A European journalist took me to see Ramallah this past August, where I saw the stately house that had just been completed for the Palestinian Prime Minister.
The large stone residence stood empty, and I wondered then if this would be the residence that President Salam Fayyad would move into soon.
The new residence built for the Palestinian Prime Minister in Rammallah-Who will live in it?
photo by Rhonda Spivak
For months now, ever since the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah was announced last spring, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said he wants Fayyad to be the Prime Minister, in order to preserve US and European aid. Fayyad is seen as fiscally responsible by the international community. When the new Prime Minister’s house was built, no doubt with the help of international aid, it was assumed by the international community that Fayyad would be the one to live in it.
But it may well turn out to be a mistaken assumption. The main reason why the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah has not been implemented up to now is Hamas’s strong opposition to the appointment of Fayyad as Prime Minister of any proposed Palestinian unity government.
Hamas doesn’t want Fayyad because they say he is responsible for the security crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank. He also isn’t popular because he is seen as “an American puppet” ( as one Palestinian cab driver told me). Fayyad is not popular within Hamas because he has never served time in an Israeli prison, which is like a certificate of distinction within Hamas.
It now appears that PA President Abbas seems to be willing to drop Fayyad for the sake of “unity” with Hamas. And if Hamas appoints the Prime Minister, it remains to be seen if the Prime Minsiter’s house even will be in Ramallah, as opposed to Gaza. In the meantime, the house stands empty.
As we approached the Prime Minister’s house, my European friend said “The Mayor of Ramallah, a Christian, even had the idea to put street names in Ramallah, something which doesn’t exist in other Palestinian cities.” He pointed to the gleaming new street signs. The new street signs were all preparations being made “for Palestinian statehood”, he explained, meant to give Ramallah a sense of Western like order.
I looked up to read one of the street names on the roundabout in front of the Prime Minister’s house—AL JIHAD STRUGGLE STREET. I pronounced the name slowly and clearly. Not exactly a name which signals Palestinian moderation, since Al Jihad Struggle is a struggle to wipe out all of Israel.
New street signs in Ramallah. Al Jihad struggle street
photo by Rhonda Spivak
I looked at my colleague, who had pointed out the new street signs in order to give me a good impression of “the new Ramallah”, as he called it. As I lifted my camera to photograph the street name, this European journalist suddenly put his foot on the gas pedal, to speed up the car, making it difficult for me to get a photo of the street name. But, I managed to snap a shot of it.
I ask my colleague who has been in charge of choosing the street names. “Was it the Mayor of Ramallah? I asked. ” “No, the PA,” he answered.
The street name is an obvious reminder to Palestinians that a state in the West Bank is not their ultimate goal, since the ultimate goal is AL JIHAD–the goal of eliminating Israel.
Now some would say, that a street name doesn’t matter, as it can express a Palestinian desire that will never be fulfilled, but I am bothered by it. And I wonder how many diplomats from around the world will come to visit the residence of the PA’s Prime Minister without bothering to notice the street name.
One of the other street names my photo captured was Khalil Sakakini Street. Sakakini, Arab nationalist poet and scholar believed that Nazi Germany might weaken the British and ‘liberate Palestine from the Jew’, so he supported the Nazis. He wrote that Adolf Hitler had opened the World’s eyes to the myth of Jewish power, and that Germany had stood up to the Jews and put them in their place as Mussolini had done to the British.
UNWRA REFUGEE CAMP, SUSHI AND BOWLING
As we entered Ramallah that day, we passed an UNWRA Palestinian refugee camp where refugees and their descendants who fled their homes in the 1948 Israeli War of independence live. I told my collegue that I have a friend Geroge living in Ramallah who has been to this camp several times, and told me that in the camp the Palestinian refugees talk about going back to their homes and villages which no longer exist. Palestinian leadership promise the refugees that they will return. On hearing this, I recall how I asked George if he told the refugees the truth–that they aren’t going to be able to go back to Israel, and they should plan on staying in Ramallah, and building a better life for themselves. George answered, “No I didn’t tell them.” When I asked why not, George said, “Everyone keeps telling them they are going to return. How could I tell them they aren’t? How can I be the one to break it to them”
I also tell my European colleague about what I heard in Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel, from the mouth of a Jerusalemite Palestinian man, who has spent years in the US. He was talking about the Palestinian right of return. “There’s enough room in the Negev and the Galilee for a few million Palestinian refugees to return to Palestine,” he said, acknowledging that “Jews won’t like to hear this.”
My European colleague has lots of contact with the Palestinian civil police [trained by the EU and Canada]. I ask him why Palestinian refugees living in UNWRA camps can be part of the PA police? If they are claiming the right of return, then maybe they aren’t going to be so loyal to the idea that a Palestinian state will exist in the West bank and Gaza only, but not pre-67 Israel.He rolls his eyes when I say it. He understands the internal contradiction, but doesn’t have an answer.
We pass the post office in Ramallah which has been jazzed up with a fresh coat of yellow paint ahead of the PA’s unilateral statehood bid. I am told that the postal service is also planning to switch the currency marked on its stamps from the Jordanian dinar to the Palestinian pound, which existed before Israel’s establishment in 1948, though it is no longer in circulation.
Freshly painted post office in Ramallah
photo by Rhonda Spivak
My colleague shows me all the new building and development in Ramallah.
A German foundation has funded the first “cinema” in Ramallah. The new bus station which was being built last summer is completed. There is a new cultural centre and a street made up of new modern looking banks, one of which is giving a new car away to a winning customer. There are new apartment buildings being built all over the city. And there are lots of new hotels, with new bars and hang-outs. Ramallah will be marketing itself as a city in which to hold large conventions.
My colleague points out the recently built Ceasar Hotel, which “even has a sushi restaurant and a bowling alley.’
“The first bowling alley in Palestine,” he says.
But the new bowling alley, no matter how wonderful it is, is not likely going to prevent Palesitnians from understanding that Abbas’s unilateral PA bid has not really gone anywhere–which is why Abbas now appears intent on implementing his reconciliation agreement with Hamas.
The Ceasar Hotel in Ramallah
photo by Rhonda Spivak
As Khaled Abu Toameh, in an article dated Nov 18, entitled “And The Winner is Hamas” [ http://www.hudson-ny.org/2595/hamas-palestinian-unity-government ] has just written:
” Abbas has chosen the path of unity with Hamas not only because he wants to tease the Americans, Israelis and Europeans, but also because he wants to cover up for the failure of his campaign to internationalize the conflict through the UN with the hope of imposing a solution on Israel.
“He is basically hoping that instead of being denounced and ridiculed by Palestinians for the failure of the statehood bid, he will now be praised for having “reunited” the Palestinians.
“By joining forces with Hamas, however, Fatah is once again digging its grave with its own hands. Does Fatah or anyone else have guarantees that Hamas will not score another victory in the new elections that Abbas is now hoping to hold in the Palestinian territories sometime early next year?”
If Khaled Abu Toameh is correct, as he was correct in predicting the outcome of the 2007 Palestinian elections, then it may well be that Hamas will be the one occupying all of the new ” state” offices and structures built in Ramallah with international aid—not Fatah. If so Salam Fayyad will see the new stone house built for the PA Prime Minister from the outside, but won’t be given the keys.Hamas will get the keys. And when this happens, Abbas and Fayyad can while away the hours eating sushi and going bowling at the new Ceasar Hotel in Ramallah.