PLO officials speak of the 'good Jews'

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The Independent Online
TO HIS economic advisers, Yasser Arafat has promised Palestinian postage stamps in three weeks, passports in three months. 'There will be no problems with the Israelis about this,' one of those advisers commented wistfully as he strode the sand-encrusted lawn of one of Gaza's few hotels before we left for Jericho. 'The protesters don't matter. The Israelis are now what we call the 'enemy-friends'.'

It was an exclusive point of view. In Gaza - and yesterday in Jericho - PLO officials talked about the 'good Jews' with whom they could negotiate, the honest Israelis whom they could trust. But the moment we drove out across Israel and the occupied West Bank to Yasser Arafat's other borough in Jericho, all the old double standards reasserted themselves. At the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, two elderly Palestinian women were forced to sit on the pavement in the sun while their papers were checked, hands upraised and pleading with an officer to allow them to pass. An Israeli border policeman forced a Palestinian with out-of-date papers to stand beside his car while he screamed abuse at him.

That morning's Jerusalem Post maintained the same double standards. The front page announced the wounding of an Israeli Jew by Arab 'terrorists' while the back page carried a smaller article reporting that 'Jewish extremists' may have been responsible for the murder of a Palestinian Arab. My Palestinian taxi driver watched fearfully as a squad of bearded Israelis in yamulkas erected a huge banner across the Ashkelon-Tel-Aviv highway intersection calling for Mr Arafat's assassination.

But the moment we arrived in Jericho, there were the PLO men again, all expressing trust and goodwill. A Palestinian major said passage in and out of Jericho for Mr Arafat had been fully co- ordinated with the Israelis; that indeed, an Israeli helicopter might escort Mr Arafat's machine across the land he calls Palestine early today. 'He will meet his ministers here in Jericho,' Faisal Husseini announced. 'The ministers will be sworn in and will then tell President Arafat of their needs.' A PLO colleague said that the three principal ministerial demands would be 'money, money and more money'.

Mr Arafat's stated refusal to accept the financial accountability demanded by international donors is causing some private disquiet among his staff. Officially they talk of the disrespect shown by the World Bank in suggesting that their 'president' cannot be trusted; privately they say that some of Mr Arafat's opponents in Gaza may have to be bought off, not least because they were well-armed by the Israelis in the last months of their occupation of Gaza City (the truth of this accusation will be debated for many months).

The need for funds is all too evident. Around Jericho, crudely painted signs have been erected outside grubby two-storey apartments and dust-covered offices. 'Palestine National Authority Land Department,' says one. 'Palestine Council of Health' and 'Palestine National Authority Department of Communications' - the latter painted on a wooden board above an alleyway beside Jericho's fly- blown post office.