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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
news
News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Application Developer / Software Developer

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...

Recruitment Genius: Brand Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Anna Woodward: Reporting Analyst

£35,000: Anna Woodward: Are you excited about making an impact on a FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower