Palestine’s futureDoes peace have a chance? [Archives:2004/798/Community]

December 13 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

When the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was in serious condition at a military hospital in Paris last month, there was fear that the Palestinians were about to face trouble.
Some thought that there might be a power struggle between high-ranking politicians, Palestinians would become divided and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict would escalate which would further delay the stalled peace negotiations.
But since the president, who led the Palestinians for nearly four decades, passed away, none of the expectations emerged. The election to choose the next leader has been scheduled to be held on January 9, and the long-awaited rejuvenation of peace negotiations appears to be back on track soon.
Palestinians in Yemen see that with more encouragement coming from the international community, there is now a window of opportunity for constructive peace talks.
“What has been said recently has been encouraging, especially from Europe,” said Dr. Khalid El-Sheikh, Palestinian Ambassador to Yemen. “There are some efforts to try and give confidence to our leadership, try to create a situation of a healthy atmosphere towards bringing both sides back to negotiations and resuming the political process. It is very encouraging.”
After his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair soon after Arafat passed away, US President George Bush said that he aims to exert efforts to establish peace and create a Palestinian state.
“I think it is fair to say that I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state,” said Bush. “And I intend to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States on such a state.”
After 15 months of refusing to communicate with the Palestinian leadership, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that he was willing to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, new Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and the expected winner of the upcoming elections to be the President of the Palestinian Authority.
Haron told Newsweek magazine near the end of last month that “when they [the Palestinian leadership] would like to meet, we will meet.”
And after meeting Israeli and Palestinian officials, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said earlier this month, “This might be a historic opportunity to push forward the peace process in the next weeks and months in order to reach a two-state solution.”
Some Palestinians have raised their hopes that the new climate will bring peace. “The United States and Israel would not talk with President Arafat, but now they are allowing the peace process to go forward,” said Taghreed Adwan who has been living in Yemen for 20 years. “I hope that the situation will activate the peace process.”
El-Sheikh points out that being open to negotiations is critical. “Let's be frank and honest and say 'This is what you have, this is what we have and this is what the international community approved of and agreed on. So, let's work on it,'” El-Sheikh said.
“There must be some basic rules for agreements for negotiations. There need to be concessions from both sides. From our side, we did whatever was possible. For example, we recognized Israel, we tried to give away 78 per cent of Palestine and take only 22 per cent, and we encouraged Arabs to recognize and deal with Israel.”
He added that the Palestinians will maintain its request for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, dismantling the settlements in the West Bank, stopping the construction of the wall, allowing Palestinian refugees to return and for East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine.
Some Palestinians are not optimistic about a possible peace agreement.
“I don't think there will be successful peace negotiations,” said Wasim, 21, who has lived in Yemen for four years. “Every time the US mentions a peace process, it never ends with good results. It is always talk with little action.”
Others, however, believe that the United States has an increased interest in establishing a Palestinian state.
“If the United States took the initiative to create and maintain a Palestinian state, the threat against the United States would diminish considerably,” said Abdullah Al-Faqih, Professor of Political Science at Sana'a University. “What has been said by the Bush administration recently might show that it is aware that terrorist groups have been using Palestine as a tool to mobilize against the West.”
If Abbas is elected as President, some Palestinians say that he is right for the job.
“Mahmoud Abbas was a close friend of Arafat and was one of the founding fathers of the PLO,” said Palestinian Sheikh Mohamed Al-Bohaisi. “He has a clear political vision and says what he believes, so he is well qualified to lead at this stage.”
Abbas may not only face pressure if he is elected and negotiations resume. Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have announced that they will boycott the presidential election. Hamas has also said that it has not agreed to a ceasefire.
“Although Hamas and Jihad chose to boycott the election, it is possible that they will reverse their decision because we want everybody to participate,” said El-Sheikh. “We are going further trying to convince other factions of a ceasefire. We want to create an atmosphere which is convenient to resuming the peace process.”
And even though peace negotiations might be back on the table in the future, some have chosen to reserve expectations.
“I think it is best to wait and see,” said one Palestinian. “I have seen peace negotiations before, so the best thing to do is just wait and see what happens.”