'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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?