Something important is happening on the Palestinian street, especially among the second and third generation of its leadership, as relates to Israel and the conflict and the vision of the future of the Palestinian Arab people. The change appears to be genuine, and also strategic.
There's no doubt that those in Israel who ought to know what is happening there are aware of this. But for some reason, this knowledge is not being expressed in a correspondingly practical policy. And as usual, the Palestinian side is not making an effort to expose these important developments to the public.
Imad Shakur, one of the Palestinian Authority chairman's many advisers, described the prevailing attitude in the territories in a courageous article published in the mass-circulation Arab newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat last week. In it, he calls not just for a halt to the intifada, but also for the dismantling of all the armed organizations, including the Fatah Tanzim. He even expresses contempt for the term "the blessed intifada" and severely criticizes the leadership that refuses to recognize its mistakes and is not internalizing the changes in the world and the region. Shakur reminds his readers of the fate of President Saddam Hussein, who promised to wage a victorious war against the United States. He argues that a genuine and dignified solution to the Palestinian matter can only come from a drastic change in the patterns of thinking and governing to move toward a real democratic and pluralistic system.
Anyone who knows the Palestinian leadership from up close, including Arafat's inner circle, knows that Shakur's article is not expressing solely his opinion. As a matter of fact, it was reprinted in full in the PA's main newspaper, Al Ayam, which is published in Ramallah and edited by Akram Haniya, one of Arafat's closest advisers; in the competing Al Quds, published in Jerusalem; and also in the Jordanian newspaper A-Ra'i and became the talk of the day there, too. It is also known that the article was seen by Arafat and Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) prior to its publication and they did not prevent it from being published.
Clearly, many Palestinians, including some of the leaders, think the same way, and this is not such a recent development. It's known that the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), opposed the intifada from the start and sought to stop it. Others have referred to it as a death blow to the Palestinian people. And some spoke, even then, of the foolish mistake at Camp David when the Palestinians rejected the Clinton-Barak proposal. At a later stage, they began to organize in order to promote these ideas.
These people did not concentrate solely on today's diplomatic-security situation. They also thought about the future of the Palestinian people. At their meetings, which were held openly, they talked not just about reforms but also about how to establish a special Arab state in democratic and pluralistic Palestine, and about a free and thriving economy. They cited Japan and Germany, which were compelled to dismantle their armies following the surrender in World War II, and how they have since become economic and technological superpowers. They talked about Israel in terms of cooperation instead of hostility, in terms of envy instead of hatred.
But every time they decided to openly publicize their positions, something happened that caused them to postpone the publication to a later time. The first time it was the siege on Arafat. The second time it was the Seder night terror attack in Netanya, to which Israel responded with a reoccupation of all the Palestinian cities. The third time, it was another terror attack and another occupation. And the idea was quashed. Until now, when it has been brought out in the open.
How Israel relates to this development is important. Will it understand and respond with encouraging initiatives - or will Israel ignore it?
The writer is a journalist and Israeli affairs analyst for the Arab media, including A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, Abu Dhabi Television and Al-Arabia Television.
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