Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Photo: AFP

Despair in Ramallah

We’re gradually losing best Palestinian peace partners we ever had

I recently committed a criminal act. I cannot even plead ignorance. A large red sign at the roadblock near the Qalandiya refugee camp made it clear. Israelis are forbidden from entering Area A in the West Bank. It may be a security constraint, but it also has a symbolic significance. The moderate and quiet capital of the Palestinian Authority is located a few minutes away from Jerusalem, yet visiting it is a crime.


Next year, Israel will be marking a decade to the failed and destructive vision of unilateralism. This will be a good, and possibly the last, opportunity to abandon this foolish fantasy.


Ramallah is recovering. The economic growth is apparent by the construction boom and the accelerated activity of the production and commercial sectors. The coffee shops offer thick hot chocolate in tall glasses next to the tea. Restaurants charge Tel Aviv-style prices. Yet skepticism reigns supreme. Everything is fragile, say the locals.


I met with several prominent PA leaders here. Members of Fatah’s top brass who speak fluent Hebrew; men who were held in Israeli jails for years and know us better than we know ourselves. They understand history and politics, possess street smarts and common sense, and display sharp humor and a sense of irony. They recoil from religious fanaticism and from bloodshed. They believe in the two-state vision in line with the 1967 borders.


If there is one unforgivable sin in Ehud Barak’s list of transgressions, it is the way he entrenched the perception that Israelis have no Palestinian partner. We never had better partners than these. At this rate, soon we won’t have them either.


What did we get in return?  

First we had the conscious and methodical destruction of PA institutions. Then came the Gaza disengagement. Fatah has not recovered from it to this day. Instead of pulling out by agreement with Abbas, you ran away and gave Hamas a gift, former minister Kadura Fares told me. And after that I’m supposed to explain to the Palestinian public that this was not a victory for armed resistance.


The emerging Shalit swap deal drives them crazy. For a period of 14 years we have been trying to release prisoners via negotiations, says Prisoners Affairs Minister Sufian Abu Zaida. Then comes Hamas, abducts a soldier, and is now on the brink of a deal. And now I need to face the argument that you only understand force.


We did everything required of us by the Road Map, they say. We complied with US General Dayton’s plan and we subjected our security forces to Israel’s authority. Our police officers take their orders from Ashkenazi and Diskin. And what did we get in return?


Their despair and frustration are supposed to make us lose sleep. Years of reckless construction at settlements and outposts eroded their faith in the diplomatic process. Fares and Abu Zaida are members of the Geneva Initiative, yet just like many of their colleagues they currently object to the resumption of talks. First they prefer to focus on reaching intra-Palestinian decision or agreement.


Their lack of faith in the Netanyahu government is extreme. The settlement freeze announcement, which includes the completion of thousands of residential units already under construction as well as building permits for dozens of public institutions is too little and too late for them.


We decided to stop being fools, they told me in Ramallah. What’s the problem? For once in our history we’re allowed not to be fools, they said. Now try to argue with them.


פרסום ראשון: 12.19.09, 13:28
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