Forlorn Palestinian parliament a glum emblem of lost optimism
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Forlorn Palestinian parliament a glum emblem of lost optimism

Stray dogs and weeds now inhabit the dilapidated unfinished building in Abu Dis, once again seen as the site of a possible Palestinian capital

This Monday, June 25, 2018 file photo shows a view of the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, File)
This Monday, June 25, 2018 file photo shows a view of the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, File)

Pigeons have covered the unused plenum hall with thick layers of droppings. A security guard chases away a stray dog, waving a stick. The would-be Palestinian parliament is left empty, a glum reminder of what might have been.

Construction began in 1996 as Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating interim agreements that set up the Palestinian autonomy government and were widely expected to lead the way to an independent Palestinian state.

The village of Abu Dis was seen then by some as an elegant solution to the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims on Jerusalem. Located outside the Israeli-delineated city limits it is nonetheless considered part of the Jerusalem district by the Palestinian Authority.

Indeed, top-floor offices in the building offer a view of the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in the Old City just a few kilometers away. Legend has it that one of those rooms was reserved for use of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But in 2000 peace talks over a final agreement collapsed in the Second Intifada. The Jerusalem area was boiling over with tensions and a location that was once a blessing instead became a curse. Construction halted, and Israel built its separation barrier just outside the building, cutting it off from Jerusalem.

For a time the parliament functioned from two locations where the Palestinians have a greater degree of control — Gaza City on the Mediterranean coast and Ramallah, which is their West Bank seat of government. But after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and then seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority the following year, parliament stopped functioning altogether.

The building intended for the Palestinian parliament seen in the Jerusalem-area neighborhood of Abu Dis, with the West Bank security barrier in the foreground (File: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

The forlorn structure in Abu Dis lies in ruins, its entrance overgrown with weeds. Dusty chairs are stacked underground. Wiring dangles from ceilings in rooms that look out at the massive grey slabs of the separation barrier.

But the village is back in the news, rumored to be part of an expected peace plan being devised by the Trump administration.

Around the time the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, Saudi officials began asking the Palestinians about Abu Dis, sparking speculation that the US peace plan will revive the old notions about the village as the capital.

An aerial view of the security barrier in Abu Dis. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

It would be a hard sell after years of violence and disappointment that have hardened positions on all sides — and with the Palestinians, furious over the US decision on Jerusalem, viewing the current administration in Washington as biased in favor of Israel.

Former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath said the US cannot force the Palestinians to accept anything but East Jerusalem itself as their capital.

“Who gave the United States the right to decide where our capital would be?” he said. “Abu Dis is part of our state, but it is not our capital.”

AP photographer Dusan Vranic recently visited the ruined structure in Abu Dis. These are his images of the building that never became a parliament:

This Sunday, June 24, 2018 file photo offers a view of the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic, File)
This Sunday, June 24, 2018 photo shows a view of the Israeli security barrier from a window of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
This Sunday, June 24, 2018 photo shows a stairway in a building that was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
This Monday, June 25, 2018 photo shows the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
This Sunday, June 24, 2018, photo shows the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
This Sunday, June 24, 2018 photo shows stacked delegate chairs in an underground garage of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis, on Jerusalem’s eastern outskirts. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
This Sunday, June 24, 2018 photo shows the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
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