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From Across the Line: Now what? The West Bank scene

What frightens me is that moderate, liberally minded, progressive people, at least in my age bracket, are becoming exceedingly scarce.

Stone-throwing Palestinian
Photo by: Reuters
Last September, the Palestinian UN initiative caused an international stir.

Some described it as taking the lead; others – particularly Israelis – considered it a non-helpful unilateral move.

Last year, the Palestinian political scene, stagnant for years, sprang back to life. Journalists went from talking about the slow progress after the Arab revolutions, to attending conferences, producing stories and looking for analysis on politics and international laws.

Campaigns and patriotic songs were all over the national media outlets. The top story was the Palestinian attempt to gain international recognition for the state of Palestine from the UN.

Most of the details were kept secret. Would Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas head to the General Assembly or the Security Council? What would he cover in his speech?

But one precise question was on the minds of many: What would come after September? The implementation of UN Resolution 194, negotiations, an end of occupation, or complete pandemonium?

 “October will come after September,” came the answer from a cynical friend, self-described as realistic.

Indeed, although Abbas received a triumphant reception by his people in the PA’s headquarters a few days after his speech, it is safe to say now, almost a year since the UN bid, that the step was a symbolic gesture.

It definitely put Palestine back on the international agenda, but only for a while; no political process was built on it. On the contrary, West Bank settlement continues to increase, though internal checkpoints are a bit more tolerable.

Abbas says he will not go back to the negotiation table unless Israel halts settlement building, and acknowledges clear terms for the peace process, the right of a Palestinian state to exist on the lands Israel occupied in the 1967 war.

The two parties should talk. But about what? Israel’s vision of the solution to the final status issues doesn’t seem to need negotiations.

Especially when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu openly says he will not negotiate on Jerusalem – just like his no to the 1967 line, no to a settlement freeze before Israel is acknowledged as a Jewish state, and no to the return of Palestinian refugees.

To some Israelis, the status quo that the illegal Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories created makes it harder for Palestinians to negotiate with them.

Palestinians think settlements should be evacuated or swapped; however, Israel has invested in these settlements in a way that does not allow for a simple solution. Indeed, according to international law, all persons born in the West Bank have a right to remain citizens of whatever state emerges on this territory.

Recent reports by Agenda – The Israeli Center for Strategic Communications shows that there is nearly no mention of the occupation in Israeli media. Some may even ask, “What occupation?”

Israel has no intention of settling with Palestinians now. Sadly or not, there isn’t even a reason. We don’t pose any direct threat. Most Israelis believe that the tall, gray and ugly barrier has played a role in the lack of attacks; however, the truth is that most of the Palestinian people no longer have the will to resist the occupation because they no longer trust their leadership. Many who fought in the first and second intifadas and spent many years in prison have received little support upon their release and are depressed by what they perceive as corrupt and defunct leadership in the West Bank and Gaza.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, for in this strange little concoction that we call Israel and Palestine, no fewer than 25,000 Palestinians illegally cross daily to work in Israel.

I SPEAK of all this to demonstrate the strangeness of the current state of affairs. In my own mind, the conflict doesn’t seem complicated anymore, so much as surreal – a bizarre mix of fact and fiction. The UN bid appears now as a meaningless gesture from a Palestinian leadership desperately attempting to cling to any semblance of resistance as it finds itself increasingly powerless and unsupported by its people.

Journalists have returned to sleeping long hours, sometimes covering the “fun” stories their international media agencies demand.

But those whose hopes were high in September need some kind of victory. At least a change of some kind. The youth are eager to fight for their future, for sake of the country they would love to see free, and not to be labeled as traitors or accepting of injustice – especially when settlers’ attacks continue to provoke the situation.

I spent last week talking to Palestinian mothers trying to prevent their children from participating in demonstrations or leaving the house when the Israeli army is around. Needless to say, these mothers want the best for their children. Some consider them wise for keeping their children out of confrontation with the army, others see them as unpatriotic and unwilling to sacrifice for the cause.

I did a quick poll in the streets of Ramallah earlier this week. I asked people randomly whether they were pro-negotiations or against them. Some of the older people acknowledged that such a path was a failure, but said it was the only alternative. Others said Israel did not seriously intend to negotiate with us.

Dismantling the PA and holding Israel responsible for us as an occupying power is not an option the US is considering. But when Abbas comes to the conclusion that negotiations will go on and on, I think he might take the step.

People close to Abbas whisper in private sessions that the old man is fed up with the situation, with Israel, with Hamas and Fatah as well.

In this minuscule poll I conducted, some youth expressed their excitement over this; they wished Abbas would be that “courageous.”

On the Israeli side, it is no longer clear that an occupation even exists, and security concerns are vague at best, especially regarding the efficacy of the barrier, among other things – such as the Iranian threat. Further, the discourse on either side is becoming exceedingly asymmetrical, with Palestinians clinging to UN Resolution 194 and the Israeli leadership all but explicitly denying its legitimacy.

This is part of the fiction. The facts are that this political stagnation on both sides is sitting on a powder keg of economic inequality that is uncomfortably being approached by the flames of populations pushed to the financial brink, threatening to blow this little sliver of land to kingdom come. In the last 20 years of meaningless political theatrics, has anyone noticed the ridiculous prices of housing in Israel and Palestine? So what are our options at this point? Are there any options? Add to an already difficult situation the inability of progressive and moderate elements on both sides to create any political momentum, and our situation seems all but hopeless.

Indeed, this is our only hope: that responsible leadership emerges on both sides, leadership that is unwilling to play Russian roulette with the economics of a politically volatile situation and that is willing to address objectively the major issues, such as settlements, the Right of Return, Jerusalem, the Green Line and water. As things stand, the discourse of each side is not even within reasonable disagreement, for to genuinely disagree, two groups must first agree that they are discussing the same issues.

Moderate politicians who place as much weight on the economic side of things as they do on the political, who have a grasp on reality, who want to serve this beautiful little land that we all call home, are our only hope.

What frightens me is that moderate, liberally minded, progressive people, at least in my age bracket, are becoming exceedingly scarce.

They are leaving to live their lives in less contradictory and fantastical places, where perhaps they feel more able to influence the world around them positively – or perhaps just to live in peace.

The writer is a Palestinian freelance journalist and producer working in the West Bank.

nidatuma@hotmail.com


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