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The Palestinian Struggle for Mastery in Palestine

Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian cities and towns culminates a predictable pattern. American willingness to accept Ariel Sharon's portrayal of that reoccupation as an acceptable part of its global "war against terror"was not only surprising, but misguided and dangerous. By helping to de-legitimize Yasir Arafat and by accepting Prime Minister Sharon's characterization of Israel's reoccupation as "self-defense," American policy threatens to weaken the moral clarity and credibility of the US in the eyes of the world. The consequences for the Middle East and beyond could be deadly.

Eighteen months of violent Israeli-Palestinian confrontations have set new dynamics in motion. These follow a predictable pattern, locking the two sides into an escalation that will push toward a total and final confrontation. It now seems doubtful that these dynamics can be contained. Secretary of State Colin Powell's April mission was doomed to failure because American policy failed to reverse, or even address, the causes of deterioration.

On the Palestinian side, the current intifada created a Young Guard that despises the Old Guard, represented by Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Unlike the members of the Old Guard who spent much of their lives outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Young Guard is a product of domestic Palestinian society.

Not just younger, they are more educated than the old leaders, and are convinced that they know better how to deal with Israel. While the two groups share the vision of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Young Guard tends to rule out any return to previous channels of negotiation. These, they argue, served to consolidate the Old Guard's domination of Palestinian politics.