Bethlehem (AsiaNews) The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is expected to take control of Tulkarem after Israel completes its pullout from the West Bank town. According to Bernard Sabela, who teaches at Bethlehem University, "this is a positive step even though it does not mean that all the problems [between the two parties] are solved".
Israel's decision to hand over Palestinian towns comes in the wake of the February 8 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt) between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The meeting improved relations between Israel and Palestine with Israelis promising to pull out from five towns and to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. A first group of 500 has already returned home and another of 400 is expected to do the same, soon.
Although a suicide bombing that killed five Israelis in Tel Aviv on February 25 sparked fears that violence might rear its head again and stop talks in their tracks, Israeli and Palestinian commanders met on Sunday to discuss the transfer of Tulkarem to Palestinian authority.
According to Sabela, this is a positive step as are other developments in the region after Sharm El-Sheikh. But "the peace process remains long and hard," he said, and difficult times are still ahead. "In Bethlehem, Israel is still building its wall and Christians cannot easily move around".
At the same time though, things are changing within Palestinian society. The recent attack in Tel Aviv was not heaped with praise as such attacks were in the past. For the first time, no local extremist group claimed responsibility for the terrorist action. And this time, no posters praising suicide bomber Abdallah Badran were pasted on town walls.
"No one in Palestine applauded the February 25 attack; no one was happy about it," Professor Sabela noted. "This is because Palestinians are tired and fed up with terrorist attacks. They no longer want to be associated with violence".
For the Bethlehem scholar, "everyone wants an end to Israeli occupation so that we can live in peace with our Israeli neighbours".
"This is why Israel has to take concrete steps to end its occupation of the Territories," he added. (LF)