Dozens of men sit in cafes near the square playing cards. In the background, the television blasts the voices of Al-Jazeera reporters, who provide continual updates about the events taking place in the Strip. But even the dramatic reports do not stop the card players for a moment. Occasionally one of them glances up at the screen, but then gets back to business.
The offices of the Al-Jazeera television network overlook Manara Square. Walid Omari, the bureau chief for the Palestinian Authority and Israel, explains that "the residents of Ramallah are filling the cafes, the restaurants, watching Al-Jazeera, cursing the situation, expressing anger and then continuing with their own affairs."
Omari explains that the quiet all over the West Bank in the face of the events in Gaza stems mainly from disappointment and frustration with the leadership of Hamas and Fatah.
"The residents of the West Bank lost a great deal in the course of the last Intifada, but saw no achievements. They are very afraid of more losses, mainly in light of the crisis of confidence between the Palestinian street and its leadership."
He refrains from accusing the PA of suppressing the protest demonstrations, a claim that quite a few of his colleagues have made.
"The PA is not preventing people from demonstrating, it is stopping them from coming to points of friction and raising flags other than Palestinian ones.
At the moment, there is a state of despair in light of the intra-Palestinian disputes, but make no mistake. In the 1980s, the despair was even greater because of the leadership vacuum, and nevertheless the first Intifada broke out."
Beneath the Al-Jazeera building, a protest tent for Gaza has been set up. The PA Ministry of Youth and Sports has set up such tents all over the West Bank, possibly in a non-violent attempt to channel the people's frustration with the conflict in Gaza. City residents have brought various items to transfer to the Strip: blankets, clothing, food, medicines, et al.
There is no unusual activity at the site. A pamphlet bearing the slogan: "One homeland, one nation, we are all Gaza" is being distributed to passersby.
But it is difficult not to get the impression that the relative apathy of the Palestinians in the West Bank stems from several reasons that the public does not like to bring up, certainly not in times like these. First and foremost, the historical gaps between the residents of the West Bank and the Strip. The residents of Ramallah and other West Bank cities have always looked down on their brethren in Gaza. Second, the Hamas coup in the Strip about a year and a half ago left behind quite a few scars. To see innocent Palestinian citizens killed in bombings is sad, but for quite a number of Fatah supporters, Hamas brought this upon itself. Mohammed, a 46-year-old businessman, offers another reason for the apathy: "We're afraid to see the tanks outside the house again."
Third Intifada? Not anytime soon
Within this relative quiet, many voices are being heard in opposition to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. One of the surveys conducted recently in the territories indicated a dramatic decline in Fatah's strength. The violent crack-down of the Palestinian security forces against Hamas-identified demonstrators, as witnessed last Friday in Ramallah, also increased the criticism against Abbas. The PA chairman and his followers are accused of collaborating with Israel in a war waged against the Palestinian people.
The security cooperation between Israel and the PA is continuing in full force, and that is also one of the reasons for the relative quiet in the West Bank. Although since the start of the fighting there has been an increase in disorderly conduct, there have not been many attempted terror attacks. Apparently a third Intifada will not break out here soon, thanks in large part to the PA.