We’ve received this report from a longtime friend, and thought that some people “here” might find it of interest as well.
by Hillel Schenker
Tel Aviv, February 4th
“I’ve learned from my long experience with you that you Israelis always prefer to panic. You always find a reason to be worried,” said Egyptian President Mubarak to Yediot Ahronot’s Smadar Peri. How true. The wonderful IHT caricature about the Palestinian elections sums it up. Three figures are reading a newspaper the day after the elections. An Israeli reads “Hamas wins,” and the balloon over his head says “Oh No!” The next figure with a kaffieyeh representing Fatah reads “Will form a majority,” and the balloon reads “Oh No!” The final bearded figure representing Hamas reads “Will govern,” and the balloon reads “Oh No!” When I showed the caricature to Najat Hirbawi, the circulation manager at the Palestine-Israel Journal, she got very excited, and said “we’ve got to put it up on the wall.”
So here we are, a week into the new age.
When I went to East Jerusalem on Sunday, I wondered if I would see/feel any difference. Somehow, it all looked the same as it did during election week. No Hamas flags, no green, still many posters of the 29 candidates for the Jerusalem area, most of whom were not elected. Even some Palestinian 20 something women in very Western form-fitting sweaters. But apparently in Ramallah, says Amman-based Fulbright scholar Prof. Marcy Newman who dropped by for a visit, the green Hamas flags and banners are very prominent, and dress is much more modest. Comopolitan Ramallah, “the Tel Aviv of the West Bank,” in the words of one Palestinian.
Dr. Nadia Nasser Najjab, like many other relatively secular, worldy Moslem Palestinians, is not happy, to put it mildly. The day after the election results came in, her daughter asked her – “Mommy, will the Hamas allow me to invite my Christian girl-friend for dinner?” Don’t worry,she was reassured, the Hamas will not determine who we invite to dinner. Invite her tomorrow. Over the weekend, literally hundreds of jokes emerged in Ramallah, and Nadia already wrote an article about them in the daily Al-Yam. Like how one of the most popular restaurants changed its name to Kandahar (Afghanistan). Humor as a safety valve for coping with anxiety.
Dr. Walid Salem of the Panorama Center for Peace and Democracy, Jerusalem, saw it coming, and before the elections he actually expressed the hope that it would snow on January 25th so that no on! e would go to vote. After the shock, he’s entered into a frenzy of analysis and writing, sending missives out into cyberspace, and dreaming of building a serious third way democratic party.
On January 24th, Ron Pundak and the Peres Center for Peace, with the help of a grant from the EU, convened a forum of PeaceNGOs at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, an historic location for many Israeli political intrigues. He noted that people had suggested that he wait until after the Palestinian elections, but what difference would that make to our basic approach to things he asked rhetorically. Little did he/we know.
And now, all the Israeli cross border organizations are waiting to see how things will evolve, to formulate a clear strategy for the future.
On the Palestinian side, Riad Al-Malki and Nancy Sadiq at the Panorama Center for Peace and Democracy, Ramallah, received a parallel EU grant for joint activities from the Palestinian side. They have already identified at least 15 Palestinian NGOs committed to joint Palestinian-Israeli people to people activity, and today, Saturday, they are convening their first post-election brainstorming session in Ramallah.
When I called Nancy this week, she looked forward to cooperating with the Palestine-Israel Journal, and noted that my first name was also familiar in its Palestinian-Arab variation. Yes, I said, there are a lot of words which have common roots in Hebrew and Arabic. “That’s another reason why we have to work together,” she said.
I called IPCRI’s Gershon Baskin at his Tantur office for a brief consultation/exchange of views. After-all, how many joint Israeli-Palestianian projects are out there that function together on a daily basis? IPCRI, Palestine-Israel Journal, maybe a few others. So what do we do now? Act immediately, wait and see? Gershon says that it was a secular Moslem who expressed the strongest opposition to possible cooperation with Hamas. While the Christians are both more vulnerable and cautious. At the Palestine-Israel Journal we’re continuing as usual, with a round! table discussion at the “extraterritorial” American Colony Hotel (ranked the most beautiful hotel in the Middle East) on Monday devoted to “The Future of People to People. ” The usual format: two Israelis, two Palestinians, and an Israeli and Palestinian moderator. And soon we’ll have a broad editorial board meeting to discuss general policy.
On Wednesday, as Gershon Baskin, Hanna Siniora and pollster Khalil Shikaki explained to the diplomatic corps and foreign media what happened, I did what journalists do, took a taxi. My Palestinian taxi driver, who picked me up on Salah a-Din Street in East Jerusalem, railed against the Tunis outsiders, saying that the PA leaders got what they deserved. “A bunch of crooks.” He said that he once took a Palestinian-Brazilian businessman to see Arafat.
A wealthy entrepreneur, he offered to establish a rug business in the West Bank. Arafat welcomed him enthusiastically, but said the condition was that he give him 45% of the income. The businessman refused, and was thrown out of the office. The driver also described how as a kid he remembers seeing a PA official waiting for the cheaper transit/taxi into Jerusalem – 70 agorot rather 1.50 shekels – to save money. And now he sees him driving around in a Mercedes. They got what they deserved he says. The Hamas are cleaner, less corrupt he says. And just as I was starting to ask him if he wasn’t afraid of the imposition of a religious life-style, he suddenly got a phone-call that his daughter who was left home alone had set the house on fire. “Sorry, I’ve got to let you off here and rush back home,” he said, and refused to take any payment. So he left me off at Davidka Square on Jaffa Street in West Jerusalem, the square named after the Israeli-made weapon that helped to win the 1948 War for Independence.
