The Palestinian Question: It’s Complicated

June 26th, 2012

Most Americans would be visually jarred by a journey into the West Bank. I was no exception, even though I’ve traveled to many conflict-riddled areas. Security walls, barbed wire, and security zones were soon followed by a shockingly large amount of new housing construction.

For me, the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority were abstract concepts prior to today. While I don’t pretend to understand every aspect of the challenges and opportunities facing Palestinians in the West Bank, my outlook has grown paradoxically more optimistic and pessimistic after a day in Ramallah and other West Bank communities.

The optimism sprung from a visit to Rawabi , a planned Palestinian community in the West Bank. We were greeted by Amir Dajani, the Rawabi project manager who exudes boundless energy and a knack for fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube while engaging in conversation. Dajani hopes to lure thousands of Palestinians to a modern, sustainable community with new construction housing, commerce, schools, retail, and a high quality of life. This $1 billion project faces considerable odds: mixed signals from the Palestinian Authority, false starts on partnerships for medical facilities, objections from a nearby Israeli settlement, and hurdles put into place by the Israeli government. But, perhaps the greatest hurdle of all may be persuading the Palestinian diaspora to return to the West Bank to live in $75,000 homes and find decent work nearby. Dajani believe it is possible. It’s a risky investment, but Rawabi may well help to change the Palestinian narrative.

We also spent some time with Mohammed Said Al-Hmaidi, the General Manager of The Palestinian Recycling Company (Tadweer), a former Palestinian environmental official. The challenge in the West Bank goes well beyond meeting a 5% renewable energy goal by 2020; it goes to delivering basic services such as trash collection and providing affordable electricity. I can’t say that Mr. Al-Hmaidi was optimistic about the near-term. But, as he said, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think there was hope.”

We wrapped up the day with two distinguished journalists, David Horowitz of The Times of Israel and Khaled Abu Toameh of The Jerusalem Post.  They succinctly pieced together the current security, political, and economic situation in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, as well as the broader region. It was an amazing opportunity to turn the tables on those who normally ask the questions and probe their minds on the challenges and opportunities for peace and economic growth in the region.

One emerging theme of the trip is the quip, “It’s complicated.” Thousands of years of history, constant insecurity, scarce resources, and a tiny sliver of land color every decision. But, much like the construction underway at Rawabi, there is progress, though it is complicated.