Monday, February 15, 2010

View from West Bank

View from West Bank

By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 05.2.2010

Whether you are in Ramallah or in Jerusalem, the impression is unmistakably the same: this is no time to engage in peace talks. To begin with, there is an absence of war which feels like peace, just as heavy mist outside the window can be mistaken for rain. Is it the lull before the storm?

If the Palestinian economy is growing at 7.5% despite the recession, where is the incentive for any engagement with the Israelis towards some elusive final conclusion.

The more time passes the more Hannan Ashrawi looks exactly the same, in fact a little younger in her trouser suit having a sumptuous meal in Ramallah’s excellent restaurant, Daran her special table set next to a blazing fire place. It is cold on the West Bank these days.

In her fancy office, she clutches onto a large mug of coffee, sketching a pessimistic scenario.

Firstly, there is universal disappointment with President Obama whose special envoy, George Mitchell has been able to nudge mid-east peace not an inch.

To her great annoyance the Iranians have drawn all the attention on themselves by that nuclear bomb peep show. She is upset that the Iranian Hizbullah, Hamas link up is undermining Palestinian unity. In other words, by her admission, Palestinian unity lies in tatters.

This means that the Hamas in the Gaza strip is at present an entity totally disengaged from those who are being reported in global newspapers as the Palestinians.

So, the West Bank is apparently booming. There is almost as much construction work going on as in New Delhi in preparation for the Commonwealth games. Pardon the slight exaggeration, but that is more or less the scale of construction work going on in the West Bank. Law and order, even in towns like Nablus is under control.

Oded Eren at the Institute of security studies in Tel Aviv, attributes West Bank’s good health to two factors: Israeli relaxation of road blocks and massive injection of funds from donors as well as the Palestinian Diaspora.

On the Israeli side, there is no urgency for talks because the maze of walls and tunnels to insulate the Israelis from the Palestinians has for the past year eliminated burning of buses and suicide attacks.

President of the Palestinian authority, Mahmud Abbas, has extracted from Prime Minister Netaniyahu a freeze on construction of settlements in the occupied territories. But his own Palestinian colleague, Hannan Ashrawi, says there is no freeze because constructions are going on.

Mahmud Abbas’s problem is that the lame duck premier Ehud Olmert had given him several openings on boundaries and sensitive issues like the future of Jerusalem. One reason he flinched from any agreement is the dominant fear that will continue to plague him so long as he is in the Hamas line of fire. How can he sign conclusive documents without the support of the Palestinians in Gaza?

Israel’s all powerful Deputy Prime Minister for intelligence and Atomic energy, Dan Meridor (Dan MERIDOR) is adamant that Hamas cannot be brought into the equation because it does not accept the Jewish state nor return (“or even let the parents meet”) the Israeli soldier in their custody.

The fact of the matter is that Netaniyahu, an arch right winger himself, has a cabinet so far to the right as to make him look like a cooing dove. The present cabinet, in other words, will rather bring down the government than let Netaniyahu engage with Abbas on anything short of total Israeli terms.

So what does Abbas do. At the time of writing a special Boeing was being readied for him. A 12 member delegation is due to descent on New Delhi on Feb 11 to “mobilize opinion”. The key logistical issue being discussed is whether the delegation obtain their visas in Amman or in Cairo.

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