Courtesy Reuters

The New Palestinian Revolt

A DAY OF RECKONING

It was not clear who fired first. It may have been the cluster of young Palestinian men hidden in chest-high undergrowth near the Nezarim junction in Gaza. It may have been the Israeli soldiers at their outpost. Within a few seconds it no longer mattered. The crowd of 200 Palestinians, who had gathered for the daily protest, frantically sought cover. Bullets cracked and whizzed through the air.

The shooting was another fleeting and largely unheeded incident in the new Palestinian intifada. This conflict bears increasingly little resemblance to the one that took place from 1987 to 1993 and ended with the Oslo peace accords, which set up the framework for Palestinian interim self-government in the West Bank and Gaza. Each shot at Nezarim was another round fired into the carcass of the accords. The battle against the Israeli occupation is becoming an intercommunal war, one that could go on for months, perhaps years. What is happening harks back to the 1930s, when armed bands of Zionist settlers and Arabs took potshots at each other in a battle of attrition that culminated with the 1948 war over Israel's founding.

The new intifada is reverberating throughout the Middle East, rattling the dusty and inefficient Arab regimes in Cairo and Damascus, emboldening extremist Arab states such as Iraq, and weakening the power of Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Most important, it foreshadows a day of reckoning for Israel when it will have to decide between the swift establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state including in some manner East Jerusalem, and a prolonged, debilitating conflict.

The empty highway where the Nezarim gunfight took place was littered with the usual detritus -- rocks, smashed bottles, brass bullet casings, trash, pieces of wood, and lumps of blackened rubber from tires that had been set afire. The Palestinian police had set up a table a few hundred yards down the road and had watched the clashes from the shade of a small porch. War and death have become a

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