Gloomy Prospects (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 17, December 10, 2007 of The Jerusalem Report. For full story please subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here to subscribe. Palestinians seem to be concerned about their leaders' inability to produce tangible results and fear a repeat of previous failed negotiations with Israel Sitting on a spool of cable in a Bethlehem electronics store, Nabil Atallah has some advice for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "Tell her that instead of coming to negotiate with our leadership, she should take them back to America with her. They do no good here." The 40-year-old electrician has nothing positive to say about the Palestinian delegation to the Annapolis peace conference, most of whom were at the 2000 Camp David talks. "They did nothing but fail - no peace, no economic prosperity, no education for our kids. Nothing but promises," says Atallah bitterly. When U.S. President George Bush announced in July that he would convene a Middle East peace conference, many Palestinians were optimistic that their daily hardships may soon be coming to an end. But buoyant spirits soon gave way to despondency and fear that their leaders' inability to produce tangible results will mean a repeat performance of the failed negotiations of the past, when the Israelis continued to build settlements and refused to remove checkpoints, despite committments to the contrary. "What did they accomplish from 1994 [the beginning of the implementation of the Oslo Accords] until today?" asks the 39-year-old owner of the Sheish Baish snack shop in Ramallah, Issam Mustafa, angrily. An assistant opens a furnace oven and shoves a pizza-like dish inside. Beads of sweat from the wafting heat dribble down Mustafa's forehead, softening the hard stubble of his mustache. "The West Bank was big in 1994. Now after Israel's security wall, it's small. If they continue in this way at Annapolis, it will become even smaller." Polling data bears out the impression created by these random interviews. Though 67.9 percent of Palestinians support peace talks, according to a poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center during the first week of November, only 35.3 percent of them believe the Annapolis conference will succeed. Bir Zeit University Political Science Prof. Basim al-Zubaydi says Palestinian pessimism is due in part to the leadership's shortcomings and will make it harder to sell concessions to a public already suspicious of what they view as Israeli machinations. "This leadership is already against the wall after their losses to Hamas. There is not much left it can do," he says in a telephone interview with The Report. The top West Bank leadership is composed of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) members who had been in Beirut until 1982 and then in Tunisia, returning with Yasser Arafat after the Oslo Accords. It is not only their failure to achieve gains at the negotiating table that troubles the local population. Many are just as angered by their exploitation of the local economy. "Those who returned from Tunis are like Ali Baba and the 40 thieves," says Bethlehem Christian grocer George Handal. "They came to the Palestinian lands and thought they were in Beirut again, where they stole everything. They didn't understand they were returning to build their homeland." Such negative views of the Palestinian leadership have left the 42-year-old Handal doubtful that the veteran team can set aside their avarice and focus on the Palestinian common good. Though Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and his associates were, with Arafat, among the founders of the Palestinian national movement and among its leaders for 40 years, Handal and other Palestinians believe the Tunisian crowd should hand the reins over to the indigenous Young Guard of the ruling Fatah movement, most of whom have spent many years in Israeli prisons. One name often mentioned is the widely respected 45-year-old Qadura Faris, who runs the Palestinian Council for Development, Dialogue and Democracy, which promotes civil society. Imprisoned at age 18 by the Israeli authorities on charges, among others, of throwing grenades at soldiers, he served 14 years in jail and was released in 1994. Since then, he has been a vocal champion of the Palestinian prisoners. In the 1996 Palestinian elections, he tells The Report, he was elected to the Legislative Council as an independent, because Arafat, who feared his popularity, refused to allow him to run on the Fatah party ticket. He also relates that in 2000 Arafat sent his own personal guards to beat him up, as a warning to Faris to toe the party line. For full story please subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here to subscribe.