Independence Day Wasn't on West Bank

Palestinians Left With Little To Celebrate From Bid

By Nathan Jeffay

Published November 17, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.
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It was Independence Day on the West Bank, an annual commemoration of the fruitless Declaration of Independence proclaimed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Algiers on November 15, 1988. Even though she got a day off from her job, Riham Rabiya wasn’t celebrating.

Zafer Al-Rimawi, a Ramallah economist, and his children.
Nathan Jeffay
Zafer Al-Rimawi, a Ramallah economist, and his children.

“We’re celebrating Independence Day, but there’s no independence,” the 52-year-old secretary complained. “To tell the truth, I forget about the holiday.” Rabiya fears that the Palestinians’ more recent current statehood bid will be no more effective.

Chatting as she made her way back home in the central West Bank town of Birzeit after a shopping trip, she said she was “really excited” when the Palestinian bid began in September but now she doubts that it will lead to statehood.

The sense of an opportunity slipping away is widespread across the West Bank. At the Kalandia refugee camp north of Jerusalem, a disheveled banner unintentionally sums up the pessimism. It says, “The right of return is never.”

The word “negotiable” that used to complete the sentence on the banner has faded away, as has the enthusiasm that once existed for the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid. “Everybody was very enthusiastic for creating a Palestinian state,” said camp elder Fuad Kader, 84. “I was sure that [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas was going to go all the way.”

Now he believes that his expectations were misplaced. “I don’t think anything will happen, as everything is in the hands of the Americans and the Americans don’t want a state — Israel is controlling the Americans.”

Wisam Salymeh, a 38-year-old electrician, predicted that the bid “won’t change anything in the world of reality.” He said that things will “go from bad to worse” — though he does not predict violence, as Palestinians are “too tired for an intifada.”

Hamas supporter Muhammed Asad, a 48-year-old minibus driver, thinks that the diplomatic track was a mistake from the start. “When there was violence in Gaza, Israel withdrew themselves like dogs,” he said. “Israel only understands the laws of force.”

To Asad, the Ramallah-based P.A., which is behind the statehood bid, is an irrelevance: “We have a Palestinian saying the wedding is in Nablus and the people clap in celebration in Ramallah.”

In Ramallah, the P.A. is working hard to dispel this kind of skepticism. Close to the trendiest shops in the city center, a huge chair towers above pedestrians. It is a model of a United Nations chair to symbolize the U.N. seat that the P.A. still hopes to secure. But many are unswayed.


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