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"I don't know if the fighting organization in which I am active will determine the fate of our people. We started to fight and we still do not know whether we will win or fall. It is possible that what we are doing and will do will be a historic event. But it is also possible that it will be no more than a `tragic episode.' In any event, we decided to fight because we are convinced that without a war, we will not achieve anything. Perhaps we will not be the ones to reap the fruits of the war. Let others reap them. It makes no difference to us."

These words were not written by the commander of the Tanzim militia but by the commander of another fighting organization, Etzel (the pre-state Fighting Military Organization, sometimes called the Irgun). Words similar to those penned by Menachem Begin were also voiced by Algerian commanders during the war against the French, by the mujahideen in Afghanistan who expelled the Soviet forces from their country, by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by the Vietcong. Those wars did not end in a "tragic episode" but in independent countries.

History, though, teaches only history and does not succeed in infiltrating the headquarters of the military or the central committees of political parties. Every colonialist is certain that he knows something that his predecessor did not know, or at least that the enemy he is facing is "something else": weaker, stupider or fragmented to the point of self-liquidation. The Israeli perception of the Palestinians is no different: it holds that more war will bring more victories. That is also the perception of the Palestinians, of course. They, however, are in a better situation: they already have the status of a "tragic episode," so the road before them is paved with only more victories.

Contrary to Israel, which is fighting the war of terrorism, they are fighting the war of independence, and not only against Israel but among themselves. As things look today, they are so convinced of victory that they are allowing themselves to wage the war of succession.

The series of terrorist attacks in the past few weeks shows not only that Israel is the arena of operations but also the internal front.

The question of who will perpetrate more terrorist attacks - Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Tanzim, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs or the Battalions of Iz a Din al-Kassam - the competition over "taking credit" for a terrorist attack, the precise recording of the operations among the Palestinian organizations: all this is relevant also to the political division of spoils in the future. In fact, the "ideological" division between the organizations, according to which some of them differentiated between an attack on settlers and an attack inside Israel, has disappeared. Now every such attack is a double asset: expulsion of Israel and recording of future rights.

Thus, if the previous intifada ultimately forged the coalition of political elites that signed off on Oslo - an elite that was put together in the wake of a compromise between "inside PLO" (those in the territories) and "outside PLO" (those in Tunis), between Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi on the one hand, and Abu Mazen and Abu Ala on the other - the present war is now beginning to forge the military coalition, which will seize power and which effectively is already running the show.

Israel did a lot to accelerate this violent war of succession when, at the outset of the intifada, it branded the entire Palestinian Authority as terrorist and failed to distinguish between terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad and the Battalions of Iz a Din al-Kassam, which had little public legitimacy, and military organizations such as the Tanzim or the security forces, which despite the violence they were perpetrating were ready to come forward with a political agenda, too.

It may be that at this stage, when Israel is being offered two ladders to climb down on - Tenet and Mitchell and the Saudi initiative - and when Arafat is still capable of managing his coalition, which consists of the Tanzim and the Fatah offshoots alongside the political elite, it is still possible to conduct serious negotiations such as may guarantee the status of the Palestinian leadership that will want to be part of the situation of normalization with Israel. Without this, the Palestinian war of succession will continue to be waged with full intensity inside Israel.