It's very likely that the young Palestinians who decided to kill as many people as possible by blowing themselves up in the middle of a large group of young Israelis and bus passengers, really believed that heaven was waiting for them. But they, like the other suicide bombers, didn't only see heaven waiting. They saw the hundreds of dead - including children, women, and the elderly - and the thousands of wounded Palestinians from the past year.
Despite the prevailing view in Israel, most of those casualties were not the result of exchanges of fire between two equally armed forces but rather a direct result of a massive, armed Israeli military presence in the midst of Palestinian civilian society.
When they strapped on the bombs, they may have also considered the broad popular support for their actions and its results. Most Palestinians want revenge. They regard the suicide operations as a just response to the suffering the Israeli occupation imposes, and not as the reason for that suffering and occupation. Many think that striking fear into the hearts of the Israeli public is an appropriate patriotic response to the fear with which the entire Palestinian public has lived for the past year: from helicopters, planes, tanks and jeeps positioned at the entrance to villages and towns and from which soldiers also open fire on people trying to get to schools or to their olive groves.
At the start of the intifada, there were elements in Palestinian society, led by the Fatah, that believed demonstrations inside the territories, including rock throwing at soldiers, would persuade the Israelis that the occupation still continued and that only its end would guarantee stability and peace for the two peoples.
After a year of unceasing escalation, it seems they've lost all faith in their ability to convince Israelis that they are challenging the occupation. Therefore, most Palestinians attach no importance to the fact that the terrorism is persuading most Israelis that every Palestinian wants to expel the Israelis. As for moral opposition to the killing of civilians: those who argue that an occupied people should be particularly concerned with maintaining moral standards to make sure its message gets through clearly to the world, are silenced nowadays.
It is doubtful whether the people who sent those youngsters to blow up and be blown up ever thought that the mission is to convince the Israeli public that the occupation is the root of the evil. Despite the denials, it seems that the plotters inside the Hamas - which some polls show is now more popular than Fatah - also made their calculations based on internal Palestinian politics.
Their warnings since the start of the Oslo process that, despite the promises of the Palestinian Authority, Israel is not interested in peace, now appear accurate to the Palestinian public. Now, only the Hamas is managing to narrow the gap between the number of Palestinian and Israeli casualties. That will be a good dowry when the time comes to take over.
Furthermore, the alienation that the public feels from the leadership is only intensifying. A year of intifada hasn't resulted in any significant changes in the PA's management, and it is blamed, among other things, for lacking leadership and the ability to make long-term plans. That's Yasser Arafat's style, people everywhere are complaining: He doesn't consult with anyone.
In effect, Arafat's governing style enables everyone to be a mini-Arafat: Every organization, every armed person, decides they know the supreme Palestinian interest and represent that interest, so they can decide to use their weapons without consulting anyone. That's how the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) decided that its activists should avenge the assassination of their leader; that's how the Hamas operates, indeed, how every Fatah cell behaves. Israel says Arafat let that happen, indeed planned it that way, choosing the "route of terror."
The Palestinians are convinced that Arafat hasn't changed his support for "peace as a strategy" and a two-state solution. They think that the answer to the question why he didn't foresee the disastrous results of the multiplicity of armed groups has more to do with his one-man management style than it does with any "plot" against Israel.
Some believe that if an emergency government including all the Palestinian political forces were established to set strategy and goals, there wouldn't be anyone to defy the joint decisions. Or, if such a government was in place, punishing those groups that violated that government's decisions - Islamic and others - would be viewed as legitimate and not an attempt to please the Americans and Israel or as a step taken too late.
An Authority comes, an Authority goes, but the Palestinian people remain and will grow a new leadership. It looks like the Israeli government - its prime minister and its army - have chosen to vote for the Hamas.
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