Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians Try to Explain Reaction

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians Try to Explain Reaction

Article excerpt

AS Palestinians both inside and outside the occupied territories initially welcomed the apparent ouster of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, political leaders in the West Bank are hastening to dispel the sour taste that reaction has left around the world.

With memories of the Palestinians' ill-fated support for Saddam Hussein still fresh in their minds, spokesmen are at pains to explain the popular cheers at word of Mr. Gorbachev's fall.

The general satisfaction at events in Moscow stems, they say, from a widespread feeling that in drawing closer to the United States, Gorbachev betrayed the Palestinians.

"It doesn't mean the Palestinians are saying we want a return to the cold war, or we want Stalinism," stresses Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian team that has been discussing the peace process with United States Secretary of State James Baker III.

"Those who are happy, if you will, I think they are frustrated over how Gorbachev handled the Palestinian problem, that is all," adds Radwan Abu Ayyash, former president of the Palestinian Journalists' Association.

"At a gut level ... people are so desperate and frustrated that any change that holds out hope of even a one percent improvement in their situation is seen as positive," explains Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and film maker.

"But the leaders, the intellectuals and the politicians have not been so quick to make judgements," he points out.

Nonetheless the wave of support for the Soviet hard-liners that swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip has astonished outside observers.

"There has been an instinctive reaction that this will help them without any thinking through of the implications of their public posture," says one Western diplomat.

"Last August they were at least relating to an Arab brother (Saddam Hussein), but which star are they hitching their wagon to this time?" he wonders.

Gorbachev's general unpopularity among Palestinians dates from the moment it became clear that his rapprochement with the United States was going to involve distancing himself from traditional Soviet prots in the Arab world, especially the Palestine Liberation Organization. …

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