'The Palestinians believe the Oslo accord is just an extended truce'

PLO election cynicism runs rife in the West Bank, writes Patrick Cockburn

Hebron - "The Palestinians only have islands of authority on the West Bank," says Khalid Amayreh, an Islamic writer and commentator in Hebron, as he criticises Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman for mismanaging negotiations with Israel. "We will remain subordinate to the Israelis," he adds. "In their hearts the Palestinians believe the Oslo agreement is just an extended truce."

Cynicism about the first ever Palestinian general election, to be held on 20 January, is greatest in Hebron, the capital of the southern West Bank. Here there has been no Israeli military withdrawal. Troops protecting 400 Israeli settlers in the heart of the city will simply pull back to their barracks on election day.

Local candidates admit that the mood in Hebron is bad. Ali al-Kawasmi, standing for Fatah, the political organisation of Mr Arafat, says: "I think that only 60 per cent will vote in the election, but if the Israelis truly go, then it would be 100 per cent." In the villages, he says, people are more positive about the election, because Israeli soldiers have largely withdrawn.

Unfortunately the election has produced no real debate among Palestinians about what they are getting from the present phase of the Oslo agreement, because the opposition, Islamic and secular, is not taking part. The two main secular opposition parties have put up a joint poster in Hebron which reads: "This election will split the people and split Palestine."

In the villages outside Hebron, however, there are real signs of a transfer of power. In al-Fawwar, a refugee camp housing 7,000 people five miles west of Hebron, we asked a local teacher called Hashem al-Titi what benefits people in the camp had gained from Israeli redeployment. "We don't see any Israeli soldiers," he replied. "We are no longer frightened that they will come in the night and arrest our children."

Other leaders in the camp, which had a tradition of militancy in the Palestinian intifada (uprising), said they did not know what they would get out of the election, but they intended to vote. Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Sal admitted there was a difference among the generations of refugees: "All the old people want to return back to their villages [in Israel], but the younger generation have different ideas."

In the nearby town of Doura, Ibrahim Abu Khalil, a plump police colonel in a blue uniform, had set up the area's first Palestinian police post, and was facing a problem of jurisdiction. He explained that earlier in the day gunmen in a car had fatally wounded Fawzi Mashalmi, 55, as he stood outside his shop in the village of Beit Alla. He bled to death as his family drove him to Doura.

With 70 men, the police in Doura said they were too few to control the area, which has 40,000 people. Despite this, the Palestinian Authority is taking over the rural hinterland of the West Bank, where 68 per cent of the total population live. To sceptics like Mr Amayreh this means little. "I asked a candidate from Fatah what they would do if the Israelis raided Doura, and the answer was 'Nothing'. Arafat's bombastic rhetoric declaring liberated areas does not mean anything." The parties boycotting the election point to the half-built by-pass road cutting a swathe through Palestinian vineyards beside the road to Jerusalem.

The weakness of the opposition is that it ignores the intense relief among most Palestinians in the West Bank at the departure of Israeli troops in December.

There is a genuine feeling that 28 years of occupation are ending. Secondly, Hamas and the secular opposition have never produced an alternative policy to Mr Arafat's, but criticise him for not getting more concessions from Israel in the negotiations since Oslo.

Abstention by opposition parties and lack of clear programmes means that candidates spend their time trying to persuade leaders of clans and extended families to vote for them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions