Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rawabi

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:

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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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Palestinians Build a Settlement

Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

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Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

The point about the West Bank that cannot be reiterated enough is that the conflict about ownership of the land is one in which both sides can muster arguments in their favor. Should the Palestinians ever reject their culture of violence and delegitimizing of Jewish rights to any part of the country, peace will be possible and the land will have to be divided, however painful that would be for both sides. Such a negotiation would be difficult but, assuming that the Palestinians were ever actually willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, it would not be impossible. And since it is likely that if such a partition were ever to take place, Rawabi would be part of the Palestinian state, then why would Israelis complain that building on the site would make peace impossible?

Of course, Israelis aren’t making such a protest, any more than they speak out against the building going on in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem or any other place in the West Bank.

But when new homes are built in existing Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in those towns and communities in the major settlement blocs in the West Bank that everyone knows would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace accord, they are bitterly condemned by the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the liberal media.

In fact, Israel hasn’t done anything on the scale of Rawabi in many years. Outside of scattered hilltop camps with trailers, it hasn’t actually built a new settlement since the Oslo Accords. What Israel has done is added new housing developments to existing places. But the Arabs have done the same and in the case of Rawabi, they are seeking to expand their hold on the land by establishing new facts on the ground that strengthen their claims.

Of course, Israel’s critics assert that Arabs have a right to live in Rawabi while the Jews don’t have a right to live in “stolen land” on the West Bank. That argument rests on the fallacy that history began in 1967 when Israel came into the possession of the West Bank as a result of a defensive war. But in fact, the “West Bank” (a name for the territories of Judea and Samaria that only came into existence when the Kingdom of Jordan illegally occupied the land to differentiate it from their territory on the East Bank of the Jordan River) is part of a territory set aside by international authorities for a Jewish homeland where Jews, as well as Arabs, had rights. Though the international community has sought to abrogate Jewish rights there, they cannot be extinguished in this manner. The resolution of the dispute over the land requires a negotiation in which each side must be prepared to compromise rather than, as the Palestinian Authority continues to do, simply dictate.

Contrary to the claims of Israel’s critics, if both sides continue doing as they are now and building at the same pace, peace won’t be any easier or harder to reach in the future than it is now. The same boundaries will be there to be drawn with Jews and Arabs on Israel’s side and Arabs only on the Palestinian side (as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly made clear), then as they are now. The building of new settlements, whether Jews or Arabs populate them, won’t stop peace if both peoples truly want it. Israel has already demonstrated that it is prepared to do so, as it has repeatedly offered and made territorial withdrawals while the Palestinians have never given up their maximalist demands that aim at Israel’s destruction, not coexistence. The reason the Palestinians focus on settlement building as a threat to their future is not because these places are actually obstacles to peace but because they are opposed to Jews living in anywhere in the country.

Rawabi also demonstrates the priorities of Israel’s foes. Many of them are, as the Times makes clear, opposed to it, because building it undercuts the attempt to boycott Israel. Much like the efforts to prevent the descendants of the 1948 refugees from being resettled so as to keep them as an issue to hold over Israel, they’d rather keep Palestinians from having a new town so long as it doesn’t mean doing business with Jews. 

If the Palestinians that will live in Rawabi and elsewhere in the West Bank truly want peace with Israel and to gain self-determination in exchange, they will get it. Moreover, if Palestinians persist in building on lands they are likely to keep and Israel keeps building in those places they will retain, it won’t put off peace by a single day. Let’s hope that, like its Jewish counterparts in Maale Adumim and Ariel, Rawabi will raise the quality of life for its inhabitants. Perhaps in doing so it will undermine the efforts of those Palestinians that continue to foment the hatred of Jews and Israel that remains at the core of the conflict.

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