PALESTINIANS are divided over how to view the change of power in Israel. The most hard-line view is held by the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which is not a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Hamas rejects any peace talks with Israel. It strongly opposes the peaceful approach the PLO has taken toward Israel.
Hamas, however, represents only a small fraction of the Palestinian people - about the same percentage as the portion of Jewish people that supported the extremist Zionist Irgun organization before the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The PLO itself has two divergent views of the new Israeli government. The radical factions believe that the change in Israel is limited to the "names of politicians" and won't affect policies. They point out that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has taken the unusual step of reserving the Cabinet post of defense minister for himself. In their eyes, this is a strong message to the Palestinians that his iron fist has not softened. They predict that Mr. Rabin will put every effort into crushing the Palestinian intifadah, and then focus on revitalizing the "Jordanian option."
The moderate leaders of the PLO view the return of the Labor Party differently. In a recent interview with CNN, Yasser Arafat said that "the results of the Israeli elections show that the Israeli masses voted for peace rather than war." Mr. Arafat and like-minded Palestinians believe that Labor tends to be more pragmatic than Likud when it comes to Israel's relations with the international community, especially the United States, but just as ideological when it comes to Palestinian self-determination and
Palestinians, in general, view their history with Israel as the history of Labor Party policies, which includes the first settlements and the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
Nonetheless, many see Rabin's coalition as promising. They feel that if the new prime minister is serious about making peace, he may be best able to win over the Israeli public because of his tough credentials. Labor is coming to power in a totally different world internationally, regionally, and locally than when it last governed 15 years ago. The Soviet Union and Eastern bloc no longer exist. China, Russia, most of Africa, and India have recognized Israel's right to exist. Israel has a peace treaty wit h Egypt. Zionism, Israel's founding ideology, is no longer considered racism by the United Nations General Assembly.
The intifadah cost Israel politically, economically, and morally because of the harsh policies she has used against it. Iraq, Israel's strongest enemy, was militarily destroyed in the Gulf war. The PLO has given up its goal of total liberation of Palestine from the "Zionist entity." In 1988, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist and declared an independent state in the occupied territories.
Labor's first initiatives leave room for hope. Israeli law bans contact with the PLO, and under the Likud government even Jewish peace activists were imprisoned for meeting with Arafat. The new government has proposed that the law, which one minister has called "stupid," be rescinded. Labor may even encourage the US to resume its dialogue with the PLO. Rabin has stated that Israel is in the process of changing its priorities. Apparently, Israel is ready to offer Palestinians meaningful self-rule, but tha t is only half the solution.
At the heart of the Palestinian/Israeli dispute are the basic rights of two nationalities claiming the same piece of land - Palestine. The easiest strategy for both has been to deny the existence of the other. The undeniable truth remains that each of the two people lives within the other's psyche. Israelis know the Palestinians' strengths and weaknesses, and vice versa. The psychological and emotional aspects of the conflict are essential in determining a final status.
The Palestinians have now accepted Israel's right to exist, but, emotionally, every Palestinian still believes that Palestine is his or hers from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Likewise, the Jewish people believe that after 2,000 years in the diaspora they have finally returned to their "promised land."
The Zionist movement promised the Jewish people a "safe haven" in a "Jewish state." But after 44 years and five wars, the haven is not safe, and the state is not purely Jewish. Palestinian resistance is still knocking on its door and one-fifth of Israel's population is Palestinian.
Unless both nations come to realize that their emotional and psychological feelings belong to the same indivisible homeland, there will be no peace between them. Dividing Palestine again would be as serious a mistake as occupation. An independent Palestinian state in part of Palestine should not be established to permanently separate the two nations, but rather to lay the foundation for a future federation between them. In such a partnership, the energy from the national struggles of both people, one aga inst the other, will be rechanneled into a joint struggle for social justice and economic prosperity.
The Palestinians would act as a bridge between Israel and the Arabs, and this solution would bring security to Israel, freedom to Palestine, and unity for the homeland.
The wall of distrust between the two nations is high and wide. The period visualized in an interim self-government arrangement will tear it down. But for a lasting peace, courageous leaders, not timid career politicians, are needed. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "A coward is less than a man." Rabin and Arafat, it's hoped, will not be less than men.