Jerusalem (AsiaNews) Israel's argument that its actions will only affect Hamas and not Palestinians flies in face of reality. Palestinians have no illusions; whatever Israel does the entire Palestinian population will directly suffer its consequences, this according to the Custodian of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who spoke about Israel's decision to withhold tax and customs payments to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
In an interview with AsiaNews, the Franciscan priest spoke about the repercussions of Israel's policies on an already disillusioned Palestinian population. The March 28 elections in Israel will be crucial. Only then will it be possible to form a more realistic appraisal of things to come.
In the meantime, Father Pizzaballa is certain of one thing: "Israel's action will cause real problems and create real difficulties to the population despite claims by Israeli authorities that they are going to make a distinction between Hamas and Palestinians".
"The Israeli government has already announced tighter checks at crossings between Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will penalise Palestinian workers employed in Israel."
Its financial restrictions are going to be tough on "what is left of the Palestinian administration, which won't be able to pay its operational costs and public servant's salaries. Making a distinction between Hamas and the population will be very hard to make."
This morning the Custodian had an unofficial meeting with the Israeli defence minister on the subject of free movement of pilgrims, access to the holy sites and the wall in the Holy Land. "The Israeli say they understand the Palestinians' predicament and are open to talk but not with Hamas. The situation is still quite uncertain."
According to the Custodian, "these measures are largely a function of internal politics", i.e. the upcoming March 28 elections, "which are an important moment to see in what directions relations between the two parties might go."
Always hopeful, Father Pizzaballa warns though that "neither side is willing to talk. Should this continue, things are bound to get worse". That's why the Franciscan is convinced that "sooner or later a deal has to be reached, but it is doubtful we'll see any improvement before March 28. Both Israelis and Palestinians are profoundly disillusioned," Father Pizzaballa said. "People have adopted a wait-and-see attitude."
In Bethlehem some people seem even more pessimistic. They tell AsiaNews that "danger is in the air and everyone is predicting hard times ahead."
A Palestinian who preferred not to reveal his identity said that people are "very anxious". "We are afraid that Israel will become even more inflexible not only about the economy but also about the crossings. We can expect times to get tough and unemployment to get worse."
The same source said he was baffled by recent statements by Hamas' Prime Minister designate, Ismail Haniyeh, who said there were "many alternatives to Israel", by which he meant aid promised by the Arab League and Muslim countries.
"We are just too sceptical about such promises. Keeping these promises is in itself a challenge, but there is also the question of how to get the money here. Israel controls everything and can stop money from coming in."
For its part, the Arab League announced that it cannot provide financial aid to the PNA because it "lacks adequate funds." Many member states have in fact failed to send the money the PNA needs to replace the US$ 50 million Israel froze.