Palestinian statehood remote as ever
By Bethany Bell
There was almost a party atmosphere near the tomb of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
People danced and waved flags to patriotic songs, blasted at full volume.
Hung about the compound were huge banners emblazoned with pictures of Yasser Arafat in his trademark military fatigues, and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, in a dark business suit.
But five years after the death of Mr Arafat, Palestinians seem no closer to the dream of an independent state.
In the West Bank, there have been some improvements in the economy and in security.
Five years after Mr Arafat’s death, the Palestinian leadership is in doubt
The northern town of Nablus, previously a stronghold for Palestinian militants, has experienced something of an upturn in recent months. But like the rest of the West Bank, it is still under Israeli occupation.
Israeli forces have removed some of the checkpoints around the town.
Shopkeepers say business is doing better.
And for the first time in more than 20 years, Nablus has a cinema again – complete with fizzy drinks and popcorn.
Its owner, Bashir Shakah, says a whole generation of Nablus teenagers has grown up without being able to see films on the big screen.
The decision to open the cinema was “an act of faith in Nablus”.
“Living in a war zone, you can say, it is a challenge for us to open a cinema,” he said. “But we thought it would be a good investment for the city.”
Mr Shakah said the business couldn’t be put on hold while everyone waited for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“You are living between two choices: either you stay home or you do something with your life. And we decided that even if there is an intifada, we are going to start doing our business.”
Outside the cinema the streets are bustling. Locals say things have become safer over the past year because of the new Palestinian security forces.
But it is an uneasy calm. Night raids on Nablus by Israeli forces are frequent.
For Ameed, a medic, it’s a reminder that the West Bank is still under occupation.
In essence, he believes, things haven’t really changed.
“I don’t believe in peace,” he says. “The Israelis just use the Palestinian forces for their own benefit.”
There are big questions hanging over the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
Yasser Arafat is still revered by many in the West Bank
Mahmoud Abbas recently declared that he did not want to stand for re-election because of the deadlock in the peace process.
Some observers say this could be just a tactic. Mr Abbas has made similar threats in the past, and it is not even clear if the elections, called for January, will take place.
But an adviser to Mr Abbas, Sabri Saidam, says this is an “extremely critical situation” for Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
“The president is adamant that he is leaving office. The only thing that will change the situation would be an international position to convince Israel that the only way forward is a two-state solution.
“Other than that, I see no reason or justification for the president to go back on his word.”
At twilight in the Old City of Nablus, Abla and Hussein bought freshly cooked fritters and cakes at a small cafe.
A year ago, militants would have been out in the stone alleyways, and most of the shops would have shut before dark.
These days it is the fruit and vegetable stall owners who are out in force.
But Abla says fear is never far away.
“I am afraid for my children, afraid for myself. If you feel afraid in your own home, it is not peace.”