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UN Official Optimistic About Israeli-Palestinian Peace - 2003-08-02

A United Nations official who toured Gaza and the West Bank says the recent meeting between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and President Bush has raised hopes among Palestinians that peace with Israel is possible.

The U.N. official, Matthias Burchard, was in Gaza and the West Bank during the Palestinian prime minister's meeting with President Bush in Washington, Mr. Burchard heads the UNRWA (U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees) office in Geneva. That is the agency that takes care of about four million Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Burchard says the Palestinians he met were positive about what had been discussed and achieved during the Bush-Abbas meeting. He says they were pleased that Mahmoud Abbas was able to express most of the Palestinian people's grievances.

Mr. Burchard says the Palestinians appeared hopeful that such face-to-face discussions would translate into substantive improvements.

"All of them expressed the insight that this was sort of the last chance. This [international] road map, these efforts under way, the visit to Bush were sort of the last chances for the foreseeable future," he said. "So, it was really important that things would work out…. There is a great feeling of exhaustion, of frustration and not wishing to continue this vicious cycle."

Mr. Burchard says the recent events have encouraged the so-called silent majority in the Palestine territories to take a more open stance against terrorists. In the past, he says, they were afraid to intervene among the different factions.

Also, Mr. Burchard says, many people condoned their actions, believing they were struggling for a just cause. But he says support for Hamas and other groups appears to be waning.

"I think with maybe the time and the destruction experienced there is a realization again among the same group that this is not the way forward," he said. "This is not going to achieve their aspirations. And, as I said earlier, there was a strong sense of exhaustion. People are tired of fighting. They are tired of the retaliation."

Mr. Burchard says Palestinian expectations for peace with Israel are not very high, but nevertheless, there is a general feeling that they have to try to make the international road map for peace work.