RAMALLAH, September 17 (JMCC) - The northern West Bank
city of Jenin
has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade. A thriving Palestinian town, its violent history seems lost in the past. However, even here, there is the sense that this town’s success is teetering on the knife-edge of political and economic uncertainty.
Mawal restaurant is a favourite haunt of Jenin’s shisha-smoking professors, politicians and policemen for whiling away the nights. A decade ago it was a battlefield. After negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed at Camp David in 2000, gunmen traded fire in the city, heralding the violent second intifada. Read
It is hard to imagine Mawal falling back into ruin. The northern West Bank city of Jenin, once home to 30-odd suicide bombers and a plethora of rival fighting groups, is today a picture of Palestinian normality. The 500-plus American-trained security men whom Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, sent to the city in May 2008 have chased out gangland militants and criminals, and prevented attacks on Israelis even when their soldiers raid the refugee camp in central Jenin. Former fighters speak of a new era of law and order in which police impose fines of 500 shekels ($133) for talking on a mobile phone while driving. Jewish settlers near Jenin cast less of a shadow over the city than they do elsewhere in the West Bank, in part because Israel’s government dismantled four nearby settlements in 2005.
Signs of normalisation abound. After a nine-year closure, Israel now lets cars as well as people go through the Jalameh terminal, the gateway between Jenin and the Galilee district of northern Israel, where Arabs outnumber Jews. Hundreds of Israeli Arabs drive across every day, ending Israel’s economic boycott. Around Jenin Israel has lightened its footprint; many checkpoints are unmanned. On a good day you can drive from Jenin to Ramallah, the Palestinian administrative capital, without a single Israeli soldier demanding papers.
And yet, in this city that Mr Blair hails as the model of a future Palestinian state, people are still disenchanted. When the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, shot four settlers dead on the eve of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington, even policemen and local chiefs cheered. “Our grassroots were even more thrilled than Hamas’s,” says Ata Abu Rumeila, provincial leader of the ruling Fatah faction.
The chasm between bottom-up state-building and the top-down negotiations in America or Egypt looks wider than ever. Mr Abu Rumeila praises Mr Fayyad, a non-Fatah technocrat, for his repeated walkabouts in places such as Jenin, but pours scorn on his Fatah masters who seem either to jet around the world or stay cocooned in their government compounds in Ramallah. In his eyes, the condemnation of Hamas’s attacks issued by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president who has re-embarked on the negotiations, showed how divorced he is from popular sentiment. Most people in Jenin think the talks will just give Israel breathing space to keep the status quo.
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