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Palestinians Give Rice Trip a Mixed Reaction

Day to Day: October 5, 2006

Palestinians Give Rice Trip a Mixed Reaction

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And more now on Secretary Rice's Mid-East trip, something meant to gain support for moderate leaders in the region.

Wednesday, she met with Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas. In comments after their meeting, she urged an increase in humanitarian relief and greater freedom of movement for Palestinians. But she didn't really offer U.S. help on either issue.

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.

Daoud, earlier in the week, Secretary Rice spoke very plainly about the dire state of things in the Palestinian territories. What exactly does she mean?

Dr. DAOUD KUTTAB (Director, Institute of Modern Media, Al-Quds University): Well, she means that people have not been paid for six months. Their schools have been out on strike. Students have not gone back to school. There is a very clear level of hunger and near-poverty, and there's also a lot of internal fighting and thuggery and lawlessness going on.

CHADWICK: What are Palestinian leaders doing themselves to try to deal with the crisis? There are talks about a unity government between President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas which the U.S. won't talk to, even though it won the elections earlier this year. Where does the unity government stand?

Dr. KUTTAB: Well, it's still not resolved yet. They have resolved many of the issues, but they have one sticking point which is that although Hamas basically gave up the idea of negotiations to the PLO, they said we don't want to be involved in negotiations. We will allow Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO to do the negotiating.

Still the U.S. and Israel want whichever government is formed to publicly declare the recognition of Israel, something that Hamas doesn't feel that they are obliged to, since most Arab countries haven’t recognized Israel. So why should they be in any different position than the other Arab countries?

CHADWICK: I saw a wire story earlier today that said that President Abbas says the talks with Hamas are pretty much dead. They're not going anywhere. I wonder how you feel about that? Is that the correct interpretation of events at this point?

Dr. KUTTAB: Well, they have reached the kind of deadlock, because the agreements that Mohammed Abbas reached with the Prime Minister Ism has not been approved by the Hamas leadership abroad, which is based in Damascus. And so unless the Damascus-based leadership changes its mind – and it's unlikely to do that unless the Americans are willing to recognize them or to deal with them or to give them attention - then we are in a deadlock. And the problem with a deadlock is that Mohammed Abbas is unable to dissolve the Parliament which has a majority of Hamas. And even if he does, we don't know that the result of new elections would be any different. So we are in a difficult position.

I mean, the problem also is that Israel and the international community have put conditions that are not fair, not just, on the Palestinians after they had conducted Democratic elections after a group won a fair way. The U.S. and its allies have put unfair conditions on the Palestinians.

CHADWICK: Do you see reporting in newspapers there or a comment on Secretary Rice's trip that says well, this is a hopeful sign or it could be a hopeful sign? She pronounced herself saddened by condition in the Palestinian territories.

Dr. KUTTAB: Yes. I mean, this is a bit of a – it had mixed reaction, this statement, because on the one hand, people are happy that she has vowed to try to help the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians. But on the other hand, many feel that she and her government have basically caused this. I mean, if she's saddened, then she should have done something about removing the unjust siege that’s put on Palestinians. They cannot bring any money in. The Israelis take the taxes and they don't give us money. It's basically an unfair situation, and she's saddened, but she is responsible also.

But on the other hand, there are people in print and in public statements, have welcomed the statement and said this is, you know, this is a good step forward. There's a lot more needed, but there has been some people welcoming it.

CHADWICK: Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.

Daoub, thank you again.

Dr. KUTTAB: You're most welcome.

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