Professor Milson was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1964.
Milson served as an advisor to the military government in the West Bank in the mid-1970s. It was during this time he first proposed a version of the administrative plan he was charged with organising in 1981.
West Bank administrator
In a May 1981 article for Commentary, Milson wrote that Israel must free the West Bank "from the grip of the PLO".
- "The political gap between Egypt on one side and Saudi Arabia and Jordan on the other cannot be bridged unless the latter two accept or at least cease to oppose" the Camp David accords, he said.
- "The chances of the pro-U.S. alliance in the Middle East depend on the emergence of a moderate camp in the West Bank and Gaza -- something which cannot be expected to happen if the PLO continues to dominate the territories politically," Milson added.
In 1981, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon proposed to transfer the non-security aspects of administration in the West Bank to a civilian administration headed by Milson under the Ministry of Defence, in order to meet the terms of the Camp David Accords, which called for Palestinian autonomy. Although Egypt envisaged autonomy as meaning an eventual transfer of sovereignty, Israel envisaged a handover of only limited administrative control.
Israel funded local 'village unions' in the vain hope that leaders such as Mustafa Dudin would prove capable of challenging supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the elected institutions envisaged in the Camp David Accords.
In August 1981, the Christian Science Monitor reported Milson's view that it was now "incumbent on Israel to create a new situation [on the West Bank] in which the latent forces of moderation have the safety of expressing their political positions." This view was challenged by Professor Amon Cohen of Hebrew University, who said "It is impossible to foster artificial leaders in the long run".
Ariel Sharon formally appointed Milson to head the new Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria in late October 1981. In reaction to the move some 20 Palestinian institutions including all the larger municipalities in the West Bank, denounced the plan as a swindle, and called for an independent state led by the PLO, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
In late November 1981, the Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Dani Mat resigned his position later that month because of his disagreement with the Civil Administration plan.The Military Commander of the West Bank, Col. Ya'aqov Katz, also resigned from his post at the same time, to become deputy head of the civil administration under Milson.
The Washington Post reported on Milson's administration in January 1982:
- As an inducement to "those who are not secure when they want to show their support for the peace process," Milson is selectively issuing firearms -- to "moderates."
- Meanwhile, the IDF does its "security" number on "those who attack the peace process," which is to say anybody thought to be allied with the PLO. Prominent figures, including mayors, newspaper editors, lawyers, doctors, are regularly subjected to arrest, detention and calculated harassment. On what evidence? Milson doesn't want to "go into operational secrets."
- He sees the targets as "destructive elements," given to "incitement to violence." Both sides are dug in for a protracted struggle. "I am very aware," Milson concedes, "of the very severe limitation on what I can do."
- Perhaps so, but the point of immediate interest to Washington is what he is trying to do. To independent West Bank-watchers, when you put it together with a systematic program of land acquisition, it has the unmistakable look of an effort to co-opt Camp David with Israel's own "autonomy" plan -- of a "de facto" annexation which is fast approaching, if it has not already reached, a point of no return.
In March 1982, Israeli lecturers were among demonstrators outside Milson's Jerusalem home to protest the closure of Bir Zeit University in the wake of protests there against the civil administration.
The town council of Birah, near Ramallah, was dissolved by the Defence Ministry in March 1982 over its refusal to meet with Milson or cooperate with the civil administration.
Amidst a wave of unrest prompted by this decision, Milson gave an interview to Israeli television in which he described the role of the civil administration:
- Q Professor Milson, before we go into other matters, I would like to ask you: What in fact is the civilian administration which you head? How is it different from the set-up that existed before its establishment? A It differs in that the establishment of the civilian administration, according to the decision of the Defence Minister and the Government, is founded on the division of military and security issues on the one hand - these are handled by the security elements - and the handling of the population's problems. A civilian administration does not mean that it is handled totally by civilians. I am a civilian, but not all the people involved are civilians; the head of the civilian adminstration in the Gaza Strip is a brigadier general. It means handling civilian problems - the problems of the population - as opposed to chasing terrorists, dispersing demonstrations and imposing curfew. That is to say, there is a distinction here between the various duties.
In June 1982, Thomas Friedman cited Milson's comment "We are fighting the P.L.O. in order to make peace with the Palestinians", to argue that Israel's invasion of Lebanon was designed to weaken the PLO as a threat to Sharon's plan for the absorption of the West Bank in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Sinai.
On 24 June 1982, Milson gave an interview to Dan Margalit, about the impact of the invasion on the PLO:
- Militarily it was of course dealt a heavy blow in Lebanon, that, we know. Politically they have been hit hard in the Territories by the activities we undertook in recent months. But, as I have already said, they were hit hard and weakened, but not eliminated. The inhabitants of the territories are aware that the PLO, which was dealt a very severe military blow in Lebanon, still exists politically. Also, world opinion and international political elements regard the PLO as an element. And this of course influences the positions and expectations of the inhabitants of the territories.
In September 1982, Milson resigned from his post in protest at the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon.
In 1984, Milson travelled to the US with the former head of the Hebron Village League, [Muhammad Nassar]], on a tour sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. Speaking at a press conference in New York, Milson said that the disorganization of the PLO offered a "golden opportunity" for Israel and the United States to act jointly "to strengthen and encourage those Palestinians who reject the PLO line."
Later academic career
At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Milson served as head of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature, as Director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, and as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities (1991/2 to 1997/8). From October 1999 to September 2002, he was Provost of the Rothberg International School.
MEMRI - Chairman of Board of Advisors
- About MEMRI, Middle East Media Research Institute, accessed 21 July 2012.
- Arthur Max, Associated Press, 4 October 1981.
- Trudy Rubin, West Bank doesn't buy Sharon plan for Arab 'administrators', Christian Science Monitor, 1 October 1981.
- Trudy Rubin, Israel tries to outflank West Bank leadership, Christian Science Monitor, 28 August 1981.
- Israel: In Brief; Head of West Bank civilian administration, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 21 October 1981.
- Israel: In Brief; Expected changes in West Bank a swindle, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 2 November 1981.
- Two IDF Officers Resign from West Bank Posts, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 21 November 1981.
- Philip Geyelin, Israel Tightens Grip With a Velvet Glove, Washington Post, 12 January 1982.
- Ohad Gozani, Troops use teargas to disperse protesters, United Press International, 20 February 1982.
- Israeli Authorities Disband West Bank Municipal Council, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 20 March 1982.
- Interview with West bank Civialian Administration, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 26 March 1982.
- Thomas L. Friedman, ULTIMATE GOALS OF THE ATTACK ARE ASSESSED DIFFERENTLY FROM THE TWO SIDES, New York Times, 9 June 1982.
- Others Reports; Interview with West Bank Civilian Administrator, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 24 June 1982.
- Edward Walsh, Israel to Open Formal Probe Of Massacre, Washington Post, 29 September 1982.
- Associated Press, 6 January 1984.