Nabeel Shaath, the top Palestinian diplomat, told me at the reception that this may actually be a major obstacle to PLO-Hamas reconciliation. Hamas may want to wait until the economic situation in the Strip surpasses that in the West Bank, reinforcing their chances to win all-Palestinian elections again. Mahmoud Abbas, on his part, hopes that the new Egyptian president will convince the Americans to support the West Bank and strengthen his Authority.
(When I reminded Shaath that years ago I attended his wedding at Jerusalem's now desolate Orient House, he exclaimed: "We thought then that peace was just a step away! Since then, we have been thrown a long distance back!")
DESPITE THE economic troubles, the picture of the Palestinians as a helpless, pitiable victim is far removed from reality. Israelis may like to think so, as well as pro-Palestinian sympathizers around the world. But the Palestinian spirit is unbroken. Palestinian society is vibrant and self-reliant. Most Palestinians are determined to achieve a state of their own.
Abbas may ask the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a "non-state member." He may do so after the US elections. I wondered aloud if this would really change the situation. "It certainly would!" a prominent Palestinian at the reception assured me. "It would make clear that the Two-State solution is alive and put an end to the nonsense about a bi-national state."
On the way to the reception I did not see a single women in the streets with her hair uncovered. The hijab was everywhere. I remarked on this to a Palestinian friend, who is quite unreligious. "Islam is gaining," he said. "But that may be a good thing, because it is a moderate form of Islam that will block the radical ones. It is the same as in many other Arab countries."
I did not perceive any sympathy for the Ayatollahs of Iran. But nobody wished for an Israeli attack. "If Iran bombs Israel in retaliation," Nabeel Shaath remarked, "their missiles will not distinguish between Jews and Arabs. We live so close to each other, that Palestinians will be hit like the Israelis."
SINCE my visit, the demonstrations in Ramallah have intensified. It seems that Fayyad serves as a kind of lightning rod for Abbas.
I don't think that this is just. Fayyad seems to be a decent person. He is a professional economist, a former official of the International Monetary Fund. He is not a politician, not even a Fatah member. His economic viewpoint may be conservative, but I don't think that this makes much of a difference considering the situation in Palestine.
Sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, the wrath of the Palestinian poor will change direction. Instead of blaming the Palestinian Authority, they will turn against their real oppressor: the occupation.
The Israeli government is aware of this possibility, and therefore made haste to pay the PA an advance on the tax money that Israel owes the PA. Otherwise the PA -- by far the biggest employer in the West Bank -- would be unable to pay salaries at the end of this month. But that is only a stopgap measure.
Binyamin Netanyahu may stick to the illusion that all is quiet on the Palestinian front, so that he can concentrate on his efforts to get Mitt Romney elected and frighten Iran. After all, when Palestinians are protesting against Palestinians, that's OK. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is frozen. No problem.
But this illusion is, well, an illusion. In our conflict, nothing is ever frozen.
Not only are the settlement activities going on steadily - if quietly - but on the Palestinian side, too, things are moving. Pressures are building up. At some time, they will explode.
When the Arab Spring finally arrives in Palestine, its main target will not be Abbas or Fayyad. Abbas is no Mubarak. Fayyad is the very opposite of a Qaddafi. The target will be the occupation.
Some Palestinians dream about a new intifada, with masses of people marching non-violently against the symbols of the occupation. This may be too much to hope for -- Martin Luther King was no Arab. But the demonstrations in Ramallah and Hebron may be a sign of things to come.
There is still truth in the old saying, that the conflict here is a clash between an irresistible force and an immovable object.
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