Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Autonomous Jericho, Palestinians Still Waiting for Jobs

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Autonomous Jericho, Palestinians Still Waiting for Jobs

Article excerpt

In Autonomous Jericho, Palestinians Still Waiting for Jobs

By Sam Cahnman

In the Palestinian autonomous area of Jericho, a half-hour's ride from Jerusalem, signs of Palestinian nationhood are beginning to take hold in this dusty, sleepy town near the Jordan River. But, some 16 months after the Sept. 13, 1993 Yitzhak Rabin-Yasser Arafat handshake on the White House South Lawn, and a little more than half a year after the departure of Israeli troops, signs of the Israeli state still are very much in evidence.

On a bright sunny day in January this dichotomy was no better illustrated than by a visit to the local post office. All the Hebrew markings on the building had been replaced by signs in Arabic and English announcing that the building houses the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Postal and Communications Department for the Jericho Area. Inside, though, the only things Palestinian are the "Palestinian Authority" postage stamps on sale. Printed in multiple denominations of mils, or thousandths, of an unspecified currency, they are sold for Israeli shekels, and, according to the postal official behind the counter, will carry mail only to the autonomous areas of Jericho and Gaza.

Conveniently, the Palestinian post office also sells Israeli stamps and phone cards with magnetically embedded credit for use in Israeli public phones. A bank of such phones sits in the lobby, from which Jerusalem is still a local call--no need to dial a country code or even a city area code.

Scattered around this palm tree-lined, resort-like town, generally acknowledged as the world's oldest city, are offices of the various PNA ministries--agriculture, local government affairs, treasury, labor, welfare, antiquities and others, as well as police headquarters. The offices, though, do not convey an atmosphere of intense activity, perhaps because the bulk of the PNA's activities are conducted from Gaza.

Tacked to the walls of the labor ministry, housed a short walk from the town square in a decrepit building with seven other ministries, are safety posters left over from the Israelis, in Hebrew and Arabic. The most immaculate government establishment is the Local Government Affairs office in a neat, clean building away from the central business district. The building, which houses the office of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Saeb Erekat, formerly served as a vocational school. The reception area to Erekat's office contains four shelves of neatly placed, numbered, ring binder files bearing such labels as "Palestinian-Israeli Meetings"; "Gaza-Jericho Agreement"; "Israeli Violations"; "Projects: Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus"; and "Job Applications."

Every car this reporter saw in Jericho still bore Israeli license plates. Hassan G. El-Hussein, the town's silver-haired, smiling mayor, says Palestinian license plates are coming, but will be phased in only as the individual Israeli plates expire.

Palestinian blue- and green-uniformed policemen were very visible in the central business district, but appeared relaxed and at ease. The blue-uniformed officers handle conventional police work, such as crime and traffic, and do not outwardly carry arms. The green-uniformed officers handle internal security, such as attacks on the PNA, and many carried visible military arms. No Palestinian police cars were apparent.

Although the ride from Jerusalem to Jericho costs less than $2 in a service (group) taxi, few tourists arrived on their own. Buses did bring tour groups to the various religious and archeological sites in the Jericho Area, but in the two days this reporter spent in Jericho, none appeared in the central business district. No Israelis were visible in town either, even though the Oslo Agreement gives them the right to travel the roads of the Jericho Area.

The central business district bustled with activity, as vendors displayed their brightly colored fruits and vegetables. …

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