On May 30th Raja Shehadeh, a lawyer and the founder of Al-Haq, a non-partisan human rights organization, gave a brief presentation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on his book, "Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape." Shehadeh is the 2008 recipient of the Orwell Prize for political writing. At his presentation, Shehadeh first gave a description of his book along with reading several passages from the text. Following the book discussion Shehadeh opened the floor to a question and answer session.
Shehadeh's book describes six different walks that he took in the West Bank between 1978 and 2006 around his home in Ramallah. Each successive walk became less peaceful and enjoyable as contact with Israeli settlements and soldiers became more frequent. Trails that he once freely traveled became impassible either because of new settlements blocking his way, alteration of the landscape or some areas simply being too dangerous to walk in as tension between the settlers and the Palestinians grew and violence became more likely.
The question and answer session began with a request for Shehadeh by CNI Foundation President Eugene Bird to give his opinion on three of the possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the one-state, two-state or transfer options. Shehadeh claimed that he does not know which solution will eventually be implemented but that "the current situation is not sustainable."
A further question was raised about the possibility of retrieving the two-state solution. Shehadeh replied that no country ever has given up territory without being forced to do so. With the Israeli courts having claimed that areas in the West Bank are public land open for Israeli settlement combined with a vibrant Israeli economy there is little incentive for the Israelis to cede the West Bank for an independent Palestinian state.
Shehadeh also explained that the unwavering support for Israel by the U.S. government is a problem that must be overcome before serious resolutions can occur. He said that persuasion must come from the United States in order to influence Israel or else it will be "impossible otherwise" for any progress to be made.
A question was asked about whether a settlement can be reached without the inclusion of Hamas. Shehadeh replied that Hamas wants to be included in the process and that the group has not yet been given a chance by the world. Shehadeh explained that the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections was a protest vote against Fatah, because the Palestinian people did not like the direction that Fatah was moving in the peace process. He said however that the world must respect the democratic victory of Hamas.
Shehadeh was also asked about the possibility of whether presidential hopeful Barrack Obama would be able to help resolve the conflict. Shehadeh replied that he could not speak on behalf of the Palestinian people about Senator Obama, but that the Palestinians in general have become jaded and have lost faith in the ability of the United States to assist in ending the conflict, because of the one-sided support for Israel.
Finally, after hearing about the many hardships that he has faced in the West Bank, Shehadeh was asked about what keeps him going in life. He replied that, "life has high dramatic and miserable points," but added "that is not all of life." He said that he reminds himself of Palestine during hard times. Just like the early peaceful walks in his book, he tries to remind himself of the views and sounds of his home.