An explosion awoke Raymonda Tawil, a prominent Palestinian writer, Sunday at her home in Ramallah on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. She looked out and saw her automobile engulfed in flames.
Tawil, a strong supporter of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, blamed not Jewish settlers but Palestinian radicals supporting Syria's attempt to depose Arafat.
The incident has been linked by Tawil and others to a rising tide of tension in the West Bank as Arafat prepares to convene on Thursday the Palestine National Council -- which the Palestinians call a parliament in exile -- on the other side of the Jordan River in Amman.
The divisions in the PLO between pro- and anti-Arafat factions are mirrored in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Students have fought at some West Bank university campuses and Arabic-language newspapers in East Jerusalem have exchanged charges.
Many Palestinians link incidents including the recent burning of a shop owned by Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, a supporter of Arafat, to the National Council meeting and intra-Palestinian disputes.
"There is a fair amount of tension over the issue," said a western diplomat who monitors developments in the West Bank. He said it was strongest on the university campuses and also felt in refugee camps, where the anti-Arafat factions tend to be more powerful than elsewhere.
But the diplomat said he saw no evidence of a serious erosion in the majority support Arafat continues to enjoy in the West Bank. Instead, he said, Arafat's decision to go through with the meeting over the strong objections of Syria and Syrian-supported organizations within the PLO has triggered a loud outcry from the minority in the West Bank.
Arafat, his leadership battered by the war in Lebanon and his later expulsion from Lebanon by Syrian-backed PLO rebels, has been trying for months to convene the 17th session of the council to reaffirm his authority. Syria blocked an attempt to meet earlier this year in Algeria.
Faced with Syrian threats, only Jordan and Iraq among the Arab states said Arafat and the council would be welcome in their capitals.
As a result of the turmoil within the PLO, the meeting that opens in Amman on Thursday is likely to consist almost exclusively of Arafat's supporters from the main PLO faction, Fatah. The PLO rebels under Abu Musa, and dissident factions, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have announced they will boycott the meeting and threatened to form a rival PLO.
It is not certain that Arafat will be able to round up the necessary quorum of two-thirds of the council's 384 voting members.
Also absent from Amman will be about 160 Palestinian representatives of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Overwhelmingly supporters of Arafat, these members have been prohibited by Israeli authorities from attending the Amman meeting, as they have been barred from previous council meetings. Not for the first time, Israel thus finds itself in a strange alliance with Syria against Arafat's PLO.
"The Israelis are working hand in hand with Syria to destroy the PLO structure," said Hanna Siniora, the editor of the East Jerusalem daily newspaper Al Fajr.
Siniora is among the many prominent West Bank Palestinians who strongly support holding the session. They comprise the bulk of the territory's political establishment.
The past two years, since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, have been demoralizing for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he said. Palestinians here have seen the PLO defeated militarily and divided internally, while its institutions were paralyzed and its political influence weakened.
If Al Fajr is the voice of Fatah, the Syrian-backed opposition is represented by a rival East Jerusalem newspaper, Almithaq, which has accused Tawil and other Arafat supporters of being "traitors" and "collaborationists."
Mahmoud Ali Khateeb, the editor of Almithaq, charges that the meeting in Amman will play into Israel's hands by guaranteeing a permanent split in the PLO.
"The time of the meeting is not important," he said. "What is important is that all of the groups of the PLO are united." To achieve that, he added, Arafat, who has made "many mistakes," must go.
Tawil, Siniora and other Arafat supporters maintain they represent the moderate majority in the West Bank that is willing to reach a political accommodation with Israel. But to the Israelis, there is no difference among the various factions in the PLO and their supporters here. Talk of a new, moderate PLO emerging from the meetings in Amman is an illusion, an Israeli official said in analyzing the likely outcome of the session.
"Miss Raymonda Tawil can talk as much as she wants to Israeli audiences about moderation, but this has nothing to do with the resolutions of the PLO," he said. "It is meant only for the Israeli audience to convince us that there is moderation in the PLO. I tell you there is no moderation in the PLO."