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Palestinian View Is Mostly Skeptical

May 26, 2003|Maher Abukhater and Rebecca Trounson | Special to The Times

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Khaled Abdul Rahman says he wants very much to believe in peace.

Weary of violence, strife and economic hardship, Rahman, a 43-year-old civil engineer, says he hopes the U.S.-backed "road map" for peace endorsed by Israel Sunday may spell an end to more than 50 years of conflict.

Palestinians, he said, "are tired of this kind of life and we want to see it change."

But Rahman and other Palestinians interviewed Sunday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were skeptical that the latest peace plan would produce any real change. Their doubts were heightened by the fact that the plan was backed by the right-leaning government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Frankly, I do not see Sharon and his government ready to change or ready for peace with us," Rahman said as he strolled with friends near this city's central Manara Square. "My feeling is that the road map is just another stillborn plan."

Sharon, who served as Israel's defense minister during the 1982 war in Lebanon, was later found indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian refugees at the hands of Israeli-allied Lebanese militias. Many Palestinians also dislike and fear him for his role in expanding Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land.

Ahmad Abu Sabae, a student at Al Quds University, laughed derisively at the notion of Sharon pushing for a renewed peace process with the Palestinians. Even the left-leaning Labor Party, which helped produce the Oslo peace accords, had not ended Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, he said.

"What did we get from Israel after 10 years of Oslo?" asked Sabae, 23. "Nothing. Look where we are today. Do you think Sharon, the worst of all the Israeli leaders, is going to be more generous to us than [Yitzhak] Rabin and [Shimon] Peres? They are all the same. Let us not fool ourselves anymore."

Sabae said he also could not bring himself to trust that the U.S. has Palestinian interests at heart. "If we rely on America to solve our problems, I guess then we are doomed."

In Gaza City, meanwhile, 48-year-old Abdel Hamid Khodari sat Sunday afternoon at a small table where he sells sweets and soft drinks to passersby. He was not hopeful, he said.

"From my point of view, the road map is a new American trick for the whole Middle East, to make a new Middle East according to the American and Israeli understanding," said Khodari, the father of eight children.

There were exceptions to the prevailing pessimism, however, even in unexpected quarters.

Khader abu Abbara, a onetime activist with a radical Palestinian faction who is now a political analyst in Bethlehem, said Israel's acceptance of a Palestinian state is one sign of the Bush administration's new engagement in the peace process after the U.S. victory in Iraq.

"I would not be surprised to see a Palestinian state by 2005 if Israel was committed to what was announced today," Abu Abbara said.

In the Dahaisha refugee camp, a 55-year-old Palestinian policeman named Mahmoud Atallah was also hopeful. "Who could believe that Sharon would say such things as to allow us to have a state?"

Atallah has seen the cost of war. His son Jad, a commander of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, was killed by Israel during the violent Palestinian uprising of the last 32 months, he said. Another son, Zeid, was deported after holing up last year during an Israeli siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

If the Palestinians actually gained statehood and his exiled son was eventually allowed to return home, Atallah said, his dreams and hopes would merge in a wonderful new reality. But sometimes, he mused, to achieve one dream, it may be necessary to relinquish another.

For instance, Atallah said, his late father, a refugee from the Palestinian village of Deiraban in what is now Israel, spent his life "holding the key of our house there," dreaming of his eventual return. "But I will not live anymore in illusions," he said.

Special correspondent Abukhater reported from Ramallah and staff writer Trounson from Jerusalem. Special correspondents Samir Zedan in Bethlehem and Fayed abu Shammalah in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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