'Road Map' Leads Nowhere for Many in Middle East
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Today in Jerusalem the U.S., Israelis and Palestinians are meeting for the first time to make an assessment on whether any progress has been made on what's known as the roadmap to peace. That 2003 peace plan was backed by the U.S., the EU and Russia. It was supposed to chart the way to a two-state solution.
In the first part, Palestinians were supposed to improve security and reign in militant gunmen; Israel was supposed to stop expanding Jewish settlements and ease military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. In fact, the roadmap has gone nowhere. Neither side has lived up to those commitments.
Today more and more ordinary Palestinians are voicing frustrations that their daily lives have not improved. NPR's Eric Westervelt has one man's story.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Forty-year-old plumber and electrician Zadune Saida(ph) says he can measure the failure of the roadmap by the fact that it still takes him an hour to travel the six miles to work. Zadune is unshaven and bleary-eyed. It's just after sunup and he's standing in the cold morning air just outside his small cinderblock house in the West Bank village of Eljeeb(ph). Wearing a gray cotton sweat suit with a white towel wrapped around his neck, the former farmer turned plumber reaches for his first cigarette of the day. Then he points down the hill toward the red-tiled roofs of the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev.
The Israeli government this week gave the go-ahead to renew construction of 750 new homes in the settlement. He points to the north and the east, where you can see two other Jewish settlements.
Mr. ZADUNE SAIDA (Plumber, Electrician): (Through translator) They're expanding and combining all these settlements to make one settlement block. They want to besiege us on all sides. In doing so, all our land will be unreachable. I have 20 groves in the settlement over there, the settlement of Givat Zeev, and I'm unable to reach it for any farming purposes.
WESTERVELT: Palestinian officials called the settlement expansion plans for Givat Zeev another blow to already troubled peace talks. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's prime minister, defends the growth as natural and consistent with Israeli policy that building within the large settlement blocks, which Israel wants to keep in any final peace deal, will continue.
We never committed, Regev says, to a complete settlement freeze.
Inside his house, Zadune gets dressed for work and gathers his plumbing tools, while his wife Raman(ph) makes the day's food in an outdoor oven — bread dough stuffed with spinach and herbs. After a breakfast of coffee and fresh spinach pies, Zadune walks through the sleepy village to flag a ride to work.
At the local elementary school, the Palestinian national anthem plays low to an empty schoolyard. There's no one there. The teachers are on strike to protest unpaid back wages. Zadune hails an illegal taxi - a beat-up old van with improvised seats. If the Palestinian police stop us, we'll have to get a real taxi, he says.
On the edge of the village, a blue and white Israeli flag flutters at a military checkpoint. Bored-looking young Israeli soldiers fidget with their cell phones in between checking IDs and searching cars. The cars cue up and wait to be called forward. Everyone knows the drill. Welcome to permanent occupation, Zadune says, with a sour smile.
Mr. SAIDA: (Through translator) Having to be questioned by the soldiers, having to wait, is a humiliation. Who are these people and why are they on my land? It's a question that comes to me every single time I go to the checkpoint.
WESTERVELT: My time stuck here, he says, depends totally on the mood of the Israeli soldiers. Abu Mahzin's(ph) peace talks, Zadune adds - referring to the Palestinian president - haven't been able to remove one single checkpoint.
It used to take Zadune about ten minutes to travel from his house in Eljeeb to work six miles away.
But after Israel built the giant cement and barbed wire barrier in and around the West Bank it now takes him nearly an hour to go north around the wall and then south into the town of Alram(ph). Israeli officials insist the wall and checkpoints are needed to stop Palestinian attacks inside Israel.
Despite great fanfare at the Annapolis peace summit in November, this new round of talks has gone nowhere. Zadune calls the negotiations a farce and an embarrassment and nods toward the checkpoint. And if Zadune is any indication, Palestinian patience is, once again, running thin.
Zadune is no militant. He's a plumber and father of five. He says he just wants to raise his kids, eat his spinach pies and get to work on time. But he is increasingly fed up.
Mr. SAIDA: (Through translator) This is an endless, vicious occupation, Zadune says morosely. So maybe, he adds, we need vicious resistance.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Eljeeb in the West Bank.
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