IN the months since the Middle East peace agreement, those of us involved in humanitarian efforts in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza are waiting with excitement and not a little trepidation for the goodwill displayed on the White House lawn to translate into assistance for the people here. Many would maintain that once the mutual economic benefits become evident to Arabs and Israelis alike, the prospects for stability and peace in the region will be greatly enhanced.
The initial announcement that the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel had struck a secret deal was greeted with considerable suspicion and anxiety among Palestinians. At the same time, Israelis met the announcement with a mixture of joy, resignation, and a sense of conflict rooted in their religious convictions.
People with whom I came in contact were reserved, almost numb, when the news broke. The image of the PLO that was emerging after the agreement was not the PLO they had known. The secrecy surrounding the deal led many to wonder what was still unknown.
The general mood these days, although by no means euphoric, is certainly a far cry from the dark days of last December, when Israelis and Palestinians were reeling from a fresh spiral of violence that culminated in the expulsion of some 415 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. At that point, there was little hope that the peace process could ever bear fruit.
Less than a year later, on the evening of Sept. 10, after PLO and Israel officially recognized each other, my family and I were at our home in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem. As dusk deepened, we heard the sound of drums, honking horns and cheering. From the rooftop of our apartment building we saw a large convoy of cars and trucks coming south on the main Nablus-Jerusalem road. The sight was incredible - Palestinian flags were being openly displayed, as were banners with political slogans. The participants, mostly young men and presumably Fatah supporters, were cheering loudly. While I was told that there was no small display of joy expressed by many Israelis, their revelry was mixed with a feeling of unease.
In order for this agreement to hold any real meaning, viable economies must be developed for Palestinians in the lands they will control. The coming months are critical to this development. Most observers agree that the political progress has opened the door to a regional economic turnaround. White House officials concede that large amounts of foreign aid will be needed over the next several years. While I am pleased with Secretary of State Warren Christopher's stated intentions, my concern is that foreign aid will not be infused in the wisest way.
There is a real danger that though commitments will be made by American donors, inadequate attention will be paid to coordination and respect for the wishes and plans of the Palestinian community and their Israeli neighbors. Lack of coordination will result in duplication and wasted resources; lack of respect will create a patronizing attitude and only exacerbate the current divisions and undermine the precarious peace. The donor community must ensure that in the rush to assist the Palestinians, donors give them room to sort out their own priorities.
Violence in the occupied territories continues, but it is tempered by a feeling among many that a better future for Israelis and Palestinians may well lie ahead. As one respected Palestinian put it recently, most Palestinians are weary of the political slogans; they yearn for constructive change in their daily lives. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.