New Palestinian thinking?

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Arab journalist Nazir Majally calls attention to a recent article which appeared in the Palestinian press. Majally insists that the article– by Imad Shakur, an adviser to Yasser Arafat– reflects important new thinking among the Palestinian leadership:

In it, [Shakur] calls not just for a halt to the intifada, but also for the dismantling of all the armed organizations, including the Fatah Tanzim. He even expresses contempt for the term “the blessed intifada” and severely criticizes the leadership that refuses to recognize its mistakes and is not internalizing the changes in the world and the region. Shakur reminds his readers of the fate of President Saddam Hussein, who promised to wage a victorious war against the United States. He argues that a genuine and dignified solution to the Palestinian matter can only come from a drastic change in the patterns of thinking and governing to move toward a real democratic and pluralistic system.

Again according to Majally, Shakur’s article reflects a deeply self-critical attitude among many Palestinians:

It’s known that the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), opposed the intifada from the start and sought to stop it. Others have referred to it as a death blow to the Palestinian people. And some spoke, even then, of the foolish mistake at Camp David when the Palestinians rejected the Clinton-Barak proposal. At a later stage, they began to organize in order to promote these ideas.

These people did not concentrate solely on today’s diplomatic-security situation. They also thought about the future of the Palestinian people. At their meetings, which were held openly, they talked not just about reforms but also about how to establish a special Arab state in democratic and pluralistic Palestine, and about a free and thriving economy. They cited Japan and Germany, which were compelled to dismantle their armies following the surrender in World War II, and how they have since become economic and technological superpowers. They talked about Israel in terms of cooperation instead of hostility, in terms of envy instead of hatred.

In other words, they had a more rational outlook than many of their international “supporters.”

Majally claims these Palestinian pragmatists have tried in the past to publicize their views, but something always happened to postpone it. Now, he says, it’s up to the Israelis to grasp the significance of the new thinking reflected by Shakur’s article, and to respond in kind.

Perhaps. If there is a genuine change in the Palestinian attitude about the conflict with Israel, it’s to be welcomed. But as Majally admits, “the Palestinian side is not making an effort to expose these important developments to the public.”

Why not? If the Palestinian leadership was serious, it would not only proclaim this attitude openly. It would also, as Shakur proposed, act against its armed militias and terrorists. It would cease the poisonous incitement in textbooks and the media against Israelis and Jews. It would stop glorifying martyrdom. (And what about Arafat? Will he continue to play his traditional role as spoiler?)

Still, if the Palestinians did these things, the response among war-weary Israelis would be overwhelming. Neither Ariel Sharon nor any other Israeli leader could stand in the way of an agreement on a Palestinian state that would include Gaza and virtually all the West Bank.

I really hope that this time it’s something more than words.