A bit more from yesterday: A big plus of travelling with Estephan is that he knows a lot about what's going on. Most interesting was his description of the negotiations between Hamas and Fatah facilitated by the Egyptians. A general draft of unification has been completed and submitted to both. Now the difficult part, getting down to specifics. Both agree to a unity government and Hamas seems ok with giving Abbas another year before elections which would be for both President and Legislative Council. Among other things, designating the power and duties of prime minister is a tough one. PM was created at urging of US to diminish Arafat's power. President still has power to apppoint and fire the PM - and present PM is Hamas. Estephan believes achieving this unity critical and difficult - an historical and important moment for Palestinian people. US will probably not want unity govt., would rather disempower Hamas. So much for supporting democracy.
(Late addition: With Hamas refusing to come to Cairo yesterday (Saturday) for the meeting with Fatah, it looks like the US doesn't have to worry about disempowering Hamas; they're doing a good enough job all by themselves.)
On the other side, the Israeli elections will be held this February ... and many here believe Netanahyu will win, meaning a probable end to negotiations. Without unity among Palestinians and a strong leader - and without a strong Israeli government, neither will be able to implement an agreement, even if they could achieve it. One Israeli I talked with commented: "We lurch back and forth between liberal and conservative governments, becoming disappointed by both, never keeping one in power for very long."
Sounds depressing, eh what? Yet I keep hearing of remarkably promising things happening. Although Tony Blair has little international clout, Estephan says he has been very helpful - launching economic initiatives, getting some agreements for a new sewer project in Gaza and negotiating with the Israelis to allow more essential goods into Gaza (or was that the Carter Center?). And last night we had dinner with Estephan's wife who works with World Vision. They invest about 10 million a year into very interesting projects on the West Bank and in Gaza - with a clear policy that what they do is not from "compassion" but because education, health care, etc. is a basic human right. When they agree to partner with a village or municipality, it is at their invitation and the agreement is to stay with the project for 15-20 years. When they leave, they want the accoplishments to be the village's, not World Vision's.
I had brkfst this morning with the director of the Carter Center in Ramallah. He confirmed what Estephan said about the Hamas-Fatah negotiations and described the very quiet work the Carter Center is doing: teaching non-violent conflict resolution, entering tense situations to negotiate agreements. Their work is very often behind the scenes.
Finally, after leaving Bil'in yesterday, Estephan and I went in search of a very small Palestinian village which has joined with two others and a refugee camp to form a new municipality called Al Ithad (about 11,000 people in all). After many wrong turns and a road to the village closed by the IDF(for no apparent reason), we found our way and met with the mayor and a contact who turned out to be a physiotherapist who had treated Estephan's father in Ramallah(we discussed exercises for hip replacement patients). Estephan's mission was to evaluate this location for the next Seraj library. As the available building space is next to the local school and near a kindergarten beneath a nearby mosque, it looked promising to us. They would supply space and staff to manage the library and develop program; Seraj would supply furniture and books. The mayor was enthusiastic.
Harkening back to the demonstration at Bil'in, the mayor told us he had persuaded the IDF district commander to visit the road closed to their village. Apparently the DCF agreed there was no apparent reason for the closure. If the road is not opened in two weeks, the mayor will call for demonstrations. Hopefully not necessary.