The article on this page by the Palestinian journalist Hanna Siniora {Jan. 28} was powerful, moving testimony to the courageous new generation of Palestinian Arabs. Writing in the same spirit, we would ask him to take the peace process to the logical next step.

The first step toward Arab and Palestinian peace has already been taken. The world awaits the second: a statement by Siniora and those who believe as he does that this generation that "does not fear Israeli bullets" (as Siniora puts it) can also be a generation that does not fear PLO assassins, cynical Arab leaders and exploitative Arab regimes. This new generation knows that its fate -- and the prospects for peace -- is no longer in the hands of outsiders, Arab and foreign alike. If we read the recent events in Gaza and the West Bank correctly, this is the irreversible process that has taken place. Self-determination is now in their hands, and they must not allow it to be taken away.

The outpouring of expression of young Palestinian Arabs over the last 11 weeks demonstrates that they are no longer chained to the violent and rejectionist ways of the PLO and the Arab consensus that has done so little to advance the cause of self-determination for more than 40 years.

To be sure, we understand the frustration that has been bred by 20 years of Israeli occupation and the spectacle of watching one's fate dictated by outsiders. But this occupation has also benefited this generation by providing it with an understanding of the change that can be made through the political process in a free and democratic society, as is offered in neighboring Israel. Next to the Israeli Arabs, the Arabs in the occupied lands have the chance, if they will seize it, to be the freest Arabs in the Middle East.

The Palestinian Arabs have a rare opportunity because the instrument for progress is already in place. More than ever, this is the time to give peace a chance by rejuvenating the political process. Indeed this is the most propitious, if not historic, moment for direct negotiation, face to face between Palestinian Arabs and the Israelis.

As one of the Palestinians' outstanding representatives, Sari Nusseibeh, scion of one of Jerusalem's oldest families and a leader of the Palestinian passive resistance, has repeatedly said: "It will be a real tragedy if the Palestinian leadership does not seize this opportunity to launch a clear-cut peace initiative that is as daring and imaginative as the uprising itself."

From the recent and remote past, Siniora knows all too well the outcome of the "comprehensive peace processes" that entailed the participation of the superpowers and the Arab states. In every instance each participant had his own agenda, but not the Palestinians', and every one of these comprehensive conferences ended in utter failure. In contrast, Anwar Sadat's success was derived from recognizing the futility of taking part in President Carter's proposed "comprehensive settlement" for peace between Arabs and Israelis. The prospects of sure stalemate at the Geneva conference suggested for September 1977 led Sadat to carry out the bold act of discarding the traditional methods that had not worked in the past, and to choose instead direct negotiations with Israel.

Sadat's actions led to the unprecedented Camp David accords and to peace between Egypt and Israel. The most imaginative product of Camp David was the framework of the Palestinian autonomy plan for self-determination, signed by the United States, Egypt and Israel. But it was vigorously rejected by the Arab states and callously dismissed by Yasser Arafat and the PLO. Siniora's generation, which had not yet emerged, had no say in the matter. Rather than the Palestinian autonomy that they would have enjoyed by 1982, and the separate Palestinian entity Siniora speaks of that would have evolved had the plan been accepted, Palestinians were instead relegated by the Arab states and the PLO to seemingly continued occupation.

But, finally, history is knocking at their door. It is time for Palestinians to seize the opportunity their new generation has created and consider the following:

The next step of the process is to call together the elected leaders of the West Bank and the Gaza. They should then declare their independence from all outsiders, foreign and Arab. Next they should call upon the Israelis to negotiate directly with them to implement the autonomy plan of Camp David. The autonomy plan has already been signed by the governments of the United States, Israel and Egypt and been given a blessing by the international community. There is little doubt that these actions would tap the imaginations not only of the Palestinian people but also of the world at large.

There has been much talk of the soul of Israel. Polls speak of a "right-wing radicalization" of the country. But the actions of Israeli protesters marching in Nazareth and Haifa are far more telling and speak far louder than these ephemeral polls. And Palestinians must know that not a single one of their Arab brethren in Baghdad, Cairo or Damascus has marched in behalf of them. Nor could it have escaped their attention that the PLO has come late to the events of the West Bank and Gaza and is now desperately trying to take over the uprising as though it were theirs. But the fact is, the mantle of leadership has clearly passed to the new Palestinians.

As Siniora says, the debate is indeed changed. Not fearing Israeli bullets, the Palestinians must also not fear direct negotiations with the Israelis. Self-determination is within their grasp and no one else's.

Amos Perlmutter is professor of political science at American University. Jay Winik, formerly a senior aide of the House Armed Services Committee, is a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.