From there I got into a Jewish taxi to the central bus station. “Those shits,” he exclaimed, “they should be thrown out of the country.” He was of course referring to the settler youth who were battling with the police and the army at illegal Amuna outpost. The news had just reported that one of the soldiers was seriously injured. “How dare they attack the IDF soldier, our sons. They’re a bunch of shits.” This from a Jerusalem taxi driver, most of whom used to vote Likud, some of whom are even members of the Likud central committee.
Amos Harel of Haaretz was on the scene at Amuna, and he provided a brief sociological background analysis. The soldiers, most of whom are Bedouins, Druze, new secular Russian immigrants and Mizrahi Morrocans, literally hate the wild settler youth, all of whom are Ashkenazi and religious. Unlike Gush Katif and Gaza, there are no “quality of life” socio-economic settlers there, just religious fanatics, with lots of hormones.
Back in Tel Aviv on Thursday, another taxi takes me to Tel Aviv University. Passing a sign that says “Kadima (onward) to the 67 borders.” Looks like a promotional ad for Uri Avnery’s Gush Shalom, but actually it’s a Likud anti-Kadima Party ad. Not the most effective PR in the world. And “Meretz loves Arabs, gays, women, the physically challenged, etc,” and “Beilin will Divide Jerusalem” are actually pro, not anti-Meretz ads. It’s a strange world.
At the Tel Aviv U event on the elections, Dayan Center head Professor Asher Susser cites Shikaki’s findings, that a majority of the Palestinians actually voted for Fatah, the smaller independents and the left, and only a minority for Hamas. He also notes that a majority continue to support a peace process with Israel and an end to the suicide bombing. Things that Hamas will have to take into account. Two recent authors for the Palestine-Israel Journal were featured speakers – Palestinian society expert doctoral candidate Efraim Lavi and Hamas expert Dr. Meir Litvak.
Lavi focussed on the clash between Fatah’s younger generation, led by Marwan Barghouti, and the veterans, led by Arafat/Abu Mazen from Tunis, clearly one of the factors which cost Fatah the elections. And I wonder what might have been if Arafat were still alive, if Israel hadn’t assassinated Abu-Jihad and the internal opposition hadn’t assassinated Abu-Ayyad, if Marwan Barghouti had been out of prison and if Faisal Husseini were still alive. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) would be an ideal president or prime minister in a post-occupation independent Palestinian state, but he doesn’t seem to have the charisma and leadership capacity necessary to lead a secular national liberation movement to victory.
Litvak emphasized that Hamas is divided between potential pragmatists and extreme religious ideologues. They were as surprised and ill-prepared as everyone else by the election results. However, unlike the situation in Fatah, they are all home-grown heroes. He sees a potential for a split in the movement, and also notes that they ar! e part of a general trend in the Arab-Moslem world, and not just a local Palestinian phenomenon. In his article in the latest issue of the PIJ (devoted to Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia) on The Anti-Semitism of Hamas, he wrote a damning analysis of the movement’s anti-Semitic views, based upon their charter. I told him that it reminded me of Prof. Yehoshafat Harkaby’s critical analysis of the PLO Charter, which “proved” that it was impossible to talk with PLO. Harkaby later became one of the leading proponents for dialogue with the PLO leadership, so isn’t it possible that Hamas will change as well, after all there is already a difference between their oral and their written statements? Litvak responded that he doesn’t rule out the possibility of changes in the Hamas position, but that political changes will necessarily have to come before amendments to their written charter.
We shall see.
The third presentation at the event was by Avi Issacharov, a Kol Yisrael radio commentator on Palestinian affairs. He spoke about Elections in the Shadow of the Faowda,the situation of chaos. He said that Arafat ruled by creating a situation of chaos that he could dominate, developing a constant series of competing power centers, some of them armed. Without Arafat, the situation had descended into general chaos, and in his view, the reaction to the Faowda was even stronger than the reaction against corruption.
To my surprise, on Thursday night, January 29th, the day that the election results became clear, Ziad Abu-Zayyad, who lost his seat in Palestinian Legislative Council, came to Jaffa to participate in the special 80th birthday celebrations for veteran journalist Victor Cygielman, the co-founder together with Ziad of the Palestine-Israel Journal. Clearly affected by the unexpected results, he appeared to be very pensive and withdrawn within himself, though he did say some very positive words in praise of Victor and joint Israeli-Palestinian activity. By Sunday, when we met in East Jerusalem, he seemed to have rebounded. “We will continue doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. And what about Hamas? “If they want to participate in our joint activities, they are welcome.” And Hamas’ impact on the situation? “Remember what people felt when Menachem Begin and the Likud gained power in Israel in 1977? And then they made peace with Egypt.”
Yes, I remember. But the Likud didn’t have a religious component in its ideology. Will Hamas be capable of becoming as pragmatic as Sharon and Olmert?
Meanwhile, one of the new Kadima Knesset candidates, Dr. Rachel Adato, Deputy Director of the Bikur Cholim hospital and a former Likud Central Committee member says that as someone who grew up in “Red Haifa” in a Revisionist home, “August (the disengagment) changed my way of seeing things…As a Jerusalemite, I realize that I no longer know the (East Jerusalem) neighborhoods of Sheich Jarah and Wadi Joz that I used to know, and I no longer visit the Old City. From my local, daily point of view, those places are no longer part of Jerusalem. I don’t go there. In practical terms, Jerusalem is divided.”
Tomorrow is another week. And on Monday I head out for Wadi Joz/Sheikh Jarah and we hold our roundtable discussion on The Future of People to People.