Palestinian students discuss election


    By Lindsey Iorg

    Trapped inside the Gaza Strip, Said Alhayek cautiously hopes that Sunday?s elections in Palestine will offer him a chance to leave home and complete his education in computer engineering.

    While visiting his native country in August, the Gaza Strip borders were closed for residents between the ages of 16 and 35, forcing Alhayek, a junior at BYU, to remain in Gaza.

    ?They [the Israeli government] claim it is for security reasons, but I don?t know because they never really clarified it,? Alhayek said from his cell phone in Gaza. ?My interpretation is that they want to exhaust people?instead of dreaming about the states, they want us to dream about the borders being open.?

    Alhayek will participate Sunday in the Palestinian elections with a hope that the Gaza Strip borders will open. However, after four months of continuous rumors, his hope of returning to BYU have been thwarted by constant disappointments for a peaceful resolution.

    ?I have faith in the Palestinians,? Alhayek said. ?But I don?t have faith in the Israeli side or [Ariel] Sharon. I hope the next few months will prove me wrong.?

    Like many Palestinian BYU students, Alhayek and others are suspicious that a chance for peace will be ignored.

    ?Palestinian people are sick of the fact that each time they say there will be peace, it turns out to be nothing,? said Shadi Qawasmi, a Palestinian BYU senior from Jerusalem. ?There is hope there, but there is a suspicion about this hope.?

    Alhayek joins the majority of Palestinians when he votes for Mahmoud Abbas, (also known as Abu Mazen) to assume the leadership role that Yasser Arafat vacated with his death in November. He said while no one can replace Arafat, Abbas is the right person for this period because of his willingness to talk to the other side.

    ?I think Abbas will manage somehow to reach an agreement and sway the public and international opinion to side with us,? Alhayek said.

    Qawasmi said he also thinks Abbas is the best candidate in the election, but cannot single-handedly fill the role Arafat left.

    ?With experience and experienced people around him, Abbas can manage,? Qawasmi said. ?But no one man by himself can be a replacement for the role Arafat played.?

    Abbas? long history among his Palestinian people includes his role as a key figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization, a founding member of Fatah in 1957 and a past prime minister. With the death of Arafat, Abbas became chairman of the PLO.

    Enass Tinah, a BYU Palestinian student from Ramallah, West Bank, said some see Abbas as a moderate and are afraid he will concede the Palestinian goals of independence.

    In a mid-December issue of the Asharq al-Awsat, an international Arab newspaper, he called for an end to violence. But recent comments have shown Abbas attempting to seek balance by praising Palestinian militants and aggressively calling Israel the ?Zionist enemy.?

    According to the Economist, a poll conducted last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that almost two-thirds of Palestinians think violence has achieved more than negotiations have.

    But Bashar Sader, a Palestinian BYU graduate student from Nablus, said while Abbas? recent comments may look like he is just trying to gain support from Palestinians, militia support and military resistance are some of the main ways of putting pressure on Israel.

    ?He has to try to balance both sides,? Sader said.

    A new leader may also mean more international involvement, which is an essential step to reaching a peaceful resolution. In the past, the United States blamed Arafat for the inability to reach a compromise.

    ?It?s all about the United States,? Tinah said. ?The death of Arafat and the new election will add some pressure. The biggest excuse was Arafat and we don?t want to deal with him. But now there will be a new leader and that will put pressure on them.?

    With a new leader after Sunday?s election, hope exists for Palestinians, but it is a hope that cautiously awaits to see if the world misses another opportunity to forge peace among two conflicting societies.

    ?They [Palestinians] are hopeful, but they are careful,? said Alhayek on his cell phone from the busy streets of Gaza. ?We always put too much hope into many things and it not always giving us the peace we hope for.?

    For now, Alhayek anxiously awaits the Sunday elections, in hopes that another rumor of opening the borders turns into a reality.

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