Cappuccino in Ramallah
Prosperity in Ramallah and Nablus is misleading, just as it was misleading between 1996 and 2000, when the Israeli media and the Oslo spin doctors were impressed by all the coffee shops and high-tech companies.
RAMALLAH - Indeed, Ramallah has kicked it up a notch. A new coffee shop opened recently. It offers a cappuccino very much like that available at Cafe Hillel. The prime minister and a few television and print-media stories offered praise last weekend for the improvements in the Palestinians' lives in the West Bank. In his speech at the National Defense College, Benjamin Netanyahu said: "The defense minister removed a significant number of roadblocks, and we are working together in the government to remove obstacles to economic projects that could advance the Palestinian economy .... The Palestinian economy here in Judea and Samaria is now growing at a rate of more than 7 percent, and it can grow even higher. I want you to imagine what will happen when the skylines of Ramallah, Jenin and Hebron start to fill up with skyscrapers, when malls, cinemas and restaurants open, and Palestinian youths know they have a future."
All these words of praise are on the mark, but only on condition that one forgets the following facts:
1. Sixty percent of the West Bank is designated Area C, which is under the full control of the Israeli authorities. Palestinians are forbidden to build kindergartens, shopping centers and movie theaters, and they are not allowed to lay water pipes or set up antennae for telecommunications companies. They are also not permitted to dig cisterns for collecting rainwater. As far as expanding villages and cities is concerned, there is nothing to talk about.
2. Some of the checkpoints were removed only after the dual-highway system was firmly established; Israelis have high-quality roads built on usurped Palestinian land, while the Palestinians use roads that are narrow, meandering and long. The Jordan Valley is off limits to most Palestinians, as is the fertile land beyond the separation fence and the land that surrounds the settlements.
3. Gaza's economic deterioration compared to the situation in the West Bank is in no way connected to Hamas' victory, but rather to the policy of siege. Israel cut off Gaza and imprisoned most of its inhabitants 15 years before the political rift between Hamas and Fatah.
4. Israel's interior and defense ministries still have final say on the entry of foreigners into the West Bank and Gaza Strip who seek to contribute to their well-being. Businessmen and academics who are Western nationals (Palestinian origin or not) are harassed at the border crossings, refused entry, given limited visas, and usually do not receive work permits.
5. Jerusalem has turned into a collection of poor, congested slums. For Palestinians in the West Bank, Canada and Australia are nearer than Jerusalem.
6. The unemployment rate in the West Bank is 19.8 percent. More than half of Palestinians age 15 to 29 neither work nor study. According to the International Labor Organization, the Palestinian gross national product in 2008 stood at $1,290 per capita, a 28 percent drop from 1999. Salaries for most workers in both the private and public sectors range from NIS 1,500 to NIS 2,000 per month.
For these reasons and others, the prosperity in Ramallah and Nablus is misleading, just as it was misleading between 1996 and 2000, when the Israeli media and the Oslo spin doctors were impressed by all the coffee shops and high-tech companies. Today, as back then, the people so impressed are visitors-for-a-moment who engage in occupation denial.
Make no mistake: The vibrant life reflects the desire and capability of leading a normal life. Yet even Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his close entourage - who need plaudits to justify the foreign donations and privileges they receive from Israel - know that this is just a thin veil. A favor here and a gesture there will not prevent the next popular uprising, nor will they change this insane state of affairs as dictated by Israel. Only a sharp reversal in its policy will, something it refuses to undertake.