JERUSALEM -- The Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule of the occupied territories enters its fourth year this weekend in the midst of a dramatic metamorphosis of its tactics and political aims, brought about by the Persian Gulf crisis as well as another year of failed diplomacy and bloodshed.
In the past six months, the stone-throwing clashes and strikes for which the uprising, or intifada in Arabic, became well-known have all but faded from view as the Israeli army has learned to control them largely without shooting to kill. In their place, Arab militants wielding knives, bombs and guns have seized center stage, attacking Israelis both in and outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip and prompting equally bloody revenge attacks by Jewish extremists.
With the shift in weapons has come an equally important change in the intifada's leadership and expectations. Where once it was an essentially home-grown movement that forced its own agenda on both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership abroad, now it looks largely to external forces and events -- from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the United Nations -- to achieve its goals.
And whereas Palestinians in the territories had focused their efforts on coming to terms with the Israelis, now they are seeking a way to impose a settlement on Israel from the outside. In that sense, the Palestinians' greatest gain this year may have been the willingness that the Bush administration has shown during the gulf crisis to promise an eventual international effort to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Only 11 months ago, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip grandly announced that 1990 would be a year in which they would aim at reaching out to Israeli public opinion, hoping to convince their neighbors that they were committed to a peaceful solution in which Israel's security would be guaranteed.
This week, the same leaders -- undercut by their PLO comrades abroad, spurned by a right-wing Israeli government and pressed by months of spiraling violence -- issued a new manifesto endorsing the use of "all forms of struggle" against Israel and lauding "the heroes of the suicide operations in Palestine." In the past few days, Palestinian attackers stabbed Israelis on a bus in Tel Aviv, and shot and wounded a policeman and three civilians traveling in the territories.
The Israeli army sent reinforcements to the occupied territories Friday and imposed military curfews on towns and refugee camps in an effort to thwart attacks marking the intifada's third anniversary. Underground leaders of the uprising called a two-day general strike for the weekend, while a PLO faction urged "massive martyrdom" to mark the anniversary.
Palestinian leaders are aware that this new inclination toward violence "is going to make it difficult to talk to Israelis and might hurt the Palestinian image in international opinion," said Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist in East Jerusalem. "But the choice they have is between ruining their relations with Israelis and standing against their own people."
In fact, in the four months since Iraq invaded Kuwait, Israel's "peace camp," the minority who believed that Israeli-Palestinian dialogue was the best answer to the intifada, has been decimated, and Israeli-Palestinian meetings have all but ceased.
A corresponding change has taken place in Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his ruling Likud Party, which was prompted by the intifada to recognize the Palestinians as potential bargaining partners for the first time. A year ago, Shamir was setting conditions for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Today, he and his supporters also have returned their gaze abroad, renewing their demand that the Middle East peace process center on negotiations between Israel and Arab states while rejecting the idea of an international conference to address the Palestinian issue.
Israeli military analysts trace the violent shift of the intifada this year to a number of causes, including Palestinian alarm over the massive emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, the radical appeal of Saddam and popular reaction to two events: the slaying in May of seven Palestinian workers by an Israeli gunman in a Tel Aviv suburb and the Temple Mount incident in October, in which Jerusalem police shot dead 17 Arab demonstrators in clashes near sites holy to both Moslems and Jews.
Palestinian leaders, however, say the real turning point came in March, when Shamir rejected a U.S.-backed formula for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were intended to implement the prime minister's own plan to hold elections for self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The move caused the downfall of Israel's coalition government, and Shamir subsequently formed a new cabinet with extreme right-wing and religious parties.
Two months later, the peace process broke down completely following the slaying of the Palestinian workers and an abortive attack on Israel's Mediterranean beaches by a PLO splinter group. That act led to a break in contacts between the PLO and Bush administration.
In the month before Iraq invaded Kuwait, the intifada appeared moribund. Meanwhile, killings by militants of Arabs accused of collaboration with Israel soared. Overall, 124 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the first 10 months of this year, compared to 303 in 1989, according to figures compiled by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. Meanwhile, at least 156 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians.
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, his language of power and strength and his attempt to link gulf peace talks to the Palestinian issue revived Palestinian activism. Now, like others in the Middle East, Palestinians see their fortunes as intricately linked to the gulf crisis.
The Temple Mount killings caused a further radicalization of protest tactics. Now, quite apart from attacks planned by organized groups, ordinary Palestinians with no affiliation or record of activism are spontaneously grabbing knives and launching suicide attacks.
Many Israelis and Palestinians say the violence may grow worse in the coming months. In part because of fear, Israeli employers have dismissed thousands of Palestinians from their jobs in recent weeks, delivering another body blow to a Palestinian economy already crippled by the combined effects of the intifada and gulf crisis.
Those Palestinians who try to be optimistic look to a dramatic change abroad -- settlement of the gulf crisis or convening of a peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute -- as a way out of the mounting bloodshed. "My feeling is that we are in better shape than we were before," said Kuttab, the journalist. "The intifada might not be in great shape, but the political situation is moving in our favor."