Bleak view of peace in Palestinian village: Sarah Helm describes the mood in Qattanah on the West Bank two months after the Israeli-PLO accord

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The Independent Online
SOME TWO months on, and the view from Salim Shamasneh's terrace, in Qattanah on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, looks somewhat bleaker than it did.

The village is a stronghold of Fatah, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which signed the peace agreement with Israel on 13 September. But since the village's celebrations after the signing, the posters of Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, have faded in the autumn rains. Mr Shamasneh, 95, has had no word of compensation for his olive trees, destroyed when his 40 acres were confiscated by Israel in 1985.

His only son, Ibrahim, was arrested last week by the Israeli army, accused of being a member of a military cell of Fatah. Cell members allegedly confessed to the killing of four Israelis before the peace deal. But the family do not believe the charges. Ibrahim, seized in the night, handcuffed and blindfolded in time-honoured occupation style, has never been arrested before.

In any event, they say, the alleged crimes would have been committed before the deal and should therefore be set aside, under the terms of the agreement whereby Mr Arafat has called off his gunmen. There is new edginess since the arrests: 'the army, the army', villagers keep crying, staring across the hill for any signs of soldiers.

Gathering on Mr Shamasneh's terrace the villagers are confused by the shape the peace is taking. They have seen no benefits yet. The talks, due to restart in Cairo today, are making slow progress. Most political prisoners remain in jail.

The cycle of violence has taken a volatile turn. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has vowed to continue attacks against Israeli targets. Now breakaway Fatah groups are ignoring Mr Arafat's 'ceasefire', launching their own attacks. Others are handing in their guns and are being granted amnesty by Israel. Others still are reportedly joining up with Hamas.

In Qattanah it is hard for the moderates to know how to respond. They cannot read the signals from Mr Arafat. He has condemned the killing of a Jewish settler, Chaim Mizrahi, by Fatah militants, but has not spoken out against Israel's continued violence and harassment of Palestinians, they complain.

In the nearby town of Ramallah, Fatah activists have been angered by the unchecked rampaging of settlers, and the killing on Tuesday by soldiers of the 18-year-old son of a senior Fatah activist, Rami Rizawi. The local Fatah group issued a leaflet promising to continue the intifada 'until every Israeli soldier has withdrawn'.

On 13 September the Palestinians of Qattanah, like the majority of people in the occupied territories, showed sudden conviction that peace could now be achieved. Asked what they think now, they shrug, raise their eyes to the sky and say wistfully, 'inshallah' (God-willing).

It was inevitable that the high hopes of 13 September would not be met fully. Qattanah, just north of Jerusalem, is a useful barometer of disappointment. Like any Palestinian village it is proud of its role in the intifada. It has lost four 'martyrs'. At one point it had 150 young men in Israeli jails; 12 are still held for 'security offences'.

From the Shamasneh terrace the Green Line which separates Israel from the occupied West Bank can be traced across the hilltop opposite. About 60 per cent of the village support Fatah - the rest are largely Hamas supporters.

Qattanah is ringed by Israeli settlements, built to shore up the Jewish population on the edges of Arab east Jerusalem. The villagers therefore have first-hand experience of the growing anger of Jewish settlers, who are stepping up their own intifada against Palestinians to protest against the peace deal and Arab attacks on Jews.

The contrast between lifestyles either side of the Green Line are only too clear to see here. Just the other side of the hill runs the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, which - if peace comes - could link Israel to Amman and beyond.

Proximity to Israel has brought few benefits for the villagers and many extra disadvantages. Land confiscation has been extensive and compensation is a higher priority for them than release of prisoners. The village once had 625 acres largely planted with olive trees whose oil provided good money. All this land was confiscated by Israel, without explanation, since 1967. Now the village land is limited to the residential area. 'There is not enough room even for us to bury our dead now,' said one villager. As a result farmers in the village have been forced out of work or have become labourers.

More recently, Qattanah suffered badly from the new restrictions barring West Bank Palestinians from entering Jerusalem. More jobs were lost as a result.

The mood in Qattanah is poised on a cusp. As one Fatah leader put it: 'If the occupation continues as it is there will be more dissension within Fatah. There is a lot of tension in the village. People are angry and frustrated.'

Resignation is written on the furrowed face of Salim Shamasneh - but he has not given up hope, he says. Peace may still come - inshallah.

AMMAN - Jordan and Syria have agreed that neither will sign a separate peace treaty with Israel, Jordanian officials said yesterday, Reuter reports. The pledge, reinforcing previous positions, came during a meeting between King Hussein and President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus.

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