RADICAL Palestinians appear to be floundering in their search for a common policy to confront the peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that went into force yesterday.
But they are confident that the deal on limited Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank city of Jericho will prove unworkable, and that Palestinians and Israelis will lose faith in it.
``The plan will fail because Israeli forces and settlements will remain, and our people will see that the occupation continues,'' argues Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of one wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). ``And the Israelis will find out that [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat cannot put an end to the intifadah [uprising].''
The DFLP is part of an uneasy alliance of 10 Palestinian groups opposed to the peace treaty with Israel. Including George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the alliance announced the creation of a National Islamic Front here Oct. 9.
Its goal, Dr. Habash says, ``is to confront and resist the Gaza-Jericho agreement, and to reconstruct the PLO. Not to organize an alternative PLO, but to rectify the PLO's political line.''
``We have to rebuild the PLO without Arafat and his people,'' adds a DFLP official, ``and it's quite possible that we will be able to. Arafat has made a big gamble, and he could lose everything.''
But at their meeting here last week, the group of 10 failed to call a congress to elect a new PLO leadership, apparently because the Islamist groups were unwilling to come under the umbrella of the secular PLO.
At the same time, lifelong Marxist-Leninists such as Habash and Mr. Hawatmeh are clearly uncomfortable with putting their signatures to documents, such as the statement of the National Islamic Front, which opened with the standard Islamist introduction, ``In the name of Allah.''
What they have in common is a determination to discredit Arafat's leadership of the PLO in the eyes of ordinary Palestinians, if not to the rest of the world.
``Arafat does not represent our people or the PLO, and he cannot speak in the name of the people or the PLO,'' the declaration said.
The 10 radical Palestinian groups - mostly based in Damascus, and none with any real weight except for the PFLP, the DFLP, and Hamas - have opposed the Middle East peace process from the start.
They object to the secretly negotiated deal between Israel and the PLO because it does not provide for an independent Palestinian state, or allow Palestinian refugees to return to what is now Israel. Most of the refugees in Syrian camps, where the PFLP is dominant, fled their homes in 1948 and stand to gain little from the Israeli-PLO deal.
But with most Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in favor of the accord, and the international community firmly behind the deal, ``it won't be so easy to undermine it,'' says Khalid Fahoum, a prominent member of the anti-Arafat National Salvation Front. Palestinians in Jericho ignored a one-day strike called by the group of 10 to protest the Israeli-PLO accord as it went into effect.
The rejectionists' main strength, it seems, is to focus on one of the accord's weak points: Israel's insistence that Arafat put an end to violence against Israeli troops and settlers, especially in Gaza and Jericho.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin met Arafat in Tunis this week to stress his government's demand that ``the PLO make a serious effort not just to prevent PLO terrorism but to influence other PLO factions to stop terrorism,'' as he put it.
That hope appears vain. ``The intifadah will continue in the Gaza Strip despite Arafat's police and the Israeli forces,'' Hawatmeh says.
Although rejectionist leaders insist that they will not be the first to use violence against the planned PLO police force, even if it cooperates with Israeli security officers, their declaration branded the nascent Palestinian police ``a traitor force, and an oppressive enemy force,'' and urged their followers not to join up.
That attitude, and the pledge not to abandon the intifadah, opens up the prospect for internecine violence, Hawatmeh says. ``We know that maybe Arafat will start some kind of violence, because he agreed with Rabin he will stop the intifadah,'' the DFLP leader says. ``But the initiative is not by our hand.''
For now, at least, the Palestinian dissidents here are also being restrained from violence by their Syrian hosts, diplomats here say. While Syrian President Hafez al-Assad is still engaged in peace talks with Israel, he is clearly reluctant to sanction any Palestinian action that could scupper the peace process.
``Syria is very happy, for there to be a lot of noise against the accord,'' a Western diplomat says, ``but they would be greatly embarrassed by any violence that sabotaged it.''