The Palestinian leadership, disappointed by the United States and Europe, has buried its search for diplomatic recognition and participation in Middle East peace talks under a barrage of hard-line slogans and battle cries.
The reversion to tough talk, however, represents a tactical concession by moderates to demands from the Palestinian left, officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization say. It does not mean an end to the diplomatic strategy mounted by PLO leader Yasser Arafat to increase the guerrilla movement's political stature and respectability in the West.
As a result, the Palestinian resistance is expected to keep its lines out, fishing quietly for whatever diplomatic catches become available in Europe as the United States persists in trying to wring progress out of the Camp David negotiations. The goal, according to Palestinian sources, is to keep the door open to participation in the next phase of Middle East peacemaking after what is regarded here as the certain failure of the autonomy talks.
Palestinian leaders gain their certitude from the blanket refusal of West Bank Palestinians to participate in the autonomomous administration envisaged at Camp David, even if Egypt and Israel eventually can agree on such an administration in talks due to resume later this month. This refusal, which PLO leaders privately admit they were nervous about when the talks first began, recently has grown firmer, they say, because of harsh Israeli reaction to West Bank unrest -- including expulsion of three key West Bank leaders whose cooperation would have been important, and bomb attacks on two others.
"Not one Palestinian will take part, not one," predicted Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Marxist-oriented Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a member of Arafat's PLO executive committee.
"As long as the United States insists on Camp David to solve the Palestinian problem, the situation in the Middle East is going to remain the same," he added in an interview.
"There won't be any settlement. Everyone agrees on this, the hard-liners, the moderates, everyone."
Desire to keep up an atmosphere of confrontation on the West Bank is one reason for the PLO's recent stress on bellicose tones in its official statements and for a possible increase in terrorist raids on targets inside Israel. In addition, Arafat has had difficulty defending his diplomatic efforts after continued U.S. votes in the United Nations in favor of Israel and a June 13 European declaration at Venice urging PLO "association" with the Middle East peace process that was greeted here as short of the mark because of U.S. pressure on its European allies, Palestinian officials say.
"Now is not the time," Arafat told a high aide who complained privately about the uncompromising language in a June statement issued in Damascus by Fatah, the main PLO group headed personally by Arafat.
Arafat and Farouk Qaddoumi, or Abu Lutf, head of the PLO political department and its unofficial foreign minister, are considered within the guerrilla leadership here as the chief proponents of moderation and use of diplomacy to advance the Palestinian case against Israel.
But they and their moderate allies have been outnumbered in recent Palestinian meetings, informed PLO officials say, particularly at the Fatah congress in Damascus that issued the June 1 communique. Wazir Khalil, or Abu Jihad, Arafat's top military aide, was particularly vehement in urging military action against Israeli targets rather than diplomacy to further the Palestinian cause, one official said.
In addition, according to Arafat's aides, many Fatah members at the Damascus meeting strongly criticized a recent series of moderate peace suggestions put forward to European political personalities by Khalid Hassan, a high-ranking Arafat aide who was assumed to be operating on Arafat's instructions.
Refelcting the criticisms, the Fatah communique vowed "to liquidate the Zionist entity politically, economically, militarily, culturally and ideologically." This was widely interpreted in Israel and the United States as back-tracking from PLO policy of the last several years, suggesting Arafat would settle for a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, leaving Israel intact within its pre-1967 borders.
Arafat's aides insist, however, that this language was the result of a compromise forced on Arafat by his lack of tangible progress from diplomacy. Elsewhere in the communique, they point out, Fatah also accepted the idea of setting up a state on the West Bank.
"It was like a glass that is either half empty or half full," said one. In the West, it was seen as half empty. I see it as half full. Arafat did not shut the doors. He refused to have any change (in the willingness to accept a West Bank state). He managed that."
The result of the tug and pull within Fatah, however, was a fuzzy, enunciation of Palestinian goals which, as often, left the way open to interpretations of all kinds according to the persuasion of those interpreting. iThis has become a tradition of Arafat's leadership as he balances the conflicting and often contradictory viewpoints of different PLO groups, factions within groups and Arab governments that back one or the other.
Similarly, PLO reaction to the Europeans' Venice declaration was unclear. Abdul Mohsin Abu Maizar, the chief PLO spokesman, issued a statement in Damascus June 15 that included severe criticism of the Europeans for failing to recommend PLO participation in Middle East peace talks and for urging instead that it be "associated" with them.
The next day, Palestinian officials say, Arafat personally ordered the PLO news agency WAFA to publish a statement saying Abu Maizar was only giving his personal opinion and that the official PLO position would be issued later.
So far, it has not been.