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Good times and danger signs in the West Bank

Will the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas ruin all hope for Palestinians?

At the corner, a falafel restaurant is decorated with murals of all the martyrs of the Palestinians, from Ghassan Kanafani, writer and Popular Front activist killed by the Israelis in Lebanon in 1972, to a collection of the intifada’s most famous victims, and above them Khalil Wazir, the Arafat lieutenant assassinated by Israel in 1988.

A continuation of that fatal litany is, frankly, what’s offered by the “proximity” talks. Because they’ll lead only to frustration, a sense that nothing can be achieved by negotiation, and a resultant impetus toward violence.

What’s the alternative?

Mike Canawati, one of Bethlehem’s leading businessmen, describes trade in his tourist shop on the road to the Church of the Nativity, the site of Jesus’s birth, as “excellent, really excellent.” That’s the result of Fayyad’s ability to convince the Israeli army that checkpoints can be lifted and his commitment to a higher level of training among Palestinian security forces, so that tourists don’t fear to enter Bethlehem as they did for much of the last decade.

It isn’t a total shift. The dangers are simply less immediately apparent. Canawati still sits at his desk flanked by a screen with 16 different closed-circuit images of the store, the alley behind it, his black Hummer parked at the side of the building.

Only the night before we met, he had welcomed 700 Italian diners in his banquet hall near the church. “We should be thankful to these people for coming to our town,” Canawati said. During the dinner, a group of Fatah people entered and unfurled banners protesting that the Italians would later hold a meeting with Israelis in Jerusalem. “I had a big argument with them,” he said, “and I threw them out.”

Back in Dehaisha, I took my son to a birthday party at a friend’s home. My friend spent nine years in an Israeli jail without charge. He was, in fact, in jail seven years ago when the birthday boy was born. Now he’s studying for a Master’s degree in law.

A clown blew long balloons and tied them into the shape of swords. I found myself strangely relieved that they weren’t bent into Kalashnikovs.

When the birthday cake came out, the clown’s assistant emerged dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants. She sang “Happy Birthday” in Arabic with the aid of ear-splitting amplification and did some unexpected SpongeBob belly dancing moves.

Whatever Abbas and his PLO cronies say, that’s the kind of reality we should be wishing on the people of Dehaisha.