Soccer replaces stone-throwing as talks calm camp

November 09, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

KALANDIA, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- Where the young men of the Kalandia refugee camp used to gather to throw stones, the same young men are playing soccer. In the alleys where political slogans were painted regularly on the walls, the graffiti are being allowed to fade.

What a difference a little talking can make, even if the talking occurred thousands of miles away in Madrid, Spain.

While the talks there could not bring an immediate formal peace, the beginning of negotiations between Israelis and Arabs has ushered in a noticeable calm. The simmering anger of Palestinians in the West Bank has at least temporarily cooled.

"For the first time in our lives, we've been heard," said Sama Farhan, a Palestinian aid worker who is one of Kalandia's 6,000 residents. "It's the first time we are in an international conference. That is a gain, but we need more."

Palestinians in the West Bank are beginning to get used to the idea thatthey might get some of what they want. Israel has agreed to discuss giving Palestinians limited self-government, a first stage toward deciding the permanent status of the territories Israel captured in 1967. And, for the first time, Palestinians have said that limited autonomy would be acceptable for now.

A rough schedule for negotiations has been accepted by both sides, following the plan outlined in the 1979 peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt. The exact nature of Palestinian self-rule is to be the main subject of the negotiations. Once agreed upon, self-rule is to last five years.

By the end of the third year, the two sides are to begin another series of talks, this time about a permanent agreement. Those negotiations are supposed to produce a treaty deciding the political future of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians say the permanent agreement must lead to the creation of an independent state; Israel's government pledges that it will never agree to such an outcome but is willing to talk.

Palestinians already are arguing about who among them risks losing the most from an agreement. They also are demonstrating the difficulties their leaders will have in keeping people united.

Villagers, worried about losing farmland to Jewish settlers, say they are in more of a hurry for a peace agreement than city people are. City people say they are more politically realistic than refugees are.

Refugees who left Israel during fighting in 1948 worry that their interests have already been forgotten. Refugees who left in 1967 worry that they will have to share any gains with the refugees of 1948. Everyone wonders whether Palestinians living in Arab countries or in the West will be allowed to return -- and whether there will be enough resources to go around.

"We've been living in this camp since 1948 because we're hoping we can go back to our land," said Mohammed al-Hassan, a Kalandia merchant who is angry that the Palestinians in Madrid held out little hope for those wanting to reclaim property within Israel.

"We are proud of the people in Madrid, no doubt of that," Mr. Hassan said. "But we were wishing they said something about people like us."

There also is a vocal minority that supports the Muslim fundamentalist group Hamas and demands nothing less than an Islamic state. Hamas supporters criticize the Palestinians who traveled to Madrid as traitorous because, in the view of the fundamentalists, the negotiators did not demand nearly enough.

In the traditionally conservative city of Hebron, Hamas supporters dominate the public debate. "Everything in Madrid was nonsense," said Tayseer Qawasmeh, owner of a shop selling yogurt. "This piece of land has been Islamic land since the beginning of history, and there can be no negotiations about it."

Others questioned the abilities and motives of Palestinian leaders, including Faisal Husseini, the most prominent activist in East Jerusalem and leader of the team of Palestinian advisers in Madrid.

Mr. Husseini is a stooge of the Americans, claimed a seller of cassette tapes. A tool of the British, said the owner of a shop with household goods. A third merchant who joined the conversation only long enough to sip a glass of tea said Mr. Husseini was controlled by Israel.

"Does Faisal Husseini really believe in what he is doing, or is it just talk, talk, talk?" said Ghaleb Hassouneh, the seller of household goods. "He did not say one word about Jerusalem. He left it hanging, even though it is our main target. I wanted somebody to tell me what will be the end of all this."

Most Palestinians sound less skeptical. In the talks in Madrid, Palestinians and Israelis acknowledged that their shared problems probably would not be solved easily. Each side began to accommodate itself to the likelihood of getting less than it wanted.

In Kalandia, there are signs of compromise.

Barbed wire still surrounds the camp, and most of the entrances remain barricaded by walls of oil drums, erected by Israeli soldiers to prevent would-be stone-throwers from reaching the highway to Jerusalem. But no soldiers are venturing inside.

Even if soldiers do arrive, no one appears to be waiting in the usual place with a stone. In the dirt field beside the road the soldiers use, the young men are otherwise occupied. For now, they appear to be wholly intent on kicking the soccer ball toward the goal.

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