I write in my Ramallah hotel room after a pulsating day in the Middle East and Britain. From Easyjet to security grillings to bountiful Arab cuisine and superbly eloquent speeches from major Palestinian politicians there has been plenty of action.
I managed to board the 0900 from Luton Airport to Tel Aviv but only just after a chapter of misunderstandings and an obstinately slow check-in. Once we were under way I wanted to get forty winks to make up for the previous lack of a good night’s sleep but frequent announcements and approaches from cabin staff put paid to this.
We’d been briefed beforehand not to mention the West Bank or Palestine while on the plane or at Tel-Aviv Airport. While we’re not doing anything wrong by going to the West Bank previous visitors to the Occupied Territories have been detained for several hours by the Israelis having revealed their precise travel plans. The Labour delegation’s reticence about mentioning what was very much on our minds seemed to owe something to Franz Kafka if not Harold Pinter.
All delegation members were grilled by security staff at Tel Aviv, I had two separate five minute interviews. I was asked my occupation, my reason for visiting Israel and many other questions which appeared irrelevant as well as intrusive. The Israelis reserved their deepest scrutiny, however, for those with Arab appearances and surnames. One twenty year-old-girl with a Muslim surname was taken to a separate room and asked the names of her father and grandfather and much, much else for a clear twenty minutes. Happily, we all got through and nobody mentioned the West Bank
We proceeded by private bus directly to Ramallah. We couldn’t see much because of the monsoon-like rain but it became obvious that we had entered Palestine when the road surface quickly deteriorated from good to downright awful. To say this land is economically deprived would be the understatement of the century.
After a short stop at our hotel to drop of our belongings we proceeded to a restaurant where were introduced to two of Palestine’s major players, Dr. Nabeel Shaath, the Palestinian’s No.2 negotiator and Dr. Huzam Zomlot, the Executive Director of Fatah International (our sister party’s international wing).
Dr. Shaath, a former Palestinian Prime Minister, spoke movingly about the peace process that never was, the series of agreements in the 1990s which was cruelly terminated by the assassination of Israel’s Labour Prme Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Dr. Shaath remained optimistic about Palestine’s prospects in spite of Israel’s continual seizure of Arab land and is siege of Gaza.
In answer to my question Dr. Shaath said Fatah had reached agreement in principle with Hamas over the Palestinian-wide elections which he expects to take place within 12 months. Dr Shaath thought British Labour Party members could help most by helping to convince world opinion so that the Palestinians’ case was recognised as universally just. British and European governments must pressure Israel to obey UN resolutions.
Dr. Zomlot claimed that Palestine had won the moral argument, won the legal argument but lost the material argument on the ground.
In addition to this we had a meal so vast that the starters would have satisfied a hungry army. I don’t know what much of it was but whatever it was it was pretty tasty.
An early start tomorrow when we journey to Jerusalem.