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In would-be Palestinian state, a dose of reality

In would-be Palestinian state, a dose of reality

While leaders mount UN bid, Palestinian independence seems like fantasy, what with the struggle to survive on West Bank and a cash crisis posing a risk to Palestinian Authority.

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September 21, 2011 11:45 by



…security of the state. Some 300,000 of its citizens, meantime, have moved into settlements on land they consider Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Another 200,000 also now live in and around East Jerusalem on land Israel has formally annexed.

Though the Palestinian Authority has built up institutions ready for statehood in the last two years, its territorial control is limited to patches of West Bank territory which encircle the biggest Palestinian towns and villages — a zoning system the Palestinians agreed to in the 1990s in the belief it would be a step towards independence.

This has left Israel in full control of 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory, effectively governing the lives of 150,000 of its 2.5 million Palestinian residents and dominating land seen as crucial to the establishment of a viable Palestine.

The authority’s reach has also been curbed by internal Palestinian divisions. The PA has not governed Gaza since the Hamas group seized control there in 2007, denying it the chance to develop a territory evacuated by Israel in 2005.

LIVING ON A WEST BANK ISLAND

The limits to PA influence can be seen in Nabi Samuel, a Palestinian village northwest of Jerusalem that has been cut off from its Arab hinterland by Israel’s meandering West Bank barrier.

“We are now on an island,” said Mohammad Barakat, a lawyer who speaks on behalf of the community of 250 people.

The barrier is just one lasting consequence of the second Intifada — an uprising whose failures are often cited by Palestinians as good reason to avoid more violent confrontation with a vastly more powerful adversary.

Israel says the barrier was aimed at stopping suicide bombings and other militant attacks and says it is working.

But Palestinians say it is aimed at seizing control of land. The section that has cut Nabi Samuel off from the rest of the West Bank for example, also loops around nearby Jewish settlements deemed illegal by the world court, anchoring them to Israel.

Reaching Palestinian towns once a five-minute drive from Nabi Samuel can now take more than an hour. Visitors from the other side of the barrier must get Israeli permission to pass through a checkpoint.

While there is no barrier between Nabi Samuel and Jerusalem, villagers caught working there illegally face jail and a hefty fine. Ten have been caught in recent years. Two are still in prison.

Unemployment runs at 90 percent, Barakat said. The village boasts one small grocery. Its school is a single room measuring 4 metres by 4 metres, which serves 11 pupils. Inevitably, younger people have started to leave.

Some 50 people, around a fifth of the population, have abandoned the village for the other side of the West Bank barrier in the past two years.

“It would be easier for me to move to Ramallah, but I can’t contemplate leaving my village,” Barakat said.

“WE’RE READY FOR STATEHOOD”

From Nabi Samuel you can see the growing skyline of Ramallah, which currently serves as the administrative heart of the would-be state. With its gleaming new ministerial complex and presidential palace, it provides a stark contrast to the village’s potholed roads.

Critics say the PA has focused too much attention on the city, turning it into a de facto capital that is taking the place of East Jerusalem, now beyond the West Bank barrier and part of what Israel calls its indivisible capital.

Fountains and sculptures decorate Ramallah roundabouts, part of an overhauled Palestinian road network rebuilt in much of the West Bank with the financial backing of international donors, including the United States and the European Union.

A police force kitted out with brand new Volkswagen patrol cars and Italian motorbikes whiz around the streets.

The state-building work led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is routinely…

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