Money ‘but no future’ in West Bank

Are economic growth and development the foundations upon which to build a state?

The West Bank appears to be economically and socially thriving – at least on the surface [EPA]

An ‘opening soon’ sign hangs on top of a newly finished building in the centre of Ramallah. It belongs to an international hotel chain owned by Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding.

Cafes in Ramallah are packed with people smoking shisha and screaming at TV screens. Like millions of fans around the world they are watching the World Cup and cheering for their favourite teams.

Trendy new cafes brim with young Palestinians girls gossiping over cafe lattes. Their hairstyles, shoes and clothes all in tune with the latest trends in fashion.

You cannot but overhear them speak in the mixed modern language of the Middle East; English and Arabic in one sentence that makes absolutely no sense to a foreigner, but makes perfect sense to someone who has been to similar cafes in Amman, Beirut and Cairo. 

The West Bank appears to be economically and socially thriving. At least on the surface.

Development projects

Driving through the West Bank, two things are visible and distinct: Palestinian villages with newly built homes funded by Palestinian expat money, and huge illegal Israeli settlement blocks atop hills overlooking beautiful olive groves and old vineyards.

Besides those huge settlements, there are trailer parks scattered around, with heavy Israeli army protection. Those parks are also known as ‘outposts’ – in other words, soon-to-become huge illegal Israeli hilltop settlements.

More Israeli appropriation of land in the West Bank leaves one wondering how there will ever be an independent Palestinian state in its current form. At the moment the territory is dissected into small entities by the settler-only roads and checkpoints that run through it.

Besides the expat money and settlement blocks, a new wave of development has been the subject of discussion among Palestinians. But this development is mostly centred on Ramallah.

Movement across the West Bank may have become easier – we did not encounter any Israeli checkpoints on the way to Jericho and Nablus, but neither did we see any signs of development once we were outside of Ramallah.

Development, investment and growth have become synonymous with the doctrine known as ‘Fayyadism’, in reference to Salam Fayyad, the prime minister. Simply put, Fayyad believes that economic growth is the foundation for establishing an independent Palestinian state.

His vision has gained ground in international forums, particularly with the US, EU and the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, Tony Blair. But what will happen when Fayyad is no longer prime minister? Will the international funding stop?

After all, economies built on individuals do not survive for long.

The US and EU are helping to build the West Bank to set an example of prosperity and development to Gazans, who they hope will want the same for themselves and eventually overthrow Hamas.

But one foreign journalist who has just returned from Gaza, told me: “There is more stability and security today in Gaza under Hamas than in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”

Lost identities

Trendy new cafes are full of people, but life is different outside of Ramallah [GALLO/GETTY]

Some argue that there can be no economic development without security and stability.

Since 1994, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been in charge of security in the West Bank.

Critics of the PA inside the West Bank believe that their security apparatuses have become Israeli proxies, protecting Israel from the Palestinian armed struggle and not the other way around.

Palestinian and international human rights organisations have accused the PA security apparatuses of corruption, torture and human rights abuses, both in Gaza and the West Bank.

Ahmad is a young history teacher and a former member of Hamas who lives in the West Bank. He admits that he carried arms and fought alongside fighters from Fatah during the second intifada. He consequently spent two years in Israeli prisons.

But lately it has been the PA security forces who he says have arrested, questioned and tortured him. He has been accused of hiding weapons. Something he categorically denies.

Ahmad, who seems more afraid of the PA security forces than of the Israeli military, says he is constantly watched and is thinking of fleeing the West Bank, even if that means leaving his family behind.

Ahmad’s feelings of desperation and loss are shared by senior members of Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Azzam Al-Ahmad, the head of the Fatah block in the PLC says: “We are no longer a liberation organisation and we haven’t achieved independence to govern a state. Simply, we fell in the Israeli trap. So did Hamas.

“Honestly, we don’t know what we are anymore.”

What is in a state?

A hotel and a few cafes are not key tenants of nation building. While on the surface things seem to be improving, beneath it all lies the bitter reality that this is still a small piece of land in what remains of historical Palestine – it is under Israeli occupation and at the mercy of the PA security forces. People are caught between a rock and a hard place.

While having dinner at a friend’s house in Ramallah, I asked Abdel Nasser a 14-year-old who spends most of his time caring for his 12 parrots, what he wants to become when he grows up.

He had no answer. Instead he told me how satisfied he is to have everything he wants.

What Abdel Nasser does not yet realise, is that he lacks a clear vision for his future and has no country to call his own. Just like the West Bank.

Source: Al Jazeera

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