As negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians leaders reach a crisis, in Ramallah, the urban reprieve and seat of President Mahmoud Abbas’s government, the breakdown passes with much apathy. Indeed, the nine months of direct talks are leaning to disaster, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stalled the release of a fourth round of Palestinian prisoners, and Palestinian President Abbas sent letters to join international treaties—a move the Israel view as unilateralism and a red line.
“For me, it makes no difference,” said Dr. Abdallah Shararah, 59, a pediatrician and the dean of a medical school in Ramallah, “because after 20 years of negotiations nothing was achieved of the national goals of the Palestinian people.” Dr. Abdallah, as his friends call him, took time out of a backgammon game to speak with me inside of the bustling Ramallah Café, a hub for Palestinian artists and intellectuals. The two-floor smoke shop is humbly decorated with Madrid and Barcelona soccer flags strung to the ceiling, crates of soda and Cappy—an Israeli version of Minute Maid juice—weathered books and academic journals, and a few “boycott Israeli goods” stickers slap dashed to the backs and underneaths of things.
“And,” continued Dr. Abdallah, “I don’t think the United States is a neutral sponsor for these negotiations. They are biased for the Israeli occupation.”
Dr. Abdallah went on to explain that irrespective of whether the negotiations fall apart this week, or succeed to form a “framework” for future discussions, the Israeli occupation cannot be removed through bilateral talks. And he finds, “talks” are the extent of an Israeli commitment.
“Negotiations are a means of continuation of occupation and delay as much as possible the achievement of the Palestinian goals, which gives Israel the chance to change realities on the ground.” By realities on the ground, Dr. Abdallah was referring to the 130% increase in settler construction during the peace talks, rendering the much awaited return to the table a difficult moment for Palestinian society.
He continued, “Political goals and negotiations are dictated by the balance of power on the ground. And it’s obvious that the Israelis have the upper hand and are supported by the biggest powers, the greatest power the United States, and at the same time I believe that no occupation can end without resistance. As well the occupier are not paying a price, the Israelis are not paying the price of the occupation. They are benefiting from it.”
Seated with Dr. Abdallah underneath a television that played a black and white Egyptian film that no one was watching was George Khleifi, 67, a film producer and director from Nazareth living in Ramallah.
“I was one-year old when Israel was declared,” he said half in jest. George, unlike Dr. Abdallah, does think the Palestinians have much to lose from negotiating with Israel, but out of fatalism or perhaps exhaustion, he too was not terribly concerned.
“To continue the negotiations without a real will to arrive at a solution from the Israeli side is useless. Not only useless, it can harm, because Israel under so-called negotiations,” George explained, “continues the large settlements, creates new settlements, and creates facts in Jerusalem that makes any acceptable solution for the Palestinians, the solution for two-states, impossible.
“Why give them a kind of legitimate umbrella with those negotiations?” George lamented, “That ‘s what most people here believe.”
Still if negotiations implode, George thinks ultimately it will have political reverberations and force the one-state option, and by logical extension, the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Of course, the only solution of what remains is the solution of one state. It will be a fact that Israel will control the whole territory that was supposed to be two-states.”
What will remain, said George, is, “one apartheid state: one state for two peoples where one has all of the rights, the Israelis, and one has none of the rights, the Palestinians.”
“I hope that they, the Israelis, will be logical and will understand that they don’t want the one-state but they are doing everything to make it happen,” concluded George.
And to the Palestinian leadership, the Ramallah street is a town apart from the motorcade of officials that zip in and out of the Muqataa and take lunch at the American Colony Hotel on special governmental “visas” to Israel.
“Our problem as Palestinians is the widening gap between the people and the politicians,” said Dr. Abdallah. Motioning at the others in the café, he said, “they are professionals, artists and writers. Drama, theater, cinema—and these people they know they have a mission for society. Change in their society and they are the people who carry the banner of hope when politicians fail.
“Simply there is an overall frustration,” said Dr. Abdallah before returning to his board game, “There are people who are benefiting from this situation and it’s not in their interest to change. They,” he said, “have common interest with the Israelis.”
But Dr. Abdallah warned that his society should not be brash and boot out the exiting leadership that keeps returning for more and more peace talks, such as with Gaza and the 2005 government sweep. “Electing Hamas,” he said was “uncalculated, a kind of revenge,” against the ruling party Fatah for corruption and unachieved freedom.