Because of a production error, the photographs of West Bank Arab leaders Bassam Shaka and Elias Freij were transposed yesterday.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres' initiative to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process, far from being welcomed by West Bank Palestinian political leaders, has stiffened a rejectionist attitude because Israel has accompanied its policy shift with a firm effort to exclude the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Since Peres' offer at the U.N. General Assembly last week to open direct talks with Jordan, Palestinians on the Israeli-occupied West Bank have become increasingly suspicious that Israel is seeking a pact with King Hussein that would leave them as empty-handed as they were after the 1979 treaty between Israel and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The Peres government recently has stressed the PLO role in the Achille Lauro hijacking and other terrorist acts to counter suggestions that PLO members be included in the peace process.
But a consensus is growing among many Palestinians in the West Bank that the most they stand to gain in an Israeli-Jordanian peace effort is limited autonomy, which they were offered and resoundingly rejected five years ago.
Jaded by 18 years of fruitless peace initiatives and military occupation, many West Bank Palestinians fear that an Israeli-Jordanian alliance without the PLO will fuel growing radicalism among the young, post-1967 war generation, and that violence will reach new levels of ferocity.
Those perceptions and dark forecasts emerged from three days of interviews late last week with a cross-section of Palestinians throughout the West Bank, from this traditionally nationalistic city in the northern Samarian hills to the holy city of Hebron in the southernmost part of the occupied territory.
"If the Israeli strategy is to kick aside the PLO, no Palestinian would come forward, including myself," said East Jerusalem newspaper editor Hanna Siniora, who is on PLO leader Yasser Arafat's list of nominees to a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and who has been held out by Peres as one of only two nominated negotiators acceptable to Israel.
He added, "There is a concerted campaign by Peres, and backed by the United States, to stereotype Arafat and the PLO as terrorists. They think they can sow dissension between the Palestinians and Jordan and get separate Israeli-Jordanian peace talks. This is wishful thinking."
Because they have been largely cut off from Palestinians in other countries since the 1967 Middle East war in which Israel occupied the West Bank, its residents' view of how to pursue the search for peace may differ from that of their brethren outside the occupied territories.
For instance, the demand for negotiations in an international forum is not as primary a focus in the West Bank as it is with the PLO leadership outside, but it is superseded by a concentration on the type of self-determination that might result from any talks, regardless of the format.
Ultimately, the two communities of Palestinians could end up with differing requirements at some stage of peace negotiations.
Since all but one of the major elected Palestinian leaders have been deposed by the military occupation authorities, expression of the mood in the West Bank has become amorphous, at best, making it difficult to gauge popular sentiment accurately.
But opinion-makers, whose views are read and listened to by that segment of the nearly 2 million Palestinians living in occupied areas that is politically aware, do shape public attitudes. And it is they who, by default, have stepped into the vacuum of Palestinian leadership and will be called upon either to accept or reject Israeli offers to talk peace.
With stunning unanimity, the unofficial spokesmen for the Arab community flatly rejected the notion of peace talks without the PLO and Arafat, and said they saw no prospect of the current Israeli and Jordanian overtures making progress.
Their gloomy assessments contrasted sharply with the heady peace fever that is sweeping through the Labor Party leadership and diplomatic circles here and abroad as Peres and Jordan's King Hussein appear to be inching toward rapprochement and direct peace negotiations.
Sitting in his wheelchair on the veranda of his palatial hilltop villa here -- reportedly built with PLO funds -- deposed Nablus mayor Bassam Shaka appeared to reflect the view of instinctively rejectionist West Bank Palestinians, whose voices will contribute to any public response to new peace offers.
"It's another Labor Party trick, to speak of peace without conditions and then add the condition of no talks with the PLO. Why didn't he Peres speak about withdrawing his Army from the West Bank?" asked Shaka, both of whose legs were blown off in 1980 by a car bomb planted by Jewish settlers.
Newspaper editor Siniora declared that West Bank Arabs "don't want a repetition of the Camp David separate peace," but instead want a comprehensive peace that provides Palestinian self-determination.
