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AP PHOTOS: Unfinished Palestinian parliament a grim symbol

July 6, 2018
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This Monday, June 25, 2018, photo shows the plenum hall of what was to be a Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis, West Bank. This decrepit building, built during the heyday of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the 1990s, was meant to serve the Palestinian parliament. Today, it is a grim reminder of dashed Mideast peace hopes and what might have been. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

ABU DIS, West Bank (AP) — 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 in the Old City just a few kilometers (miles) 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 and a Palestinian uprising broke out. 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 the Hamas militant group won Palestinian elections in 2006 and then seized control of Gaza the following year, parliament stopped functioning altogether.

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

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 U.S. decision on Jerusalem, viewing the current administration in Washington as biased in favor of Israel.

Former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath said the U.S. 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 visited the ruined structure in Abu Dis. Here are his images of the building that never became parliament.

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Follow Dusan Vranic on Twitter https://twitter.com/DusanVranic and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dusanvranic .

Follow Associated Press photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo .

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