Today was devoted to meetings with various leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Our group met first with Hanan Ashrawi, the well-known Palestinian leader, negotiator and academic – and currently a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. (That’s her above, on the right, together with me and fellow trip member Susie Coliver).
Ashrawi greeted us warmly but told us we were visiting during a very difficult time for the community. As we had been told by many Israelis and Palestinians previously, we heard grave disappointment from her that the promises made post-Annapolis are not matched by the reality on the ground, and most troubling, that there is an increasing skepticism among Palestinians over the viability of a two-state solution.
Ashrawi explained that this was an inevitable response to the despair of their daily reality: the clamping down at the checkpoints, the growth of settlements and outposts, and the increasing violence of the settlers. Ashrawi said to us sadly that she believed Palestinians who believe in the two-state solution (like herself) are now a distinct minority. Interestingly, she also told us she believes that while Palestinian intellectuals and solidarity groups abroad tend to advocate a one-state solution from an ideological point of view, Palestinians in the territories are essentially coming this position due to the dismal reality of their situation
She also had a great deal to say about the lack of trust that Palestinians have in Bush and Blair, and the increasingly stagnant economic straits in the West Bank. I was most struck, however, by her analysis of the situation in Gaza. Ashrawi believes Hamas is quickly losing support of Gazans – largely because of the brutal way they took power and the harsh nature of their Islamic fundamentalist rule. Ironically, she says the economic blockade imposed by the US and Europe really only serves to strengthen their popularity. (This was not the first time we have heard such an analysis.)
We also visited with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayed at his office (below). By contrast, Fayed told us that compared to where life was in 2006 (i.e, the Hamas coup in Gaza, Israel’s war in Lebanon), he felt there had been important progress. In particular, he pointed to the PA’s implementation of their security plan in Nablus, where the police were recently able to disarm gunmen and curb local violence. These measures were an important part of their commitments to the first phase of the Road Map – and Fayed he felt that this had improved life for Palestinians to an important extent. (From his point of view, there was still critical work to be done in the area of services and social welfare.)
It was interesting that while Ashrawi chose to focus on the overall political reality, Fayed chose to speak about local Palestinian politics – and though the PA admittedly has limited power to institute change, he saw their efforts beginning to bear meaningful fruit. It seems to me that the difference in the presentations stemmed largely from their respective points of view: Ashrawi is a political veteran who has been in the trenches for many years. She has seen the rise and fall of the Palestinians’ political fortunes – and while some of our group heard her words as largely pessimistic, it seemed to me that she was simply relating to us the hard reality of the situation as she saw it. Fayed, on the other hand, is a political technocrat. As a prominent international economist, it seems that he understands the way systems operate – particularly the slow and gradual nature of progress in the life of a community. In end, despite what we might think about the nature of their leadership. both Ashrawi and Fayed represent the forces of moderation in the Palestinian community – and do I believe they need our support now more than ever.
Back in Jerusalem, we had dinner with Tsvia Greenfield, a remarkable woman from the ultra-orthodox community who is also a member of the Meretz party slate. (If Meretz had received one more seat in the last election, she would now be a member of Knesset.) Here is a woman who single handedly dispels many of our preconceptions of a Haredi woman: she received her MA in philosophy from Hebrew University, helped found the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, supports religious pluralism, a two-state solution, and gay/lesbian rights. (Yes, you heard me correctly!)
Tomorrow it’s back to West Bank for the last full day of our trip. Among other things, we’ll be visiting with a settler family in Gush Etzion. There’s still more to come…