Siniora, who on Friday went to Amman to try to close the ranks between the PLO and the Jordanian monarch, added, "Everyone wants to pick our leaders for us. We don't tell the Israelis what leaders they should pick."
Ziad Abu Ziad, director of the Arab Council for Public Affairs and a moderate who regularly engages in peace dialogues with liberal-minded Israelis, argued that historically the Arab culture has turned to outside parties for mediating disputes, as embodied in the sulha, a hatchet-burying ritual practiced by feuding clans. The PLO, he maintained, is ingrained in the minds of most West Bank Palestinians as the natural mediator for their grievances against Israel, and cannot be isolated from the process suddenly "just because a cruise ship was hijacked."
Abu Ziad said he found "positive things" in Peres' U.N. speech, but added, "Even if you say nice things, that's not enough. That's what happened to the 1982 Reagan initiative. Since it did not relate to the PLO and self-determination, nobody took it seriously." Even leading public figures in the Palestinian community who are openly chary about the PLO said they saw little hope for peace progress if Peres and Hussein exclude Arafat.
Uthman Hallak, a prosperous West Bank industrialist and acknowledged moderate with close ties to Israel and Jordan, said he doubted there could be any movement as long as Saudi Arabia continues to stand behind the PLO and, by extension, Hussein refused to jettison Arafat from the process.
"The king is very courageous, but he is not a man to commit suicide," said Hallak, whose views reflect the older generation of West Bank Palestinians who remain politically close to the Hashemite kingdom.
Sounding a pessimistic note common among moderate Palestinians, Hallak said the new generation of West Bank Arab youths born after the 1967 war have no cultural or political links to Jordan and believe only in radical solutions to Israeli control of the West Bank.
"The only thing they believe in is the armed struggle," he said.
Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, a symbol of Palestinian moderation and the only elected mayor of a major West Bank town allowed to remain in office, also said he was pessimistic about the peace initiative.
"Peres has to understand that without the full participation of the Palestinians, there won't be any peace. And no Palestinian, wherever he lives, can accept to participate without the full support of the PLO. So, we are back to square one."
Beyond the operational obstacles facing peace negotiations, some Palestinian political analysts said, lies a collective dispiritedness and cynicism among West Bank Arabs that contributes to an instinctively rejectionist attitude when confronted with yet another peace initiative.
That attitude was evident in the marketplaces in West Bank cities and towns, where Palestinian wage earners dismissed the Peres and Hussein peace overtures with the typical Arab gesture of clicking their tongues in disbelief.
"Everybody is talking about peace, but I don't see any peace. I just see more soldiers," said Jhalib, who sells grains and dry goods in a stall in Hebron's casbah. Jhalib said he did not want his full name published, a common request that takes into account the sometimes unpleasant consequences of saying the wrong thing.
"Nobody expects peace. We've been hearing talk about it for 20 years. What do we want, just words or something real?" he asked.
At Nablus' An Najah University, Saeb Erakat pored over volumes of history and counted 75 peace initiatives since partition of Palestine in 1948, ranging from major American initiatives to lesser known attempts by European nations and the Nonaligned Movement.
That record, Erakat said, has caused a negative reflex attitude that one upbeat speech at the United Nations is not going to overcome.
"If we, as Palestinians, didn't have a PLO, we should create one for the negotiations. Why? Because once any Palestinian sits at a table, he needs to make concessions that amount to 80 percent of pre-partition Palestine. Can any Palestinian make such a concession on his own? You need someone who can sign on behalf of the Palestinians, and that is the PLO," Erakat said.
Students and staff members at An Najah and at Bir Zeit universities, who historically have set the tone of the public mood in the streets in the face of peace negotiations, echoed Erakat's view.
One, Adnan Domiri, of Tulkarm, who said he was imprisoned by the Israelis for six years when he returned to the West Bank from university studies in Beirut in 1974, concisely reflected that attitude when he said: "Peres is trying to build up Hussein and tear down Arafat, but he is speaking to elements who have no part in the game."