Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians' Hopes Dwindle as Peace Looks Elusive as Ever Tougher Israeli Practices and Lack of Results from Talks Deepen Pessimism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians' Hopes Dwindle as Peace Looks Elusive as Ever Tougher Israeli Practices and Lack of Results from Talks Deepen Pessimism

Article excerpt

SUFFERING the same hardships of occupation as ever, and frustrated by their leaders' failure to achieve results after four rounds of negotiations with Israel, Palestinians in the occupied territories are losing most of their faith in the peace process.

This is the unanimous conclusion of Palestinian negotiators themselves, local political analysts, and Western diplomats, six months after the Madrid conference launched the first-ever peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian youths celebrated that meeting by offering olive branches to Israeli soldiers in this West Bank town 15 miles north of Jerusalem. Today, they are throwing rocks again.

"After Madrid there was a euphoria that something would happen quickly," says Palestinian negotiator Ghassan Khatib. "We wanted that mood to calm down, for people not to be overoptimistic. But now they are pessimistic."

The sharp shift in public opinion has prompted some prominent personalities to wonder how long the Palestinians can keep coming to the table without winning any tangible results with which to persuade their followers that the inevitable concessions of negotiations are worth making.

"We will be faced with a critical question at a certain point, when people say they cannot go on paying the price," warns delegation spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi. "We can sustain for so long, but when you lose your base you have nowhere to stand."

Judgments vary as to when the Palestinians might reach that point, and about the exact degree of support the peace process still enjoys among the grass roots.

Mr. Khatib, for example, believes that most people "are still convinced that we should continue with negotiations," even if, he concedes, "a major reason is that we don't have any other alternatives."

An even bleaker picture emerges from a recent opinion poll by a Palestinian team, which remains unpublished for political reasons, Palestinian sources say.

Based on answers from 1,000 respondents around the territories, the poll found that support for the peace process fell from more than 70 percent at the time of the Madrid talks to less than 25 percent after January's talks in Moscow on multilateral regional issues. Approval of the delegation's performance slumped just as precipitously, from 80 percent to 30 percent.

Palestinian leaders blame Israeli occupation practices for the deepening mood of cynicism about the talks. Ramallah, for example, normally a bustling commercial town, was under full military curfew for 24 days during the three months that followed the Madrid talks, and under night curfew for an additional six weeks.

Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are growing at the same record pace established last year, the Israeli authorities continue to confiscate Palestinian land, 46 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli troops in the past six months, and 11 face deportation. …

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