"Can we be more Palestinian than the Palestinians?" Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi asked in a speech last week, marking the 28th anniversary of his revolution.
Gadhafi, who played the role of the neighborhood clown for many years, is appearing more and more like someone who is ahead of his time. He was the first to understand that it is possible to stand up to American pressure and economic sanctions, but that it is more expedient to cooperate with United States. He was the first to claim that the Palestinian intifada is not leading anywhere, and that it would be best for the Israelis and Palestinians to form a common state. He even suggested a name for it - Israstine. He is the only Arab leader who openly states that the Arab League has lost its reason to exist, and he has been threatening for several years to quit the organization. In his most recent speech, he advised Libyan businessmen to turn away from Arab states and invest in Africa.
Gadhafi has drawn a fence around Libya that separates it from the other Arab countries. It is the same type of fence that Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf States - and now also the Palestinian Authority - draw around themselves.
The conference of Palestinian factions that concluded on Thursday, regardless of its results, narrows the "Palestinian problem" from a pan-Arab problem to a political-military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Evidence of this can be seen in the dispute that arose at the beginning of the meeting between the Palestinian factions and the PA leadership.
In this dispute, hudna (cease-fire) and tahadiyeh (lull) have become internal Palestinian political terms that go beyond the tactics adopted vis-a-vis Israel. Hudna means an achievement for the PA, which wins authorization to negotiate with Israel and a long-term bargaining chip. Tahadiyeh means keeping the PA on a short leash, with the intention of conducting tough political bargaining over jobs and cooperation. Hudna means that the Palestinian factions are ready to gamble on receiving a significant role after the parliamentary elections and on a transition to political activities; the armed option would only remain as a deterrent threat. Tahadiyeh, on the other hand, expresses a lack of faith in cooperation with the PA. This explains the desire to impose a regimen of short-term threats upon it.
The tense ping-pong between hudna and tahadiyeh has diverted attention from the fact that this may be the most important dialogue in the history of the Palestinian national movement. This is not just a serious effort to mend the historic rifts between Fatah and the rejectionist organizations, and between extremist religious movements and the central secular stream. This is an attempt to allow political logic to redraft ideology and to accept - even with the greatest reluctance - the realization that the conflict is not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but to the same extent a conflict between the Palestinians themselves.
This realization is liable to influence the future definition of the right of return and permanent borders, and hence the future of national reconciliation with Israel. Herein lies the secret of deciphering the concept of "end of the conflict" that Israel aspires to so much: It would signal the end of the national conflict, even if the political and military disputes remain alive and simmering. Achievement of this stage would mean a new disengagement: Disengagement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Arab-Israeli conflict and giving the problem of Palestine back to the Palestinians.
Israel, which does not make a distinction between hudna and tahadiyeh, and only judges how many bullets were fired from one side to another, and whether another Qassam rocket or mortar landed, will soon need to decide if it is a partner to this development or whether it is determined to stick to the argument that gave birth to the disengagement plan - liberation from Gaza in order to bunker down in the West Bank.
Israelis who prefer to view what transpires in the territories as an album, one picture at a time, and are thus certain that the disengagement from Gaza is one, independent, disconnected picture, should understand that it is, in fact, a moving picture. Gadhafi already came to understand how movies like these develop in this region. Israel has apparently yet to do so.
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