AS the uprising completes its third year, the Palestine Liberation Organization is struggling to ensure that a settlement of the Gulf crisis does not leave Palestinians out in the cold.
PLO chairman Yasser Arafat is in Baghdad keeping the Palestinians' plight high in Iraq's priorities when United States Secretary of State James Baker III meets President Saddam Hussein later this month.
President Bush's offer last week to open talks with Baghdad has strengthened the PLO's conviction that by challenging Western interests in the region Saddam may finally force Washington to address Palestinian national and legal rights.
"(The move) could become a historical turning point for the whole region," says PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabo.
Demanding a solution to the Palestinian problem in return for a settlement of the Gulf crisis, Palestinians say, will step up international pressure for addressing the long unresolved conflict.
Saddam is aware that a settlement of the Gulf crisis will entail Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, some PLO officials say. Consequently, securing tangible progress toward solving the Palestinian problem will provide a face-saving formula for Baghdad.
At the same time, these officials argue that even if the US were to prevail over Iraq - either through war or negotiations - Washington could not secure its interests in the region and the security of its Arab allies without working to settle the Palestinian problem.
"Extremism is on the rise in the region and the US allies might be in jeopardy," says Qaes Samerai, better known as Abu Laila, a key member of the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Most PLO officials have no illusions about the US recognizing linkage between the Gulf crisis and the Arab-Israeli conflict. …