO, wants to see developed if he is to ever to have a Palestinian partner in negotiations with Israel over the West Bank's future. The PLO does not like rivals. The radical Palestinian groups that claim responsibility for killing Masri do not like the thought of any accommodation with Israel. Unchecked, their absolutist doctrine promises only to perpetuate the dispossession, grief and humiliation that the Palestinian people have for so long endured.