The Next Generation of Palestinian Leaders

Life goes on as usual. Last week a shell killed five people. Every week some people are killed, most of them civilians. There have been about 500 attacks against the army in which more than 100 soldiers and officers were killed. We are not talking about the territories, but rather Chechnya.

Life goes on as usual. Last week a shell killed five people. Every week some people are killed, most of them civilians. There have been about 500 attacks against the army in which more than 100 soldiers and officers were killed. The army continues a tight patrol of areas within the state in a search for terrorists, and civilians report beatings, rapes and murders carried out by soldiers but the army feels itself to be protected: The organization it is fighting against has been recognized by President George Bush as a terrorist organization, and with an American seal of disapproval, everything is permitted.

We are, of course, not speaking about the territories [the West Bank and the Gaza Strip] or about Palestinian terror organizations. These stories come from Chechnya. Chechnya, not Lebanon, is the appropriate model for what is happening in the territories. Israeli commentators on tactics and terrorism get excited anew each time they discover a Lebanese "fingerprint" in the territories - a roadside bomb, planned chain reaction attack, tank ambush or rocket fire - but at most these discoveries resemble what police forensics officers do when they spread a little powder around to pick up fingerprints. They don't solve the crime.

A national conflict is taking place in Chechnya, just as it is here. The modes of operation both of the rebels - that is what they are called in the West, with only Russia and the United States calling them terrorists - and of Russia are very similar to those of the Palestinians and Israel: on one side, sporadic shooting from hidden positions, the laying of explosive devices and most of all, the laying of mines directed against military vehicles; on the other side, military raids, seizures of territory and searches by the Russian forces. The results: ongoing violence with no clear victor.

In practice, however, such models have no relevance as long as Israelis believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a unique case. Those who dream of an alternative, "moderate" Palestinian leadership that would concede on the principles laid down by Arafat certainly would not bother to check out what is happening in Chechnya.

There, Russia has done slightly better than Israel, and President Putin has already appointed a pro-Russian government. But its officials are under heavy guard and cannot function, they are considered traitors. Its offices are shot at by the "rebels" and the grandiose redevelopment plans announced by the Russian government cannot, of course, be implemented.

Anyone who rejects the Chechnya model as irrelevant can see the events of recent weeks as "coming attractions" for what we can expect here. There is no pro-Israeli government in the Palestinian Authority - in practice, there is no government there at all; Arafat is an exile in his own country and the new militant coalitions are gaining ground. Cooperation among Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, the link between the Al-Aqsa Brigades and the Tanzim and the close contact with Hezbollah are a new phase of the war. In Israel, this cooperation is presented merely as proof that the entire PA is infected with terror, but no one sees that it this new arrangement that is creating the next Palestinian leadership. They are the "rebels" or "separatists" known from other national conflicts, which eventually grab power or continue to embitter the lives of the occupiers or their governments.

These "brigades," which today are laying bombs under tanks, shooting or sending suicide attackers into Israel, are buying their right to rule in the eyes of the Palestinian public. Veteran political leaders such as Abu Ala and Abu Mazen, and military politicians such as Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, already know that when the time comes they will be forced to take these organizations under their wing to stay in power. And to bring them in together, they will have to be given the right to talk on the diplomatic level and to contribute to determining the bottom line of concessions.

It is difficult to find a national conflict that ended well without the cooperation of such elements. Israel still has a chance of making the current PA an offer it can accept and hoping that in its final moments, the leadership can enforce it on the ground. The other option is to study the archives of the war in Chechnya.