News of the stymied beach raid by Palestinian guerrillas blanketed a group of local Palestinian leaders on a hunger strike here with despair and no little discomfort at having to answer questions about whether they approved of the failed assault or not.
The despair Thursday was not over the outcome of Wednesday's raid, which left four attackers dead and 12 others captured; some mused privately that it would have been far worse if the attackers had succeeded, especially if they had killed innocent bathers.
Rather, there was a feeling of having lost control of events and of being shunted aside by the Palestine Liberation Organization at a critical moment in a campaign to convince the Israeli public of their peaceful intentions. Unwilling to condemn the seaborne attack, they were left to offer gloomy predictions of more violence to come if peace talks do not get under way.
"If I was the one to take the decision, I would not send such an operation," said Faisal Husseini, a top political leader in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a chief contact for the PLO. "I myself believe that nonviolence can accomplish more. We are in a cycle in which violence creates more violence."
Husseini pleaded that the raid not result in a diplomatic setback for Palestinians.
"Don't put the Palestinians in a corner. We need steps to convince Palestinians that nonviolence works," he said.
Husseini and up to 20 other Palestinians have been fasting since May 20, when an Israeli gunman shot and killed seven Palestinian day laborers. With the hunger strike, the Palestinians hoped to seize the initiative and win diplomatic progress toward peace talks.
With the raid, their effort has been drowned out; the United States has indicated that it might break off contact with the PLO unless the organization expels Mohammed Abbas, better known as Abul Abbas, who masterminded this attack as well as the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.
"We are working at cross-purposes," a hunger striker said of the PLO. "It would be better if they left the struggle inside the occupied territory to us."
No one was willing to say such a thing and put his name to it, making the group vulnerable to charges that everyone fears contradicting the PLO publicly. By way of contrast, all were willing to condemn the placing of a bomb in a Jerusalem market last week as a terrorist act, even in the face of calls from young street activists to praise it as an act of revenge.
And none of the hunger strikers were willing to support the expulsion of Abul Abbas.
"I don't think everyone in the PLO is savory. But not everyone in the Israeli government is savory, either, and no one is making it a condition for contact that Israel expel them," said Sari Nusseibeh, another public leader.
"In every Palestinian, there is burning anger. Every Palestinian is a potential Abul Abbas. The only way to stop the anger is to start a peace process."
It was perhaps not an auspicious day for daring words of moderation: Two teen-agers were shot to death in the West Bank on Thursday--one, a 14-year-old boy, by a soldier; the other, a 17-year-old, by an Arab who collaborates with the Israeli government.
Leaders like Nusseibeh and Husseini have been under pressure from grass-roots leaders of the intifada, or uprising, as well as from Muslim fundamentalists, to escalate the Arab uprising to the point of taking up firearms. It is generally considered that such an escalation would diminish the role of the public leadership, which has been trying to lay the public opinion groundwork among Israelis in favor of diplomacy.
Throughout the 12 days of the hunger strike, Husseini has been debating visiting student groups over the wisdom of nonviolence and civil disobedience. The Palestinian students proposed a step up in violence as a means of driving Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza, a policy Husseini opposes.
The fast is expected to continue one or two more days. Six strikers have been hospitalized for dehydration.
The Israeli government seized on the beach raid as proof that the PLO is irredeemably dedicated to terrorism and an unworthy partner in peace talks. The government of caretaker Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir rejects both the PLO and demands for an independent Palestinian state.
In the eyes of government officials, the strong American criticism of the assault vindicated Shamir's refusal to accept an invitation from U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III to open peace talks with a Palestinian delegation that would include PLO contacts. "Things are working in our favor," said government spokesman Yossi Olmert.
The State Department informed Israel of its decision to press for the ouster of Abul Abbas from the PLO, Israeli officials said.
British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, on a visit to Jordan, also urged the PLO to disown the attack and punish any of its factions that might have been involved.