"The strength of the Palestinians no longer resides within them, just as their weakness is not due to Israel - for the normal criteria by which the strength of the forces in this secondary conflict are measured, are paralyzed now." The important Arab publicist Hazem Sariya, who last Thursday wrote the editorial in the daily Al-Hayat, explains this complex sentence by noting that precisely this war, against Afghanistan, which has weakened the militant side of the intifada, is also enhancing interest in the "Palestinian cause."

The reason for this is that the United States needs the Arabs in order to broaden and consolidate the coalition against terrorism. Thus, Sariya concludes, the Palestinians, who throughout the year of the intifada despaired of concrete Arab aid, are now forced, more than ever before, to rely on "the intelligence and awareness of the official leaders," as these find expression in their position which supports the policy of the United States.

The danger is that this new Palestinian potency is liable to be offset, according to Sariya, because of the demonstrators in various Palestinian locales who are waving posters bearing photographs of Osama bin Laden. The point is the official Arab leadership is suddenly being compelled to come out against its own street and to conceal the struggle that is taking place there from the public "as though it were some sort of scandal of which one has to be ashamed."

With some circular strokes of the pen that are intended to restrain the writer from expressing his impatience too blatantly, Sariya asserts that the Arab leadership, including the Palestinian leadership, is liable to lose its new and extremely important status because it is not sufficiently resolved in its opinion, as compared with the masses on the street who are ready to express a resolute opinion without any fear.

The "official Arabs" - an expression Sariya uses in reference to the official Arab leadership - today want proof beyond any shadow of a doubt of the involvement of the Taliban, or Afghanistan, or bin Laden in terrorist acts, "proof that they never asked for in any other matter," while the "popular Arabs" are not seeking any such proof.

Thus, without any sanction and on the basis of the weakness of the "official Arabs," bin Laden "has appropriated to himself the authority to represent the Arabs," an authority that has turned the United States into haters of Arabs. Therefore, if there is anything that is liable to destroy the power of the Arabs, it is "the disease of the courage shown by the masses, who are not afraid to express their opinion [in favor of bin Laden] and the disease of the fear of the leaders [who are afraid to come out against such a position]."

The Palestinians have a central role within this equation because bin Laden has decided to represent them vis-a-vis world public opinion, and in the video broadcast he disseminated via the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television station, he adopted the Palestinian problem and turned it into an issue for his organization.

So it happens that at a time when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is making such a strenuous effort to become part of the "official Arabism" that is the friend of the injured United States, bin Laden is volunteering his leadership to the Palestinian masses. Suddenly Arafat finds it is better for him to cut down the level of Arab and Islamic support he enjoys. That support should end at the point where Muslim Arabs like bin Laden start to support him, at the point where he is obliged to open fire on some of his countrymen who are trying to stretch the level of support a little more.

This is a new situation for Arafat, who only three weeks ago was reprimanding leaders of Arab states who are not doing enough for the Palestinians and now wants them to create a little room for him among them. He seems no longer to want to be so "distinctive," too far from the Arab mainstream, which has been constantly apprehensive in the face of the Palestinians' armed struggle. Because now the Arab leaders want to have their photographs taken with the leaders of Europe and the United States, and to remove themselves from the Islamic group picture.

Suddenly, as Sariya says, Palestinian strength is drawing its potency from the "official Arabs," those who now announce from every podium the number of persons suspected of belonging to bin Laden's organization whom they have arrested recently. So Arafat can no longer remain only with his "secondary conflict" if he wants to be part of the new Arab orthodoxy. He too will have to stop providing bin Laden with reasons to support him - not because of Israel's demands, but because those will be the terms of entry into the official Arab club.