Palestine is reborn, says Arafat as Clinton opens Gaza to the world

HASSAN, a young Palestinian in Jabalya refugee camp, near the centre of Gaza city, was not happy as he waited for the Palestinian leadership to drop the anti-Israel clauses in the Palestinian charter. "I want the refugees to be able to go back before they change it."

These were not wise words on a day when Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was straining every nerve to make a success of the visit by President Bill Clinton to Gaza, the self-ruled Palestinian enclave. Eight plainclothes policemen removed Hassan for a quick interrogation over what he had said about Mr Clinton.

Palestinians in the streets of Gaza were sceptical. Ibrahim Ali, a money- changer, watched impassively as Hassan was arrested. "The Clinton visit may put us on the road to a state but it does more for [Arafat's] Palestinian Authority that it does for the people," he said. "Gaza is still just one big prison."

None of these doubts would have been evident to Mr Clinton when his helicopter landed at the newly opened Gaza international airport yesterday. Posters showed Mr Clinton and Mr Arafat, apparently hand-in-hand, with the slogan: "We Have A Dream".

"Except for Monica [Lewinsky], nobody loves President Clinton like Arafat," said a US diplomat cited by the Israeli press.

When Mr Clinton and Mr Arafat addressed the Palestinian leadership in the Shawwa centre later in the day, Mr Arafat several times enfolded the President's hands in his own. In words that cast light on the importance he invests in this visit, he repeated: "Palestine is reborn again, reborn again."

Palestinian police and soldiers made strenuous efforts to ensure nothing might spoil the rebirth. All the streets in central Gaza were closed to traffic and there were checkpoints every 200 yards on roads far from where the leaders were meeting.

A small boy, a Palestinian flag attached to his cycle, tried to ride along the road which goes past Mr Arafat's headquarters and was rapidly turned around by three soldiers with guns.

At the Shati refugee camp, where Hillary Clinton was mobbed by excited children, Lieutenant Subhi Azami, who grew up in Beirut and had fought against Israel's Lebanon invasion in 1982, was directing police and soldiers as they sealed off roads. He pointed out that Mrs Clinton, unlike her husband, had said she hoped the Palestinians would have their own state.

Looking at the narrow lanes and breeze-block houses, whose poverty a last-minute clean-up did not conceal, he said: "Maybe the Americans will see how we are suffering here." As he spoke, two Israeli jets soared overhead, emphasising the limits of Palestinian sovereignty.

The anxiety about security was as much American as Palestinian. Diplomats from the US embassy in Tel Aviv had moved to the Holiday Inn in Ashkelon, just up the coast in Israel, from there they commuted each day for weeks to organise the visit. None was allowed to spend one night in Gaza. "You've never seen such paranoia," one said.

Mr Arafat has walked down so many red carpets to meet foreign leaders in the past 30 years that the people of Gaza are dubious about how much good Mr Clinton's visit will do them. But for once their cynicism may be misplaced. On arriving, he said the Palestinians were free to "determine their own destiny on their own land". He cut a ribbon to open the airport, though it was opened with great fanfare several weeks ago.

Mr Arafat is relishing the change in US policy towards the Palestinians. Twenty years ago a US official, prematurely assigning the Palestine Liberation Organisation to its grave, said: "Bye, bye PLO". Yesterday Mr Clinton was addressing its leaders, all dressed in suits and uniforms.

"The Palestinians see it as the beginning of the fulfilment of a messianic vision and an independent state," wrote Hemi Shalev, an Israeli commentator. "They are drunk with the smell of the strategic revolution they have carried in their relations with the American government."

Mr Arafat's strategy has been to agree to everything the Americans wanted and yesterday he got his reward. In October he signed the Wye Agreement, under which he will get back only 13 per cent of the West Bank, which means Israel will still hold a third of the Gaza Strip and 60 per cent of the West Bank. Mr Clinton praised the Palestinians for still negotiating when they had good reasons "for walking away". And for the first time he sympathetically mentioned Palestinian grievances such as prisoners held by Israel, Jewish settlements, land confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes. He compared the grief of children of Palestinian prisoners to that of children of Israelis killed fighting Palestinians.

None of this will be good news for Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, whose delay implementing the Oslo accords is blamed by many Israelis for changing US attitudes. There was something plaintive in the way Mr Clinton told the Palestinians they should revoke clauses in their charter not to please Israel's government "but to touch the people of Israel".

He may suspect the Israeli withdrawal from another 5 per cent of the West Bank, scheduled for Friday, is not going to take place. Mr Netanyahu is fighting for his political life: he needs the hard right's support to save his coalition in a confidence vote next week and he will not get it if the pull-out goes ahead.

Palestinians in Jabalya camp may be right to wonder how many of the fine words spoken in Gaza yesterday will turn into reality.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?