This photo taken by a Reuters News Agency photographer yesterday in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza strip, showing Palestinians watching the televised Annapolis conference proceedings, indicates that the indifference is not as great as some have reported. The photo also reminds me of an amazing finding in a Palestinian poll, published about a month ago, showing that some 82 percent of those Palestinians in Gaza who were questioned said that they felt safe inside their homes — though their situation could hardly be more precarious.
The view from Annapolis was somewhat different – Mahmoud Abbas said it was a “charming” place, in his remarks to the conference.
The Jerusalem Post reported, after the Annapolis conference, that Nabil Amr, a top advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (and previously to Yasser Arafat) said: ” ‘I feel that the real battle has begun now …The hard talks are still awaiting us. We must look seriously at the next phase’. Amr said he was encouraged by the growing involvement of the Americans and Europeans in the peace process. He also said that any agreement reached with Israel would be presented to the Palestinians through a national referendum. ‘The Palestinians will be asked to approve any agreement’, he added. ‘Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip will also have the right to vote. If our people reject the agreement, we will cancel it. If they approve it, we will move forward with it’.” The comments from Nabil Amr in the Jerusalem Post are here.
This is interesting — it is not clear who, or which of the Palestinians, Amr thinks should be asked for their approval — or not. Would this include those Palestinian refugees still living in UNRWA-run camps in neighboring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon? Would it include Palestinians living in the “diaspora” outside of UNRWA’s area of operations? Would it include Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem? Or would it be just those Palestinians currently living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza?
In any case, it is just slightly bizarre and unreal to speak about asking Palestinians to approve, or not, in some kind of referendum, any peace deal reached with Israelis, at the same time that Palestinian security forces are forcefully, if not brutally, repressing expressions of anti-Annapolis sentiment in the West Bank. (At the moment, the expression of such sentiments is being encouraged in Hamas-run Gaza.) One 36- or 37-year-old apparently unarmed Palestinian man was killed by Palestinian security forces at an apparently non-violent demonstration in Hebron on Tuesday afternoon, and other demonstrators were injured. Tear gas and other forceful means of crowd control were used to disperse an apparently non-violent anti-Annapolis rally in Ramallah.
Israel’s Ynet news correspondent Ali Waked reported from Ramallah that “The hot topic at the dinner table at the house where I was hosted in Ramallah didn’t concern the goings-on in Maryland. Rather, the central matter of discussion was if it was proper to suppress anti-Annapolis demonstrations, which resulted in dozens of injuries and even the death of one Palestinian protester. The Ramallah residents wondered whether Palestinians should kill each other for the benefit of a photo shoot meant to serve US interests”. The Ynet report from Ramallah is here.
One of the minor but interesting details about these rallies is the different political coloration that has variously been ascribed to the demonstrators: Ynet’s Ali Waked reported that “Palestinian police forces operating in the West Bank city of Ramallah, stopped a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) protest against the peace summit. According to reports, police blocked the roads leading to Ramallah’s Manara Square, preventing some 400 people from reaching it. A Palestinian source told Ynet that Palestinian police decided to prevent the rally after receiving information indicating that Hamas intended to incite a local riot. The PFLP – under orders form its Damascus headquarters – decided public safety and public order outweighed the need for the protestors to speak their mind, added the source, prompting them to call the rally off”. The Ynet report that the PFLP called the march that PA security in the West Bank said was infiltrated by Hamas is here.
The Jerusalem Post reported slightly different information concerning who was behind the protest demonstrations: “Tuesday’s protests in the West Bank, the largest since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June, came despite a ban imposed by the PA leadership on anti-Annapolis demonstrations. One Palestinian, Hisham al-Baradi, 37, was killed and dozens injured during clashes between the demonstrators and security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas. Several journalists covering the protests were beaten by PA policemen. The PA security commander of Hebron, Gen. Sameeh al-Saifi, was injured in the face by a stone. The demonstrations in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and Tulkarm were organized by Hamas and another radical Islamic group called Hizb al-Tahrir”. The JPost report on the Palestinian anti-Annapolis protests is posted here.
Other Palestinian demonstrations were also suppressed in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Nablus, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
And, the editor of the Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz, wrote in today’s paper that “Only now, after Annapolis, does the genuine work begin. Olmert made a notably magnanimous speech here, parts of which will infuriate his many critics on the political right, declaring that ‘I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly’. Israeli leaders down the decades have rightly blamed the Palestinian leadership and the wider Arab world for the ongoing plight of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in blighted refugee camps. But Olmert, strikingly, empathized with their suffering – their ‘wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness and a deep, unrelenting sense of deprivation’. He even said he knew that this ‘pain and deprivation is one of the deepest foundations which fomented the ethos of hatred towards us’. This is a remarkable statement, and certainly comes closer than any other mainstream Israeli leader has ever moved toward showing understanding, though not justification, for the Palestinian argument about the roots of terrorism. Abbas’s speech was more resonant, more effectively structured, but markedly less empathetic in its thrust. On previous such occasions – and the history of failed peacemaking is littered with them – he has spoken movingly of Jewish suffering through the ages. Here, he was careful to specify all the Arab wrongs that needed addressing, including ‘ending the occupation in all the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights and parts of Lebanon’, and resolving ‘the plight of Palestinian refugees, which must be addressed holistically – that is, in its political, human and individual dimensions in accordance with UNGA resolution 194, as emphasized in the Arab Peace Initiative’.” The JPost post-Annapolis analyis is here.