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The Rawabi Model and Economic Peace

It’s quite an indictment of Western negotiators that good news for Palestinians is bad news for the peace process. Not bad news for peace, mind you: just bad news for the “peace process,” which is designed in such a way as to impede true peace. Nevertheless, Palestinians are at times able to overcome the obstacles to their economic development posed by Mahmoud Abbas, John Kerry, and the Eurocrats in Brussels. And there is no better example of that Palestinian potential than Rawabi.

As the Times of Israel reports, Palestinians are feeling encouraged by the looming completion of Rawabi, a planned Palestinian city north of Ramallah that is “the largest construction project in recorded Palestinian history.” A middle-class development for thousands of Palestinians, Rawabi is a cooperative project of a Palestinian company and Qatari developer that has been in the works for five years. It’s undoubtedly good news. So why is it such an indictment of the peace process?

Because it flies in the face of the principles on which the negotiations have long been based. First of all, the Western left and Palestinian leadership have remained vehemently opposed to what Benjamin Netanyahu refers to as economic peace. It’s the only tactic with a record of success in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so naturally Foggy Bottom hates it and the PA fears it. Economic peace is not intended as a replacement for the political process, but a parallel track that can help the Palestinians while their leadership, enabled by the West, insists on failing them year after year. As the Times of Israel explains:

Bashar Al-Masri, managing director of Rawabi, said that though no Israeli companies have been involved in constructing the city, hundreds of Israeli suppliers provide it with raw materials such as cement, sand, electric components and plumbing. He estimated that Israeli businesses benefit from the Rawabi project to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a month. The only political principle Rawabi holds with relation to Israel is no cooperation with businesses in the settlements.

“We buy from whoever gives us the lowest price,” Al-Masri said. “It makes no difference to us if the company is Israeli, Italian or German.”

“We have no choice but to cooperate with Israel and Israelis, but we also want to do so,” he added. “It is a mistake to separate our economy from Israel’s. Projects like this bring our peoples closer together: Israelis come to the site, they are exposed to Palestinians, and they realize there’s no risk in coming here. There is a sense of comfort.”

Related to this is the way Rawabi exposes the moral and logical bankruptcy of the boycott-Israel movement. Some believe BDS should be enforced against any and all Jews in the West Bank as a way to delegitimize the Jews they want evicted from their homes without condemning the Jews who live on what the Western left believes will be the “right” side of a yet-to-be-determined future border. That’s nonsense, of course, and Rawabi’s history demonstrates as much:

These positions have placed Masri — a native of Nablus who spent much of his adult life living in the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia — under fire in his own society. In 2012, the Palestinian National BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) Committee condemned him for normalization with Israel, accusing him of “advancing personal interests and profit making at the expense of Palestinian rights.”

The Palestinian BDSers don’t care about proposed boundaries or other distinctions. They resist any effort to recognize the existence of Jews. If they support boycotting Israeli settlements, it is because they are Israeli, not because they are settlements. And when they talk of “Palestinian rights,” they are, like Oxfam recently with regard to SodaStream, acting as proponents of keeping Palestinians in poverty and removing Palestinians’ free will:

But despite the BDS efforts, the ambitious project is already a huge blessing for the Palestinian economy. Providing 8,000-10,000 jobs in construction, Rawabi is by far the largest private employer in the West Bank. Once complete, the city is expected to employ 3,000-5,000 people in its commercial and cultural center, said Amir Dajani, the project’s deputy managing director.

Rawabi is also a refutation of the traditional peace process because it exposes the extent of the damage done by Palestinian official corruption. The peace process seeks to further enrich and empower the corrupt Palestinian leadership. But Rawabi shows just how much potential there is for Palestinian economic development if the billions in financial aid to the PA were put to good use. Instead of lining politicians’ pockets, they could build cities.

And while the peace process has been stuck in neutral for decades, Rawabi came together in just five years. That means the Palestinians have the talent and work ethic to build gleaming cities in the desert–just as the Jews did when their leaders set out to build a state instead of a kleptocracy. Rawabi encourages us to imagine what is possible if the Palestinians were allowed to reach their potential. The Israelis are cooperating on projects like Rawabi. Everyone else is standing in the Palestinians’ way.



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