Life in Ramallah is grand, for now. The supermarkets offer a wide array of goods, the discos are hopping and economic growth has exceeded 7 percent since Prime Minister Salam Fayyad took office. Maybe the Palestinian Authority has not received all of the $7.7 billion pledged by donor states but there is a feeling that it is possible to do business, both in the public and private sectors. Evidence of this is the dissatisfaction of Fatah members with the presence of too many technocrats and not enough Fatah appointees in the Fayyad government. They want a share in the goodies, too.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also pleased. Even though nothing seems to be moving in the talks with Israel, at least meetings are taking place. "If we do not reach an agreement in 2008 it will be difficult to have conditions for negotiations similar to the ones currently in place," he told the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat. And what have these terrific conditions, who are backed by the Americans, led to? Zero results. It doesn't matter, as long as the West Bank is calm, and flourishing, between the checkpoints and the settlements.
The serenity of the West Bank is threatened by only one thing: the war in the Gaza Strip, where as of last night 60 Palestinians had been killed. Apparently both Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have convinced themselves that not only is this a case of two separate countries, in which one has no effect on the other, but it is also about two different peoples. As such, a solution with one Palestinian state and one Palestinian people does not necessitate a solution with another Palestinian people. In one Palestine there will be a flourishing economy, and in the other there will be war. In one Palestine factories will operate and there will be dancing in discos, and in the other, children will be killed.
Even if Abbas is not moved by this reality - because of his tremendous personal anger at Hamas for stealing away from him one third of the Palestinian state as well as his frustration that his forces and loyalists failed to prevent the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip - Israel should be very, very moved. The Strip may be ruled by Hamas, but the war that the organization is waging against Israel is a Palestinian war. A million and a half Palestinians do not pay taxes to the PA, but they also do not have a normal life. The Gazan civilian population, hundreds of thousands of whose representative grabbed hold of the lifeline that was momentarily available to them when Hamas breached the wall closing them in, is the dynamite on which the first and second intifadas were built.
At the same time, and because of the same siege, Arab leaders were forced to embrace the Gaza Strip as a Palestinian entity, irrespective of the fact that it is ruled by Hamas. According to a Bir Zeit University survey, over 80 percent of the Palestinians want Hamas and Fatah to reconcile. The respondents do not consider the division of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip a natural phenomenon that can be accepted quietly. They recognize, as should Israel, that the Strip is a genuine threat to the status quo in the West Bank.
It bears repeating that in the last intifada there was a competition of sorts between the West Bank and Gaza, between Fatah and Hamas, and even between different cities in the West Bank and the Strip, as to who could carry out more violent attacks against Israel. When Hamas dispatched suicide bombers into Israel, Fatah adopted the method, and when Nablus was on fire, Hebron followed, because when there is a national struggle it overcomes all domestic differences. The illusion that a good economy, open borders and a decent standard of living guarantee an undisturbed occupation has twice blown up in Israel?s face. This illusion has been resuscitated. The West Bank, Israelis say - as does Abbas - will not be like Gaza. Where is the guarantee? Israeli control, which was twice caught unprepared by an intifada? PA control? The same PA that lost the Gaza Strip?
The Qassam rockets that Hamas fires at Israeli towns are also meant for Ramallah and Nablus, and the question that needs to worry Israel very much is not only how to fortify Sderot and Ashkelon, but also how to prevent the outbreak of a new intifada in the West Bank. The moment that war begins in the Gaza Strip, it will not be a war against Hamas; it will be seen as a war against the most downtrodden and poor segment of the Palestinian people, against women and children, a war that cannot leave the West Bank indifferent. The opening of a second front, on the east, against Israel, should then come as no surprise.
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