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The Politics of Paralysis II: Peace Now or Hamas Later

Courtesy Reuters

PALESTINIANS HAVE REACHED THEIR LIMITS

Since the election of Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996, mutual trust and confidence between Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority (pa) and Israel's new Likud government have steadily deteriorated. That vicious cycle will only be exacerbated as the two sides harden their positions in preparation for the final status talks. These negotiations touch on both Israelis' and Palestinians' most critical issues of security and national survival: refugees, Palestinian statehood, security arrangements, settlements, and, thorniest of all, Jerusalem.

The erosion of the Oslo process gives new importance to Palestinian politics. Palestinian public opinion will determine Arafat and the pa's room for maneuver in the run-up to May 1999 -- the deadline for the conclusion of the final status talks and, if those negotiations fail, Arafat's avowed date for unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood. So far, al-Fatah, Arafat's mainstream, secular nationalist movement, has provided the backbone of the peace process. Its support has

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