We're all right
Israelis really love to hear how good things are in Ramallah. This is the conclusion from talks with the kind of Israelis who don't demonstrate with Palestinians and face teargas, rubber-coated bullets and beatings by Israeli soldiers, and who don't spend hours closely watching what goes on at military courts and checkpoints.
It's amazing what Israelis who live 12 minutes from the checkpoints of Qalandiyah and al-Za'im know, even though they have never set foot there and have never seen the wall blocking the sunsets, the watchtowers and the barbed wire fences. They know about the cafes, restaurants, fancy houses and traffic circles. It's very similar to their intimate knowledge of the underground tunnels below Rafah.
The thought process here is obvious: The Palestinians have money, even in the Gaza Strip. They shouldn't complain about a humanitarian crisis. We can go on living normally 12 or 21 minutes away from them, teach at the university, go to concerts and exhibitions, travel abroad and have fun in malls. We're all right.
In a sense, the two Palestinian governments - the one in Gaza and the other in Ramallah - are also interested in relaying the message that they're all right. Ismail Haniyeh's government in Gaza is all right because it's meeting the public's needs thanks to the tunnel economy (from greasy french fries to fuel, from sheep for the feasts to cars). If only the Rafah crossing would open, you would see that we can have a better administration than Fatah's. This propaganda, by the way, is well received by mainstream people in the West Bank who don't have a 2010 model car or a good salary in a prestigious nongovernmental organization.
And Salam Fayyad's government in the West Bank is all right because it's finally proving that there is an administration that knows how to build institutions on the way to statehood. Of course, it should be said in favor of this government that it does not stress the improvement of superficial consumer issues (of the kind Israelis are keen to point out), and that it takes the trouble to relay messages that undermine Israel's claims. No, most of the checkpoints have not been removed; the improvement is because of the Palestinians and despite the occupation. All the settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, are illegal. Area C? This letter is nowhere to be found in our alphabet. And that unarmed popular struggle is the other aspect of building institutions.
But there are traps in this "all right." Just as Paris' 16th arrondissement and Ramat Aviv Gimel (not to mention the Akirov Towers) are not representative, neither is Ramallah. This city attracts people with generous incomes, who are not the majority, as well as the money of the building contractors and merchants. Its prosperity does not yet reflect an overall productive recovery: The Palestinians have far from met their potential, first and foremost because of the occupation. Some 60 percent of their territory (C) is banned to Palestinians - so what can we expect? Every month tens of thousands of civil servants fear that their modest wages will not be paid on time. In villages and smaller towns, not to mention the refugee camps, unemployment is even more evident.
The biggest trap is the growing gap between the general population and the layer of society that represents that population to the outside (in politics, in the NGOs, the media and culture). It is impossible to blame only the occupation for this. You don't have to directly embezzle funds to live exceptionally well. The Palestinians have a great deal to learn from the Israelis about the direct link between political and military status and well-padded salaries.
But for the Palestinians, the unacceptable gaps and the atmosphere of detachment and indulgence in Ramallah are impeding the popular struggle for independence. For more and more people to adopt the courage and persistence of the protesters in the villages, they must trust their representatives. They must trust that the individual is not being sent as cannon fodder, while their leadership pays them lip service and gives handouts to the popular struggle. They must trust that their leaders are not taking advantage of their sacrifice and that they are building institutions that will ensure quality medical treatment and education - also for people who can't go to private clinics and schools.
This is the Fayyad government's pressing mission before setting up a state in 2011. Its duty is to divide the national income in a just way and narrow the stark inequality that the prosperity in Ramallah reflects. This is not an anachronistic slogan but a necessary precondition for the existence of a popular struggle.