The Palestinian campaign of terrorism rolls on, with 22 people murdered in Tel Aviv Sunday. And even without counting minor incidents involving rocks and firebombs, the Palestinians average more than 10 attacks on Israelis every day.
Which makes this a particularly apt moment to review my assessment of a year ago, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's tough response will cause the Palestinians to give up on violence.
To begin with, while, the violence continues, it declined throughout 2002: Attacks dropped by a third from the year's first quarter to its last (from 1,855 to 1,246) - and fatalities fell by more than half (from 157 to 70).
More significant are the many signs pointing to a realization among Palestinians that adopting violence has been a monstrous mistake. What the Associated Press calls a "slowly swelling chorus of Palestinian leaders and opinion-makers" is expressing disillusion with the poverty, anarchy, detention, injury and death brought by 27 months of violence.
Mahmoud Abbas, the No. 2 Palestinian leader after Yasser Arafat, concedes "it was a mistake to use arms . . . and to carry out attacks inside Israel." Abdel Razzak al-Yahya, the so-called interior minister, denounces suicide bombings against Israel as "murders for no reason," demands an end to "all forms of Palestinian violence" and wants it replaced it with civil resistance. Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser finds that the use of arms did no good and insists that the Palestinian struggle "has to be a peaceful one."
Other developments confirm this sense of dismay and a willingness to rethink:
* A sense of despair: "It's over," a man in Ramallah says of the violence. "We didn't achieve anything." A Gazan is so numbed by the downward spiral, he utters the unmentionable: "To be honest, I think reoccupation [by Israel] would be better" than the current situation.
* Regretting missed diplomatic opportunities: "Didn't we dance for joy at the failure of Camp David?" asks Nabil Amer, formerly one of Arafat's chief aides. "After two years of bloodshed, we are now calling for what we rejected."
* Less support for terrorism: Asked by a Palestinian pollster if the Palestinian Authority should, once it reaches an agreement with Israel, arrest those setting off to engage in violence within Israel, 86 percent of Palestinians said "No" in December 2001. The number fell to 76 percent in May 2002, then to 40 percent in November 2002 - still very high, but the trend is clear.
* Fear of retribution: On occasion, prospective suicide bombers have turned themselves in, or were turned in by their parents, out of fear that the family house would be destroyed in retaliation.
* Blaming Arafat: When the violence began, Palestinians held Israel responsible for their many woes. But as time went by, says the pollster Khalil Shikaki, they turned "very strongly" against Arafat and the PA. One conspiracy theory holds that Arafat initiated the violence less to defeat Israel than to deflect growing discontent over the PA's failures.
* Emigration: Fed up with their self-inflicted misery, some 10,000 Palestinians a month left the West Bank and Gaza during 2002, while many more tried to flee. At one point, more than 40,000 would-be emigrants were camped out near Jericho, hoping to enter Jordan.
Perhaps the most affecting sign of a change came last month, when Ahmed Sabbagh, a self-described "heartbroken" Palestinian father, took the occasion of the death of his son Ala, a leading terrorist, to launch an unprecedented appeal to Israelis "to open a new page with the Palestinian people and to achieve peace based on mutual respect and justice."
Israelis are beginning to note the change on the Palestinian side. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy has commented on "the buds of Palestinian recognition" of the mistake in turning to violence. The chief of Israel's Ground Forces Command, Yiftah Ron-Tal, went further and in November predicted within months "a decisive victory" for Israel.
The Bush administration should take two steps to speed this process: Let Israel respond as it sees best, and stop bestowing undeserved gifts on the Palestinians (the latest: promises of a state in 2003).
The sooner Palestinians realize how counterproductive their violence is, the sooner they will end it.