Monday, April 02, 2007

Die Merkel besucht Ramallah

Angela Merkel and Mahmoud Abbas appear to be dancing a little jig up the red carpet at some star-studded event rather than a sombre and brief presser in Ramallah.

Merkel's awkward physicality and apparent unease in whatever position or movement she is making remind you of an adolescent girl. Until she opens her mouth, when a much harder and glassily intellectual personality emerges. Not an initially charismatic woman, then, but not one to underestimate either.

She had nothing new to say: the Palestinian government must accept the Quartet's conditions - stop violence, recognise Israel and abide by previous agreements. She said Gilad Shalit must be released "as a way of building trust" in answer to an Al Jazeera question about why the world is so interested in Shalit when Israel is holding 10,000 Palestinians. As a sop she announced German economic support for self-governing Palestinian towns.

Abbas also does not cut an imposing figure. He is compact and his bulging eyes give him the appearance of an aristocratic and venerable toad, perhaps the impotent father of Toad of Toad Hall, powerless to stop his reckles son from flying off the rails. He sounded best when he got into a bit of Arabic rhetoric about how Israel should accept the Arab Peace Plan - but he appeared to be struggling to muster much enthusiasm.

This editorial by Khalil Amayreh in the (increasingly awesome) Palestine Times perhaps sums up the prevailing opinion among Palestinians vis a vis the Germans:

He writes: "Indeed, in light of past experience, it would be safe to contend that Merkel’s current visit to the region will be just another pilgrimage to Israel to ask for atonement from the Jews for the events of the Second World War.

Merkel did little to dispel that view in Ramallah - but then again that's not her job.

It's perhaps the last time I do such a presser - it's really only the agencies and Al Jazeera. I got there at 1pm. Merkel arrived at 2.45ish and spent about an hour with Abbas. Presser for 20 minutes at 4pm. And Khalas. Sandwiches only for the not particularly numerous visiting German press pack.

On the plus side I got through "I saw Ramallah" by Mourid Barghouti. Nice book about exile by a considered thinker. Melancholy, but strictly marshalled by weary realism, balancing the Palestinian tendency to see their cause and suffering as deeper and more unique than anyone else ever with the realisation that these are also universal feelings.

For me it's interesting as a voluntary exile. Millions of people move around the planet all the time, driven economically if not politically. I find it difficult to relate to the Israeli and Palestinian insistence that they cannot live anywhere but these few square kilometres of land - I even feel it reflects badly on me, as though I don't know my own roots or how to value them. Of course I can always go back, so it's not comparable.

As always I am struck by the depth and value of personal relationships as they are alluded to in the book, of the emotion and the efforts the exploded families make to stay together over the distances. That again feeds into my own light alienation, which I muse over now and then from Ramallah. Perhaps my book so far would be called: "I saw East Finchley - and left."