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On the Tired Streets of Hebron, Little Hope of Peace Breakthrough

September 19, 1989
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Despair and indifference. They seemed to sum up the attitude of Palestinians in this ancient town while talks that could directly affect their lives were taking place in Cairo.

The talks Monday were between Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the second ranking Labor Party member of the government, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

They met to discuss the Israeli proposal for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Egypt is prepared to play a key role in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together.

But the elderly men lounging on straw chairs in an alley near the Tomb of the Patriarchs saw nothing new under the sun.

“Forget about Sadat, Mubarak or any other Arab leader. None of them will bring about peace because Israel does not want peace,” one of them said.

Another agreed that as long as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. “does not want peace, there will be no peace.”

A younger man, clean shaven in his early 40s, foreswore political solutions.

“It says in our Koran that peace on earth will only prevail once the state of Islam is erected Therefore, as long as this does not materialize, forget about peace,” he said.

In Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, Jamal Tarifi, a successful Arab businessman, analyzed the situation differently than his Hebron fellows.

“If Rabin is clever, he should use the opportunity and declare he is ready to sit with (Yasir) Arafat and reach a deal,” Tarifi said, speaking of the Palestine Liberation Organization leader.

He predicted such a scenario would lead to “an immediate breakthrough.”

Perhaps the clearest thinker in the West Bank is one of its oldest politicians, Elias Freij, who has been mayor of Bethlehem since 1967.

He has just returned from Tunis, where he urged the PLO leadership to accept the Israeli election plan with Mubarak’s conditions and to give local residents the green light to negotiate with Israelis over the elections. Freij said it was too early to tell whether he had succeeded.

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