Ramallah Fog (Extract)

Palestinians were hoping for a sign that U.S. President Bush would correct what they perceive as longstanding favoritism toward Israel

21ramallah (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract of article in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The clouds hung low over the Jerusalem hilltops on the morning of U.S. President George Bush's January 10 visit to the seat of the Palestinian Authority, as if to remind Palestinians of the fog obscuring the vision of statehood that the president had come to promise. But there was some solace for the Palestinians on that bone-chilling winter morning. The reduced visibility grounded the planned helicopter flight from Jerusalem to Ramallah and instead Bush traveled by road for his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, giving him a close-up look at the Israeli security wall and checkpoints that Palestinians say must go if the renewed peace process is to succeed. "Fortunately, the weather helped the Palestinian people,'' notes Hafez Barghouti, the editor of the PA-funded daily Al-Hayat Al-Jedida, adding that Bush later mentioned the checkpoint, saying, "Checkpoints create frustrations for people. They create a sense of security for Israel; they create massive frustrations for the Palestinians." Bush quipped that the dozens of vehicles in his motorcade made it through an Israeli checkpoint without being stopped. But he added, he's "not so exactly sure that's what happens to the average person." But one presidential spin through the West Bank wasn't enough to overcome the deep-seated Palestinian skepticism toward the Bush administration and its latest peace push. While many conceded that the very fact of a presidential visit to the West Bank is significant, Palestinians complained they could see few signs of progress in the negotiations or implementation of the confidence-building measures called for in the first stage of the road map. "Until now Bush's vision is just a vision," Barghouti explains. "There's nothing on the ground. How we can applaud a hope?'' Palestinians had hoped Bush would step up pressure on Israel to honor the road map's call for a freeze in settlement-building activity in the West Bank. They had also hoped the United States would take a proactive stand in prodding Israel to lift military roadblocks, which the army says are crucial to security. Indeed, it seemed that what Palestinians were most hoping for was a sign that Bush would correct what they perceive as longstanding U.S. favoritism toward Israel. As if to remind Palestinians of the tight relations, the Palestinian daily Al-Quds ran a front page photo of Bush flanked by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres on the day of the visit. "We would be the first to rejoice if this were a historic day, and if we achieve a Palestinian state," says Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian parliament member and another member of the vast Barghouti clan. "But the president of the United States of America must stop being biased toward Israel. We are not against the visit, but we are against the bias.'' Barghouti made the remarks as he tried to stop Palestinian police officers breaking up a demonstration of several dozen anti-Bush demonstrators just a few blocks away from the presidential compound, the Muqata'a, where Bush's meeting with Abbas took place. Apart from the thousands of Palestinian security personnel deployed on the streets, central Ramallah became a ghost town for the president's visit. Residents living in the vicinity of the central Al-Manara square and the Muqata'a were required to stay indoors. Locals whispered rumors that the CIA had taken over security at the presidential compound. Extract of article in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.