Another early start, leaving the hotel at 7.45am for the 75 minute drive to Ramallah. For those who don't know, Ramallah is on the West Bank and houses the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. In order to get into Ramallah we had to change buses as our Jewish driver is not allowed to cross into the West Bank. During the short drive to the PA HQ we drove through the streets of Ramallah, which is one of the more prosperous West Bank towns. Indeed, it looked little different to most Arab towns. We arrived a bit early and had to sit outside the PA Compound. Eventually we were allowed in and had the opportunity of viewing the morning marching by PA soldiers. Not sure their marching technique would quite make Sandhurst!
The security, it has to be said, was lax in the extreme. We were let into the building which houses President Abbas's office and we could have gone anywhere we wanted. We were shown into a waiting area before our meeting with Rafiq Husseini, Abbas's Chief of Staff. The waiting area was opposite Yassir Arafat's old office. Sorry, but I couldn't resist the pics...
We were with Mr Husseini for 45 minutes but left the meeting wishing it could have lasted the whole morning. What an impressive man. You got the feeling that if they were all like him, peace would break out in an instant. Calm, collected, authoritative and non-dogmatic - an ideal man to be one of the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiators. We had hoped to meet the Chief Negotiator for the Palestinian Authority Saeb Erekat, but unfortunately he proved to be otherwise engaged. Husseini made clear that little progress was likely to be made in the immediate future, due to the forthcoming Israeli elections, the change of US President and also the fact that there might well be Palestinian elections at the beginning of January. So while there is an Arab Peace plan up for discussion the week after next, it is not likely to get much traction. Olmert can't deliver the Israelis and it's doubtful whether Abbas could deliver wholesale support from the PA at this time, especially given the position of Hamas in Gaza. We asked him about Hamas and his hope is that they will lose electoral ground at the next elections after people have experienced the horrendous way they have governed Gaza over the last two years. He doesn't think they are getting much traction on the West Bank. He made the point that aid money can never replace the freedom to live in your homeland. He felt the economy of the West Bank was starting to revive after a very difficult few years, but poverty was still a real problem. Travel rights would remain a problem for families who have been split up. As we left, we visited the tomb of Yassir Arafat, which forms an impressive part of the PA compound. For some he remains a hero. For others, he was a man who led a completely corrupt regime.
So in the middle of the morning, we left the PA Compound to travel the short distance to the UNWRA Refugee Camp. More on this when I get back from dinner. And some pics!