Bitter in daily grind of occupation, Palestinians view talks as charade

August 12, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

TURMUS AIYA, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- When the Middle East peace talks began in Madrid, Spain, almost two years ago, Jamin Hussein was one of many Palestinians who streamed into the street, dancing and clapping.

"Now I think we should withdraw. Quit," said the 34-year-old carpenter, amid the sawdust of his workshop.

"What happened since Madrid? A lot of killing. A lot of roadblocks. We can't even get to Jerusalem. There is no more work, less money. What kind of peace is this?"

That question is at the heart of the current turmoil within the Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations.

The delegation continued an apparently acrimonious debate at the Palestine Liberation Organization's faraway headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, yesterday after three of its leaders threatened -- then withdrew -- their resignations. The three, Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat, all residents of the West Bank, want more control over the talks.

They have returned from each of 10 negotiating sessions to face the growing disillusionment of Palestinians living, like them, under Israeli occupation. But the negotiating strategy is being set by Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, who has not set foot in his homeland for more than two decades.

This conflict, between delegation leaders inside the territories and the PLO leadership outside, adds more discord to a peace process that people in Turmus Aiya already see as increasingly futile and irrelevant to their lives.

The peace talks were initially met with joyous enthusiasm by Palestinians, but they now are viewed by many as a cruel charade. An opinion survey in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip released last week showed more than half favored quitting the talks.

Jamin Hussein offers some explanations:

"I have a new baby," said the carpenter, a lean man, his face mapped by lines of sweat cutting through the dust from his work. "I had to register the baby. I had to close my shop for three days to stand in line at the [Israeli] Civil Administration. Just for a stamp that takes minutes for Israelis."

"My nephew had an eye problem," he continued, motioning to the 8-year-old boy watching him work. "The only hospital for eyes is in Jerusalem. I had to stand in line for six hours to get a permit to go. It was good for 12 hours. When I got there, they took an X-ray and said come back tomorrow. I had to stand in line again, and by the time I got another permit, it was good for 12 hours, but seven hours had gone by."

"I used to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque," at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, he said. "I can't go there now. I hardly remember what it's like."

His litany of complaints is a familiar list from those under Israeli occupation. The peace negotiations have been rocked by political thunderclaps -- the deportation of 415 Palestinians, the closure of the occupied territories, the shelling of southern Lebanon, kidnappings and shootings by Arab fanatics opposed to the peace talks.

But it is the unrelieved daily grind of living under Israeli authority that has most disappointed Palestinians.

They are weary of the searches that humiliate husbands and terrorize children in their homes at midnight, weary of the permits that ensnare them in a deliberately obtuse bureaucracy for the simplest of requests.

They are angry at the curfews that imprison them in their houses, the closures that cut them off from their jobs, the taxes that bring few services, the harassment of women and old men by teen-age soldiers with rifles. They want freedom from all of this.

"I thought peace would mean economic growth. It would mean we would have no fears of the occupation, no fear to go outside of our homes. We would be free," Mr. Hussein added. "Now, when I see a strange car or an Israeli jeep, I hurry to close my shop doors in fear."

Turmus Aiya is a village of about 2,000 midway between the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus. Nestled into a pleasant crease of the stony hills, it sits under the gaze of the Jewish settlement of Shilo.

Since Shilo was begun 15 years ago as an "archaeological excavation," it has spilled from the hilltop ever closer to Turmus Aiya. The march of red-roofed Jewish houses has continued on land claimed by the Arab village, despite the start of the peace talks and a new Israeli government that promised to freeze the settlements.

"All the people wanted peace here. They were really optimistic that something would change in their lives," said Mr. Jabber. "But two years later, they see the peace process is a hopeless case."

Many think the Palestinians should just quit the talks. Others are resigned; they say, with a shrug, the delegates might as well keep negotiating for lack of a better choice.

"They peace talks will come to nothing," said Izad Salleh, 48, a construction foreman.

But he added, "They should continue negotiating, although I think it's nonsense."

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