THEY SAID THAT THE Middle East peace talks really began with the election of Yitzhak Rabin as Israel's prime minister earlier this year. Now the election of Bill Clinton to the US presidency is believed to be yet "another beginning" for the peace process.
Beginning again seems to be a habit for the Palestinians, who have been trying to get back their land for the past 40 years by a variety of means. By the way things look, the peace process may not be the answer to their dreams.
While the PLO-sanctioned negotiators hammer away at the Israelis in Washington, opponents to the talks, which include the second and third largest groups within the PLO and the fundamentalist Hamas, are gaining in popularity. Both inside the Occupied Territories and in the refugee camps spread across Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the "coalition of ten" Palestinian opposition parties is attracting attention and support for them is increasing.
The PFLP and the DFLP, second only to Yasser Arafat's Fateh in the popular support and membership they enjoy, says that the framework of the current peace negotiations is counter-productive for the Palestinians. Statehood, having been guaranteed by UN resolution 181, is being refused at the outset of the talks by both Israel and neutral co-sponsor, the United States.
The squabbling about "administrative councils" and "legislative bodies" that has been the essence of the negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators thus far, is a "waste of time" says the opposition. It claims that Israel will try to isolate the Palestinians by making separate peace agreements
with all other Arab parties first. Recent developments involving Syria and Jordan certainly point in that direction.
The invisibility of any concrete results arising from the peace process more than one year after its initial beginning, has created criticism of the process among the Palestinian masses. Yasser Arafat's popularity has also suffered. While it would be premature to say that he was slipping in the popularity polls in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians in the diaspora now clearly prefer to see Hanan Ashrawi and Haidar Abdul Shafi speaking on their behalf.
The diaspora Palestinians also appear to have more faith in the negotiating team than in the PLO executives. They are proud that the negotiators are respected intellectuals with backgrounds in academia and that they served prison terms for their opposition to Israel.
The heroes, in short, are...