JERUSALEM -- With Palestinian conflict in the Israeli-occupied territories continuing and still commanding world attention after six weeks, Israeli and Arab analysts say that a new, largely invisible hand is helping to organize them.
While the initial stages of the uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are widely viewed as having been spontaneous, these analysts say that some organization now has taken root, probably locally rather than nationally, whose aim is to sustain their momentum.
Israeli newspapers quote officials as detailing the number, political allegiances and identities of the shadowy new leadership, which in less than two months has done more, some analysts say, to advance Palestinian nationalism than did a generation of desultory -- often self-defeating -- armed struggle.
Other press reports have identified a secret steering committee, the Unified National Leadership for the Uprising in the Occupied Territories, as having emerged to propel the protests.
Yet diplomats and analysts interviewed here say they believe that, while some organizations have sprung up to keep the initial uprising going, the identities of their leaders remain largely unknown.
Initially, the protests were led by whoever took charge of an alley or block of refugee-camp housing or a mosque in the Gaza Strip, according to residents.
But indications are multiplying that leadership is now preponderantly in the hands of experienced indigenous cadres of the Palestine Liberation Organization who appear to have eluded the efforts of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security police, to root them out, according to diplomats and analysts.
Israel's apparent inability to arrest these leaders underscores how little is known about them, although there have been reports that the security service is allowing the so-called Uprising Committee to continue to operate so that more can be learned about it.
From what can be pieced together, the PLO cadres are men in their twenties and thirties. Almost all are said to have the equivalent of high school diplomas and many have a university education.
In the tradition of many revolutionaries, they have honed their beliefs and skills in prison.
As it has for more than a decade, the formal PLO leadership, symbolized by Chairman Yasser Arafat, has delegated authority to these cadres to exercise their own judgment here, diplomats indicate.
Such leeway is granted less from choice than necessity and recent PLO statements from abroad claiming perfect unity with those orchestrating events inside the occupied territories strikes some diplomats and analysts as suggesting the PLO establishment is more worried than it lets on about the danger of being outflanked.
The local leadership's greatest asset is not PLO funds sent clandestinely from abroad, the use of factual broadcasting -- rather than bombastic rhetoric -- on underground radio stations, or even the realization in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that the outside world is paying attention to their situation.
Rather, say Palestinian analysts, it is an awakening of a people that only two months ago saw no way out of Israeli occupation.
Analysts say it was that awakening that produced a Palestinian consensus and a movement capable of carrying out simple, but effective, instructions.
Thus, just when demonstrators in the Gaza Strip are silenced by a curfew, they seemingly are replaced by a merchants' strike in East Jerusalem or Ramallah, demonstrations on the West Bank, and a protest rally by Arab Israelis.
Such a chain of visible protests provides dramatic material for the media and supports the view that the truly spontaneous stage of the protests is over -- and that some organization is involved.
Thus, Arab pharmacies are exempted from general strikes, food shops are quietly opened early in the morning to allow families to buy necessities and public transportation is permitted on Fridays to allow the Moslem faithful to pray and perhaps even demonstrate against Israel's 20-year occupation.
As explained by Palestinian sympathizers, the general idea is to spread the protests and the pain they believe is required to keep alive the vital public backing.
Ordinary humanitarian concerns help explain why the Israeli Arabs, for example, organized volunteer shipments of food, clothing and medicine to the Gaza refugee camps.
If the underground leadership now has taken on some important dimensions, a number of Palestinians and Israeli observers believe it is also due to Israeli actions. For example, they say that a more materially well-off, somewhat snobbish Arab West Bank might well not have rallied to the cause of the downtrodden Palestinians in Gaza refugee camps had it not been for the heavy-handed tactics of the Israeli Army.
Had Israel not decided to deport nine alleged ringleaders and unluckily shot dead a demonstrator on Jan. 3, it might have spared itself the second round of violence, these analysts argue, as well as further public outcry at home and abroad set off by its decision to break the bones of suspected troublemakers.
Moreover, what has been widely portrayed as indiscriminate, across-the-board Israeli suppression of the violence, moreover, appears to have helped smooth over differences among opposing factions within a Palestinian leadership that had been facing a real problem of survival, the analysts said.
In keeping with a tradition of backing all likely players in Middle East politics, for more than a year the PLO has provided arms, money and training for more highly motivated Islamic fundamentalists in the Gaza Strip, according to analysts.
In an apparent effort to win western sympathy, Israeli officials accuse Moslem fundamentalists in the Gaza Strip of a preponderant role in the new underground and seek to play down the PLO's importance.
The officials apparently hope that western antipathy to the messianic call of revolutionary Iranian Shiite fundamentalism will also extend to fundamentalists among the Palestinians, who are overwhelmingly Sunni Moslems. There are significant differences between most Shiite and Sunni fundamentalists.
The real test for the underground leadership lies ahead, analysts say, and just surviving is no easy matter. Based on past experience, no Palestinian doubts Israel's ability to penetrate and remove the clandestine leadership.
Mindful of Israel's dismantling in 1980 of the National Guidance Council, arguably the last representative of above-ground leadership in the occupied territories, the underground has little incentive to go public for the time being, western diplomats here say.
Occasional Israeli hints of readiness to deal with the new leadership as it turns its back on the PLO find no takers in the present buoyant Palestinian mood.
But as one Palestinian intellectual put it: "The problem is not the PLO, but the future of an independent Palestinian state in the territory. If Israel was ready to negotiate on those terms, we would drop the PLO without hesitation."
For now, such a possibility remains theoretical. With no such Israeli disposition in sight, the clandestine leadership faces none of the political decisions involved in any effort to negotiate an end to the struggle.