The most interesting straws floating in the Israeli wind these days have nothing to do with strategies for negotiating with Yasser Arafat, Hafez Assad, or the White House. They have to do with Israeli civil society and a shift in the national ethos away from a Fort Apache sense of constant besiegement.

Two embryonic signs of potentially dramatic change -- the straws in the wind -- involve an epochal shift in the way Israel's history is taught in its schools and a slow but steady opening of the country's political establishment to its Arab minority.

Present in these recent developments is a willingness to look at Israel's special history and special place in the world in a new, more confident light. Absent is the automatic defensiveness that often sprang from the dark shadows created by the Holocaust and a half-century of warfare with Arabs.

In Israel such societal changes are perhaps more reliable guides to the public mood than election results, even when they point in the same direction.

The ouster last spring of Binyamin Netanyahu in favor of Labor's Ehud Barak might seem to suggest in itself that Israelis are more willing to take chances and not cling perpetually to a garrison state. But the election was such a personal repudiation of Netanyahu and his record of untrustworthiness that it is risky to draw broad political conclusions from those results.

The fragmented nature of Israel's small and often rapacious political parties dominated that election and discourages sweeping generalizations. A resumption of terrorist bombings of Israeli targets could quickly dispel today's more relaxed mood.

So you have to look elsewhere for reliable signs of lasting, positive change. Look instead at the innovation that Israel's Ministry of Education is quietly introducing in its officially approved history books.

The new history books for state schools "make plain that many of the most common Israeli beliefs are as much myth as fact," Ethan Bronner wrote in the New York Times on Aug. 14. And the myths that are being exposed are those that have stood in the way of more complete reconciliation between Israelis and their Arab fellow citizens as well as the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

Bronner cited this striking passage about the 1948 Arab-Israeli war from a new ninth-grade textbook on world history:

"On nearly every front and in nearly every battle the Jewish side had the advantage over the Arabs in terms of planning, organization, operation of equipment and also in the number of trained fighters who participated in the battle."

Such judgments are at variance, Bronner noted, with the way the war for independence has been taught in the past and with the deeply ingrained idea in Israeli culture of Jewish history being one long struggle of "the few against the many."

The new textbook suggests that many Palestinian Arabs left their homes during the 1948 war out of fear or because they were forced out by Israeli soldiers -- not because they were sure of returning after an Arab military victory.

This is admirable truth telling, the beginning of a coming to terms with the long-suppressed Palestinian existence and history, even if there is not an immediate political response available for those who have lived as refugees over a half-century.

This is history as prologue -- history as a foundation for a better, more equitable future -- that should be met on the Arab side by a willingness to re-examine and correct myths and lies taught in its standard history books.

Also reflecting Israeli confidence is the new prominence that Israeli Arab politicians have gained in a government that long shunned them as security risks.

Nawaf Massalha has become Israel's deputy foreign minister, the most politically significant appointment ever gained by an Arab politician. Hashem Mahammed of the United Arab List has joined the Knesset's key Defense and Foreign Affairs committee.

Much remains to be done before Israeli Arabs will feel they enjoy full citizenship rights in Israel. But the fact they are now actively campaigning for their rights and for positions in a government they previously denounced, and that their complaints are increasingly being taken seriously and met, shows how much has changed in Israeli-Palestinian relations in this decade.

Each side is admitting to the permanence of the other. Each side is acknowledging the need for accommodation of the other. It is a promising Middle East moment that fortunately depends not so much on the politicians and diplomats but on peoples who are gaining new confidence in themselves.