Palestinians little moved by Bush visit
In the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, residents say that Israeli interests will trump theirs despite Bush's vow of a peace deal this year.
JERUSALEM; and Ramallah, West Bank
While President Bush stood in Ramallah Thursday speaking of plans for a way out of the conflict that defines daily life for millions of Palestinians, many of the people he hoped to convince that a peace deal with Israel is on the horizon simply dismissed his promises as kalam fadi – empty words.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Not far from the Palestinian Authority offices where Mr. Bush met President Mahmoud Abbas, men sat huddled at a popular local cafe watching the two stand side by side for the first time on Palestinian soil.
"For us, the Bush visit failed even before he arrived. This visit worked in favor of Israeli interests, not for the Palestinians," says Khader Dibs, a middle-age father and manager of the local sanitation office who was among many who sat watching the speeches on new flat-screen television hanging on the wall, which turns the Abu Kheir Cafe in the Shuafat Refugee Camp into something of a town square. Men came to discuss the politics of the day and women stopped in to eavesdrop while they picked up a tub of the freshest hummus in town.
Palestinians here say they wish Bush would come to their neck of the woods, too, to see what it means to have their freedom of movement constantly curtailed.
"Our whole life is waiting at checkpoints. It's a humiliation," Mr. Dibs says. "I didn't hear Bush talk about Israel's recent assassinations, incursions, and killings, either. The money spent on his visit would have been better spent on development."
Dibs's views were echoed by many average Palestinians Thursday as Bush pledged to see the signing of a treaty leading to a Palestine state before his term ends. His visit was the first US presidential visit to the PA headquarters in the West Bank, but few were impressed with the intended symbolism.
Shortly after a press conference between Bush and Mr. Abbas ended, an increasingly influential Islamist group arrived to share its take on the American push for a deal heard – a point of view that seemed to garner more interest.
The activist from Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), an international Islamic movement, began passing out professional-looking photocopies of a statement denouncing Bush and discouraging Palestinians from putting any hope in peace with Israel.
Palestinians say Hizb ut-Tahrir, which argues that now is not the time to make jihad, or holy war, is beginning to gain in popularity against Hamas, the Islamist militants who won at polls here two years ago and recently wrested control of Abbas's Fatah faction in Gaza last summer.
Hizb ut-Tahrir's message has appeal, the men say, because too many here have long lost hope for the establishment of a Palestinian state: whether because they don't think Israel is serious about enabling that to happen, or because their own Palestinian brethren are not willing to compromise on their claims to what is now Israel proper.