Conflict & Justice

Egypt and the Palestinians

For years, the Arab world was inspired by scenes of the Palestinian intifada. But now many in the West Bank say it's unlikely that Palestinians will be inspired to protest by the waves of unrest sweeping the Arab world. Daniel Estrin reports from Ramallah.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

At The Ramallah Cafe in the West Bank city of Ramallah, everyone is glued to the television, watching live coverage of the Cairo protests on Arabic news channels.

But what's on Palestinian TV?

The owner flips to the government owned channel for a moment. It's running an old episode of Sesame Street. Cafe customer Muhammed Jaber gives a knowing chuckle.

Palestinian TV hasn't been airing much footage of the Egyptian protestors since the uprising broke out last week.

?It's a government channel,? Jaber said. ?Our government has good connection with Egypt.?

Jaber understands that his government is treading on thin ice.

Like Israel, the Palestinian Authority has maintained a close relationship with the regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called Mubarak a few days ago to give him his support.

Yet even Palestinian lawmakers like Hanan Ashrawi admit that what the Palestinian Authority says and what ordinary Palestinians think are two different things.

?The official position is that you don't interfere in domestic politics of other countries,? Ashrawi said. ?And yet the Palestinian people, who struggle for human rights and the rule of law, are quite sympathetic to the Egyptian people.?

Arabs and Muslims across the Middle East were inspired by the Palestinian Intifada that broke out in 1987 and 2000. Now the roles are reversed, as Palestinians watch a wave of popular protest sweep other parts of the Arab world.
Will the Palestinians fill the streets?

Some are wondering if Palestinians will be next to fill the streets and demand that their leaders step down. Ashrawi, however, insists that the Palestinian leadership is not concerned.

?If the Palestinian people want to rebel, they will rebel?against occupation,? Ashrawi says. ?This is the source of real oppression, and the Palestinians know this. If they feel their leadership is not doing the job they want them to do to face occupation, they can vote them out of office.?

That kind of democracy is what Palestinian officials like to project as reality. But the truth is that voting their leaders out of office isn't a viable option now.

The Palestinian leadership is divided between the West Bank and Gaza.

The secular Fatah party of the Palestinian Liberation Organization rules in the West Bank, the Islamist faction Hamas is in power in the Gaza Strip, and the two do not cooperate.

Elections were supposed to be held last year, but Hamas has refused to participate, so President
Abbas postponed them.
Elections as soon as possible

It's a sticky situation for Palestinian leaders at a time when Arabs elsewhere in the region are demanding new leaders and free elections. So it's no coincidence that the Palestinian cabinet in the West Bank said Tuesday that it would hold municipal elections as soon as possible.

But political analyst Hani Al Masri said that may not be enough to appease ordinary Palestinians.

Al Masri added the man in the street in the West Bank wants the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to stop their squabbling.

?If they don't end the split, [stop] arresting people and preventing demonstrations here and in Gaza, I think [there will be] another Intifada against the authority in the West Bank and Gaza,? Masri said. ?I asked them to change before it's too late.?

The 20-somethings at the Ramallah Cafe don't seem ready to take to the streets in protest against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

A young man named Rami says Palestinians just feel stuck.

?It's uncertain what they can do when there is no alternative,? Rami said. ?We don't want chaos, we don't want the PLO to disappear. We don't want to lose our discourse and the accumulated struggle we have waged for 60 years.?

So these young Palestinians sip their tea in cafes and try to live normal lives in the face of an uncertain future.

As one said, that's also a kind of popular protest.