Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Chapter 85 Opium

'Pffff... what about this UNESCO thing?' he exhales smoke noisily as he repeats my question back at me.

'I dunno... congratulations I guess.' I venture, shivering against the wind.

His face creases into a laugh, 'Ah well... sure, I guess. Thanks'

'The world's gotten pretty het about it huh? Nothing's gonna change though is it?'

'No no. Nothing will change. Things are going to get even harder, especially economically.'

'I heard the PA's raising taxes.'

Many complaints were being made about this new scheme to decrease Palestine's dependence on foreign aid. The main critique being that lack of jobs, rising prices and stagnant salaries was making equipping one's family with the basics a near impossibility already.

He shrugged his shoulders then leaned forwards to rub his eyes, 'yes they have - income tax, corporate tax... all that stuff. That's already going to be very difficult for people. Then there's the loss of the tax we receive from Israel. They'll cut that off if the UN bid goes through.'

'What taxes? Do they really constitute that big of an amount?'

'Ha! Do they? Every traveler that crosses through to Amman pays 140 shekels. That's hundreds of people a day. That's all money collected by Israel that they refund to the PA. That'll all be gone.'

'Wait so... if the UN bid goes through what does that mean for those borders?'

'Basically people who want to come visit the West Bank will have to apply for a visa, and people who want to go to Israel will apply for a separate visa. There won't be one for two anymore. And the Palestinian identity papers will be considered like a passport that can be used for travel.'

'You'd still have to apply for a visa though right? Like if you're Lebanese with Palestinian papers - visas are impossible to get for those.'

'Well yeah, but it would still be like a passport - just maybe not a very useful one.'

Gratefully accepting a hot cup of tea from the waiter, I cup my hands around it and briefly try to wrap my mind around it all.

'So... ahh hot... so if people have to apply for a visa to come here, surely that's a source of income for the PA isn't it?'

'Presumably yes.'

'Well what about Israeli Arabs who want to come here? Will they need a whole other visa? What about people from the West Bank who get permission to go into Israel - how will that work?'

'Well that's the thing', he taps his cigarette impatiently against the ashtray. 'It's just not well thought through. There are so many big question marks about how things will actually work. What the infrastructure will be like.'

I stir some more sugar into the tea, 'what about the people who are saying the PA is using this as a means to strengthen their position at the negotiating table?'

He leans back and clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

'No. This is not about negotiations. This is about keeping the people going. You remember before summer when Fatah and Hammas announced a reconciliation and had a meeting in Egypt? The protestors were calmed, after which it was all swept silently under the carpet. Prisoner exchanges are the same - it satisfies the public for a few months. This bid is no different. It gives just enough hope to keep people hanging on for a few more months. Keeps them quiet.'

'Opium?'

He smiles at the reference. 'Exactly.'




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