An Israeli-Arab odd couple seek peace in Hebron
In the volatile West Bank city of Hebron, Israelis and a Palestinian leader met in search of a unique solution to the conflict.
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"It caused the Jewish settlers to realize they have good neighbors. Everything starts from respect. The sheikh respected a place that's holy for Jews. How can I not respect him?" he asks.Skip to next paragraph
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After recovering from their initial surprise, the settler leaders saw a political opportunity. Fearful that they may experience a repeat of Israel's forced evacuation of some 9,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, the ties to the Jaberi clan may help them defy the assumptions of peace negotiators that Jewish settlers should not remain deep in Palestinian regions.
Unlike the West Bank landscape of separated Arab and Jewish towns, about 7,500 settlers live in and around Hebron in intimate proximity to the city's Palestinian population of about 130,000.
"We want to build a new peace situation that is built on the rights of people to live in this area without being the victim of evacuation," said Noam Arnon, the spokesman for the 600 or so settlers who live inside the city limits.
Jaberi says the settlers' status in the city ultimately depends on the outcome of these fledgling talks. If the Israeli army does remove checkpoints and opens Palestinian shops in the vacated old city, he'll be able use his family's power to possibly prevent attacks from Palestinian militants.
But analysts are skeptical about the potential of this new alliance.
"A local initiative for a limited period of time could work. But I wouldn't expect it to go beyond that into political recognition," says Gershon Baskin, the copresident of the Israel-Palestinian Center for Research and Information. "It's difficult for me to see any kind of modus vivendi between the settlers in Hebron and the Palestinians there. You're talking about the most extreme group of settlers – and the Palestinians of Hebron don't represent the most moderate group of Palestinians, either."
The next move
On a Hebron road severed by concrete blocks and a military watchtower, settling old scores seemed less important than easing life for the thousands of Palestinians who cannot drive.
As she neared the blockade with her elderly mother-in-law and year-old son, Dalal el-Muhtasib explained how visiting her aunt inside the restricted neighborhood once took five minutes by taxi. Now, the ban on Palestinian vehicles means a 20-minute walk.
Ms. Muhtasib says she has hope that the sheikh's talks with the settlers may improve daily life for Palestinians like herself living in Hebron. "We will sit with the devil to remove the siege."
Magrafta, the negotiator, says action is needed from the government to respond to the progress in Hebron. "There is a population is really suffering from the road closure. It needs to be solved as soon as possible, to show to the people that the shiekh brought results and that it's not [just] another meeting that looks nice."