AWisrael162x120Here on the West Bank, it is impossible to get away from news coverage about the Flotilla incident in the waters offshore Gaza earlier this week.

Televisions are on in every open door, business or residence, and video from the ship or commentators or government officials are talking about it nonstop.

On the day of the early morning raid, there was little that seemed outside the norm on the streets of West Bank cities I visited.

Going through checkpoints did not take particularly long, and the souk in Nabulus, which was a major center of resistance -- and violence -- during the second intifada, did not feel particularly tense.

When I returned to Bethlehem (where I'm staying) that evening, I went for a walk. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had declared a three-day period of mourning, and most of the stores were closed in observance of the mourning period.

But I did notice one difference from the night before: Around the corner of my hotel were about 10 Palestinian Preventative Service commandos in blotchy-blue night-time camouflage coveralls and holding assault rifles. The Preventative Service is an elite group that is called in to put down trouble quickly, and it seemed possible they were in position in case there was trouble.

The night passed without incident.

Today, I saw that about 70% of the shops in the Arab quarter of old Jerusalem were compliant with the order to close for the mourning period, but there were still enough shops and stalls open that tourists could spend as much time as they wanted shopping for souvenirs or having a cool drink (there is currently a heatwave in Palestine -- temperatures reached into the high-90s today, with plenty of humidity).

When I returned to my hotel this evening around 10 p.m., food stores, from small grocery shops to ice cream parlors, were open for business. Richard Elias, general manager of Golden Gate Tours & Travel here in Bethlehem, told me that the stores only need be closed during the daylight.

I'm in Bethlehem to attend a Palestinian investment conference focused on travel, which begins tomorrow, and I had arranged to interview former British Prime Minister Tony Blair this evening, in advance of the conference, where he'll be speaking.

Among his current projects is to lead the Quartet group, which works to jumpstart the Middle East peace process (it's funded by the U.K., U.S., Russia and the U.N.) I asked him for the Quartet's position on the flotilla incident.

"It's a terrible tragedy and obviously there's got to be the fullest possible investigation," he said. "What shouldn't happen is that we derail the search for peace. And with respect to Gaza, for a long time I've advocated for a different policy there.

"This incident won't pass until it's properly investigated. I'd like to see the simple proximity talks, which are the indirect talks, which are carrying on at this moment, be turned into full-blown negotiations because in the end, that's the simplest way to provide a clear sense of the process for peace."

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