Impotent rage is the general mood of more than a million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip whose future has become the major sticking point in the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks.
Even such recognition that theirs is the core issue is of little consolation to these Palestinians, who for more than 10 years have lived under what Israelis call "the most benevolent occupation in history."
They are neither consulted nor advised by the Israelis or the Egyptians, who claim to be defending their highest interests, and they are also increasingly skeptical about American willingness to use the decisive power at Washington's disposal on their behalf.
"Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, President Carter is for the Arabs," an angry woman in the predominantly Christian town of Ramallah said, "Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays he's for the Jews and on Sundays he goes to church."
They are convinced Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin is incapable of accepting Egyptian demands for a declaration of principles on the Palestinian question.
At the center of the present Egyptian-Israeli wrangling, such a declaration could end the Israeli occupation and lead perhaps to eventual independent homeland for the Palestinians.
Although they, too, were euphorically optimistic about the chances for rapid peace during Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit here in November, his recent charges of Israeli intransigence are greeted with remarks such as "I told you so."
"If Begin accepts the declaration of principles and actually carries it out," said an American-educated businessman in Nablus, "the Israelis will topple him."
In a series of interviews, Palestinians, ranging from taxi drivers to professors, housewives to politicians, voiced their frustrations. It was all summed up by one woman's quoting of the Arab adage. "Those who get the beating are not those who count the strokes."
"We're so damn demoralized because we feel that it's up to Israel if Israel withdraws from the occupied territories," a professor of Bir Zeit college in Ramallah said, "and that no one can force the Israel is to do anything."
Symptomatic of their dejected mood is the fact that residents of the West Bank long since have dropped their momentary doubts about the Palestine Liberation Organization's hardline anti-Sadat policy. During and immediately after Sadat's visit, many Palestinians wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now, despite its failings, the PLO has once again taken on what one West Bank resident called "the halo of nationalist purity," if only because Begin's "self-rule" proposal for the territories was viewed as so totally unforthcoming in Palestinian eyes.
By ruling out any future independent state -- and flaunting the much-resented settlement policy -- the Israelis have convinced more and more Palestinians that Begin is not so much opposed to the PLO as determined never to give up their land.
Even Jordan, which ruled the West Bank from 1948 to its capture by Israel in 1967 and is thought to have an interest in it still, has shown an increasingly outspoken refusal to join the peace talks despite American, Iranian and Egyptian efforts.
West Bank politicians favor constitutional links with Jordan only after a Palestine entity or state comes into existence, both as an exercise in sovereignty and to ensure that past Jordanian excess are not repeated.
"King Hussein of Jordan has between 5,000 and 6,000 civil servants still on his patronage list here," a politician said, "but such is the PLO's hold that even his people are holding the stick by the middle."
The politician conceded, however, that if given only the choice between continued military occupation and links with Jordan, Palestinians would massively choose the later.
Such difficult choices help explain the depression of many Palestinians. "If anything happens, it cannot be good because we Palestinians are not doing the negotiating," a businessman said. "and the Arab governments who will be have done us enough dirt over the years for us to be wary and want the PLO -- warts and all -- to represent us."
But Israel refusal to deal with the PLO rules out any such eventuality --
A recent survey of the municipalities of Gaza and the six principal West Bank towns concluded that if Israel ended its military occupation and granted eventual self-determination the elected Palestinian politicians were willing to talk the PLO into reducing its demands.
Carried out for the American Enterprise Institute by political scientist Emile A. Nakhleh of Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., the study stressed the growing unpopularity of Israeli military rule in making termination of the occupation a key demand.
The deterioration apparently began after the 1976 municipal elections when PLO-backed candidates swept into office much to the Israelis' charg in.
A Nablus municipal councillor, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Abu Ghazaleh, went further.
Were those two basic conditions met over a five-year period -- as well as the right of West Bank and Gaza presidents displaced, in 1967 to return and a "right of access" for all Palestinians --he foresaw active negotiations by West Bank politicians with the PLO leadership.
"If we try to isolate them, we lose." he said, "but if we persuade them we're not trying to take their place, then reason can win out. The PLO needs rationality, not extremism, for if they swim against the current they will drown, but if they swim with it they can help deviate it for their own good."
"Outsiders make a big mistake in assuming the PLO leadership in Beirut and Damascus is cut off from the West Bank," the businessman said.
"Carter may think he's pleasing Israel when he warns against any independent Palestinian state being radical," he said."Yes, we are radicals now because we are nationalists, but an international presence, ties with the Common Market, ties with Jordan and especially fulfilment of our dream of having an identity -- plus any fear that troublemaking would endanger it -- should be more than enough to persuade him otherwise."