Genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians requires mutual acknowledgment of each people’s right to political expression of its national identity within the land they both claim. Negotiations must focus, therefore, on developing a formula for sharing the land. Furthermore, since most Palestinians perceive the PLO as their legitimate representative, only it – or some agency directly deriving legitimacy from it – has the capacity to negotiate an agreement that will elicit widespread acceptance and commitment among Palestinians.
In light of these two assumptions, the PLO leadership’s potential readiness for peace becomes critical to the success of negotiations. This article argues that the PLO under Arafat’s leadership has signaled such readiness, and it discusses political and psychological reasons for the continuing ambiguity and inconsistency of these signals. Analysis of Arafat’s cognitive style and image of the enemy, as revealed in two lengthy conversations with the author, reinforces the hypothesis that he has the capacity and will negotiate an agreement with Israel, based on mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence, if offered necessary incentives and reassurances. This article discusses methodological questions raised by the analysis and concludes with recommendations for testing the hypothesis derived from the analysis through the policy process.