Palestinians remain sceptical despite Bush's upbeat prediction

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The Independent Online

Even the man with the contract to supply 3000 packed lunches for the Palestinian and US security men protecting President Bush had his doubts.

"I want Bush to come here every day," said his employee Abdul Munaim Saif, 25, rejoicing at his double wages for wrapping six times as many £1.25 fresh chicken and beef shwarma sandwiches and Cokes as they turn over in a normal day.

But outside his restaurant off Ramallah's usually chaotic main Manara Square, closed to traffic yesterday and heavily patrolled by armed Palestinian police, his boss, Wajih Arman, 45, was less excited. "For the PA [Palestinian Authority] it is like a guest who decides to come to your house. You do not tell him not to come."

The visit by Mr Bush - who in stark contrast to his host, Mahmoud Abbas, was without an overcoat despite the freezing fog - was a big moment, only the second ever made to the West Bank city by a US President.

But Mr Bush's upbeat prediction of a "peace treaty" this year contrasted with the scepticism of many residents. "The Palestinian people will not make any gains out of it," predicted Mr Arman. "They will all make their promises and then not fulfil them."

Mr Arman added: "I want a just peace for the two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, but I mean peace in reality and not just in words. I am not optimistic. I think the Israelis do not want peace."

Palestinian police freely used clubs near the Palestinian parliament to move on a noisy but small protest demonstration by mainly leftists, among them the prominent independent legislator Mustafa Barghouti.

But among the majority of residents who remained off the streets two brothers, Maher and Hussein Hamad, had to be persuaded to turn their TV on to watch the Bush arrival. "I was hopeful before [the summit at] Annapolis" said Maher, an employee of the PA here, and a father of four. "But now I am frustrated."

Maybe because hopes have been raised and dashed so often before, the brothers, who will nevertheless be digesting President Bush's statement today, were pessimistic. Mr Hamad, strongly in favour of a Fatah accord with Hamas, wholly excluded from the current talks, acknowledged a "slight hope" yesterday. But he added: "I think Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] should tell Israel that if there is no [Palestinian] state within a year he will resign and dissolve the PA."

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