Monday, January 31, 2011

Doesn't the West Bank have Facebook?

Don't the Al Jazeera on-the-scene reports about the riots in Egypt spark thoughts of uprising among unemployed Palestinians in the West Bank?

By Akiva Eldar
The riots began in Silwan, spread to Sheikh Jarrah, moved on to Shuhada Street in Hebron and reached their peak in Ramallah. College students and the jobless, along with former Hamas prisoners and embittered Fatah activists, took over the Muqata. Masses of people bearing placards condemning the occupation marched toward the settlement of Psagot. A small group of soldiers who were stationed along the way took fright and fired live bullets at the protesters. News about the death of 10 youths inflamed the Arab towns in the Galilee and the Triangle region, and the outrage spread to Jaffa and Ramle. The Israel Defense Forces seized control of the territories and restored military rule. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced his resignation and dismantled the PA.

A hallucination? The product of a wild imagination? If only. Just last week, who among us anticipated the earthquake that has since rocked Egypt? Are the residents of Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and Shuhada Street, who are living under foreign occupation, in a better situation than the Egyptians suffering under a cruel regime? Don't the students at Birzeit University have Facebook accounts?

Don't the Al Jazeera on-the-scene reports about the riots in Egypt spark thoughts of uprising among unemployed Palestinians in the West Bank (especially since the unemployment rate in the West Bank is 16.5 percent, compared to 9.7 percent in Egypt )? And don't the lucky ones, who have permits to stand in a packed line at the roadblock in the wee hours of the morning to get a day of work at a Jewish construction site, understand that even Arabs can revolt against infringement of their basic rights?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that he was making an effort to maintain stability and security in the region. How will he do that? For example, is he going to help strengthen the moderate secular coalition in the region by announcing that he accepts the Arab League peace initiative - the same initiative that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been begging us to respond to for eight years - as a basis for negotiations?

Come on, really, how could he? After all, it doesn't say there that they'll recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and a united Jerusalem as our eternal capital.
So maybe, as a gesture to Mubarak, Netanyahu will invite Abbas to his home and present him with a fair proposal for permanent borders?

What does that have to do with it? The Palestinians should be thankful that the prime minister is considering approving an access road to the future Palestinian city of Rawabi.
And what about this idea: Netanyahu convinces members of Congress to increase financial aid to Egypt. He could tell them it's not fair that Israel gets $3 billion a year from the United States while Egypt, whose population is 11 time bigger and whose per capita gross national product is about one-fifth that of Israel's ($6,200 vs. $30,000 ), gets less than $2 billion.

What kind of nonsense is that? Where will we get the money to buy more combat planes? What, are we going to take it from the new roads we're paving for the settlers?

It's not really reasonable, or even fair, to expect that Netanyahu will really make an effort to maintain regional stability and security; the human rights situation in the territories interests him as much as last year's heat wave. The option of withdrawal from most of the territories as part of a regional peace, accompanied by security arrangements and the promotion of financial projects, does not sit well with his political agenda. The "Big Brother" contestant who was kicked off the show yesterday interests Israeli voters more than the risk that Abbas will be ousted tomorrow. The turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt serve as further proof for the voters that in our violent part of the world, we have to build up our muscles - and that there isn't any room for terror collaborators or people who are overly fastidious.

The responsibility for not geting dragged away in the wave of fanaticism and anarchy falls on U.S. President Barack Obama. In June 2009, he pledged that "America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own." At the same time, he called for a total halt to settlement construction, which he said undermines peace efforts. Twenty months later, in his State of the Union address last week, Obama didn't mention the Palestinians or even imply anything about them, while his representatives in the United Nations are working on holding off a proposal to condemn Israel over continued unrestrained construction in the settlements.

The only thing left is to hope that Obama learned something from what's going on in Egypt and will not wait until the territories are aflame before muttering something about the need for confidence-building steps.


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