'PLO capital' cool about peace plan: Sarah Helm visits Israeli-occupied Jericho and finds residents confused about the modern role that Yasser Arafat is casting for their ancient city

AT THE Temptation Restaurant in Jericho, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there was little faith yesterday that the stones of occupation could be turned into the bread of statehood.

'All these things will I give thee,' Yasser Arafat has promised the people of Jericho, which sprawls untidily over a lush oasis under the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by the Devil.

'Sovereignty, peace, the return of exiles - for Gaza and Jericho first,' says the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. And Mr Arafat has promised to descend on Jericho himself, and to set up his headquarters here, to ensure the promise is implemented.

Sitting amid line upon line of empty tables, plastic covers curling in the heat, Khaled Abdel Razek, the restaurant's proprietor, said he would like to believe it. 'Mr Arafat is welcome here, and his friends. I have 1,500 chairs,' he said.

But his enthusiasm was easily overcome by the torpor, as overhead fans pointlessly wafted the stifling air and the temperature soared towards 48C.

The 9,000-odd residents of Jericho, which is 24 miles (38km) from Jerusalem, and four miles from the River Jordan, are confused. Since 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan, installing a military occupation, Jericho has tried its best to make do with a paltry kind of life, keeping a low profile, away from the front line of the conflict. Perhaps because of the heat (the town is 825ft below sea level) or a general weariness with the world (Jericho is the oldest city known to man), Palestinians here have tried to avoid confrontation with their Israeli occupiers.

Now they are being told they must take the front line: this time in the battle for peace. The location of the town suits Mr Arafat's plans, being close to the Allenby Bridge, the West Bank's link with Jordan. He has therefore proposed that Jericho, along with the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, become a testing-ground for Palestinian 'independence'.

The theoretical benefits for this downtrodden town are many.

The soldiers who patrol the palm-lined streets would go, and tourists could throng here by the million to view the city where Joshua fought his famous battle; the city given to Cleopatra by Mark Antony, and then leased by Herod the Great. Pilgrims would flock to the site of Jesus' baptism on the River Jordan at Jericho.

At the same time Jericho would become the de facto capital of 'Palestine'. Mr Arafat's stretch limousines would brush against the bougainvillaea which line the roads, and heads of state would be invited to pass mild winter days at Mr Arafat's riverside residence.

Traders would be able to do their business with Arabs instead of with Israel. 'We all support the idea here,' said Isak Shawa, a shopkeeper. 'We want to be modern - like any other Arab country. But if this doesn't happen now it has been promised, we will all turn to terrorists - even me.'

Investors have already been pouring in money and house prices have doubled. There are rumours that Mr Arafat has had his people check out the prime local real estate.

But there are also strong fears of impending chaos: fears that if the Israeli soldiers go, internecine war might break out. Harb Jabr Jaber, imam (prayer leader) in the mosque, said he would oppose acceptance of the proposal. 'Palestinian rights are not limited to Jericho. They go back to 1948 - to 1967. This idea is just partition of the Palestinian state.'

One restaurateur, whose premises were burnt down by Palestinian militants when he disobeyed intifada rules, said: 'Whoever takes control here must be able to protect the people from themselves.'

With open borders, there are fears that 'bad people - from Bethlehem and Nablus' might come to Jericho. Some residents advocate checkpoints on the roads, manned perhaps by Palestinian police. The drivers of Gaza taxis, which are now the main link between the Gaza Strip, 60 miles away across Israel, and Jericho, wonder how the two zones will be joined under the plan. Others fear that new investment will make life expensive. 'What about taxes - will they rise?' asked Nader Adel al-Azis, a money-changer.

The people of Jericho also fear that tourists will be deterred, not encouraged, by the town's new notoriety as the 'PLO capital'. The PLO earned a reputation for terrorism for such a long time. And what will happen about freedom of movement in the town? 'How will friends and relatives in Ramallah visit me? Will they need passports or visas? We don't know,' said Mr Azis.

Most of all, the critics fear that self-rule for Gaza and Jericho is an Israeli trick and will not lead to self-rule for the rest of the West Bank, still less to a Palestinian state. Jericho will simply become a symbol of a PLO sell-out.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 27

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

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

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album