My friend met me that morning at Qalandia checkpoint outside of Ramallah, where an Arab driver from East Jerusalem drove me and my Canadian passport through the checkpoint into the congestion of a large traffic circle and a string of villages that have all connected together to form the suburbs of Ramallah.
“Ask any Palestinian around here and they’ll all tell you the same thing about Abu Alla,” my friend continued.
The statement intrigued me especially since several weeks earlier I had met Abu Alla, a former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority when the short gray haired balding man shared a podium at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem with Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s Kadima party. The event at the King David Hotel was the first time they had seen each other after Livni ceased being Israeli Foreign Minister following the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
Why is that? I asked.
“Because Abu Alla ‘s cement company helped the Israelis build the Wall here in the West Bank. Abu Allah profited from the Wall and Palestinians haven’t forgotten it..”
In 2004 Abu Alla was accused by members of the Palestinian Legislation Counsel of helping build the wall. A Palestinian parliamentary committee found that Qurei’s family company Al-Quds Cement shipped cement to Israel from Egypt. That cement, the committee found, was specifically used for building the Wall.
Wasseem, a thirty something year old Palestinian who lives near Ramallah, who asked not to have his last name published laughed when asked about Abu Allah. “Yes, Abu Allah built the wall. They are all corrupt. This is the leadership we have that doesn’t care about the people. I wouldn’t vote for any of them.”
Given this revelation about Abu Alla, it is easy to understand why Hamas won the 2007 elections over Fatah at a time when he was Prime Minister. He has no legitimacy in Palestinian eyes.
SALAM FAYYAD AND RAMALLAH’S ECONOMIC BOOM
My German friend then begins to speak about Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who he says “definitely has ambitions to become President after Abbas. That’s why he has been trumpeting his Fayyad Plan to Palestinian Statehood. The plan calls for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood by next summer.
“It is because of Fayyad that this restaurant, and others like it to exist in Palestine,” my friends says. “That is his accomplishment. Under him, the economy has improved, and been brought to a more normal state. None of this would have been possible without him.”
In the streets of Ramallah, there are new attractive coffee shops, big billboard advertisements for stylish modern looking furniture like the kind seen in Tel-Aviv, and banks in modern buildings, have sprouted up. Some people aredriving new cars. The markets in the centre of town are overflowing with produce. A new bus station is being built. Young Palestinian police with red caps in green uniforms are plentiful, watching over the crowded centre of the city.
We stop for coffee in Cann Expresso, in the Clock Circle of Ramallah, a new shop opened only three month’s ago owned by an Arab in East Jerusalem. It’s decorated with red leather chairs and black tables, with a mural of the New York skyline on the wall. In the corner of the shop, there is a freezer full of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream. Ben and Jerry’s left-leaning company in 1998 announced that it would no longer purchase water from an Israeli company in the Golan Heights as it was over the green line.
It’s late morning and we are the only ones there, but my German friend assures me that ‘These places are filled up in the evening and that the hundreds of staff of NGO’s based in Ramallah frequent them regularly.” He says that there are also Palestinians who frequent them.
Another hint of ‘Americanism” is a coffee shop called “Stars and Bucks”—a knock off of the American chain“Star Bucks.” And there are definitely people with bucks in Ramallah, as evidenced by an architecturally designed home we pass by that looks like a mini palace.
“There’s no shortage of people with money here,” my friend says, as we pass by new private homes being constructed with Jerusalem stone. Not far away there is a building which calls itself the V.I.P. Centre and houses some foreign diplomatic offices. There are signs everywhere indicating buildings being constructed through money from U.S. Aid and other foreign bodies. Down a hillside, I see a crop of new apartment buildings with terraced porches, overlooking barren landscape.
He shows me an outdoor theatre that’s been built and stores that sell alcohol. “You wouldn’t see alcohol sold in Jenin,” he says, noting that Ramallah is the more liberal of the two, due to it having originally been a Christian town.
As time goes on and my friend lists the accomplishments of Salam Fayyad, I begin to take note that there are no signs with his picture anywhere on the streets of Ramallah,- I can’t find even one. It was I Bethlehem that I saw a couple posters with his face hung in a store selling fruit and vegetables. But not one in Ramallah, now considered the economic capital of the West Bank.
Notwithstanding all of the accomplishments for which my friend credits Fayyad, even he tells me candidly as he sips his lemonade that “No one is sure at all how popular Fayyad is among Palestinians.”
Fayyad is not a member of Fatah. In the last Palestinian elections, he was part of a small party that only garnered three seats.
In a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, even Gershon Baskin, CEO of the Israel-Palestine Information Center noted that Fayyad’s political life-line is fading:
” Abbas will soon retire and Fayyad lacks a political movement behind him. While Fayyad’s success in creating stability and economic growth is admired equally by Palestinians as it is by rest of the world, without a political movement behind him and because he has effectively closed the finance faucet to Fatah, his political lifeline, unfortunately, may not be too long as well.”
When I ask Wasseem what he thinks of Fayyad, Wasseem says “He is not the Palestinian Prime Minister. He is the American Prime Minister…George Mitchell chose him because he likes talking to him.”
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