A SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT
PAL ALES EST TIN INE E A FUTURE OF HOPE
Palestine boasts some of the world’s most ancient and revered treasures, including the birthplace of Jesus Christ and the world’s oldest city.
Palestinians Yearn For Free Future By Building a Better Society Today
IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, RAMALLAH HAS EXPERIENCED A BOOM IN DEVELOPMENT.
Ramzi Aburedwan is resisting the Israeli occupation with music, not muscle, heralding a new Palestinian cultural renaissance.
Palestine is rebuilding and rebranding itself at breakneck pace as professional, progressive entrepreneurs and government officials work to prepare the territories for eventual liberation — sooner rather than later.
As Palestinian politicians step up efforts this year to achieve statehood, Mohammad Mustafa has a different mission: to attract foreign investment to his fledgling country.
Palestinian society reveals a culture that highly values its women, increasingly placing them in positions of power while organizations help to provide disadvantaged women with assistance.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled during the creation of Israel in 1948, and what was a long-held dream for one people became a decades-long nightmare for another.
Few issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are as fraught with emotion as Jewish settlements, which have uprooted Palestinian property and lives and made a two-state solution dangerously elusive.
The daily indignation of living under occupation has seeped into Palestinian lives in ways that are not only in defiance of international law, but also sometimes fly in the face of common decency.
High in the hills above Bethlehem, in a region long plagued by Israeli-Palestinian strife, one family’s vision of peace is in full bloom.
Amid acres of fragrant herbs growing on fertile land a few miles from the historic biblical town of Jericho, a rapidly growing company is putting Palestinians to work in a shaky economy and volatile region.
The Washington Diplomat International Department P.O. Box 1345, Silver Spring, MD 20915 USA
www.washdiplomat.com Cover credits: Olives, President Abbas and dancers by Jamal Aruri. Other photos from the ministry of tourism.
or decades, Palestine’s global image has been shaped by an international media fixated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the stories of violence and suffering resulting from one of the world’s most vexing conflicts.
Photos of Israeli soldiers firing guns at overmatched Palestinian protestors armed only with stones are etched in the international consciousness, while stories of radicalized Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up buses in Israel occasionally still lead nightly newscasts. Of course, those images are an irrefutable part of the complicated, historic reality of Palestine — an ancient land that is home to some of the world’s most significant holy sites at Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron and beyond. But a visit to the Palestinian territories reveals a far more softly textured and progressive place that a vast majority of people around the world — and especially in the United States — simply don’t know about. In Ramallah, the Palestinians’ administrative capital in the West Bank, young entrepreneurs are developing green energy sources to fuel fledgling businesses and neighborhoods in spite of incredible odds and daily challenges. Arts and culture have enjoyed a resurgence as nationalistic pride peppers new music, painting and photography. Trendy shops and restaurants are sprouting up seemingly on every other street corner, and despite the occasional flare-up over a fenderbender in the city’s pulse-quickening traffic, smiles from strangers vastly outnumber scowls. For those familiar with Palestine only through the usually grim prism of the media — or even for those who have visited but haven’t been back in a decade or so — perhaps the most striking characteristic of the territories in the 21st century is the dizzying pace of development. Modern glass skyscrapers dot the Ramallah landscape as cranes and heavy equipment signal even more growth ahead. Samir O. Hulileh, chief executive officer of Padico Holding, Palestine’s largest development company and a cornerstone of the Palestinian Stock Exchange, summed up a new spirit of can-do optimism that is taking hold of the territories at a time when political negotiations with Israel seem stubbornly deadlocked, possibly even dead. “People are asking why are you building nice big buildings that will reflect as if you are relaxed and there
are no tensions here?” Hulileh said as he stood on the balcony of Padico’s corporate offices overlooking Ramallah. “I always ask them what role is it they want us to play?” Gesturing toward a gleaming new building that houses Paltel, a Padico-owned company that has become Palestine’s largest telecommunications firm, Hulileh said he and other Palestinian political and business leaders want to play the role of unlikely winners in a global community. They have grown tired of waiting for a political solution with Israel to build a better world for Palestinians who never left or were forced out of Palestine, and for the increasing numbers of those who are returning to their homeland from the far-flung Diaspora. “We will not build the state after we are free. We need to do it now in spite of the situation,” Hulileh explained. “This is our goal every day. It’s part of the survival. This is employment and ending poverty. When Palestine is free, it won’t be built on garbage. It will have business people who are international with a good standard and who are an integral part of the world and region. We are part of the resistance.” Despite the optimism and perseverance, the fact is that Palestine remains an occupied territory with lifealtering restrictions on its growth and prosperity. Ali Jarbawi, a former political science professor at Birzeit University who now serves as the Palestinian National Authority’s minister of planning, unfurled a map to demonstrate to visitors how Palestine now resembles “Swiss cheese” thanks to encroaching Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Perhaps the biggest struggle looming is over water rights, a precious fundamental resource in this semi-arid region of the Middle East — a resource the Israeli government dominates. Jarbawi said the uncertainly over water and land use makes his job planning for the future of Palestine nearly impossible. “I’m a minister of planning that doesn’t plan anything,” he said with a resigned chuckle. “It’s not because we don’t want to, but because we cannot.” Of course, Jarbawi, a deeply informed public servant with an innate air of reserve, was being a bit modest. Here’s what the current government of the Palestinian National Authority under his planning leadership envisions for the future of Palestine, according to a document titled “Building the State of Palestine: A Success Story.” “Palestine is an independent Arab state with full sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip…. with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestine, the cradle of civilization and of the three monotheistic religions, will shine as a beacon of humanitarian values and religious tolerance throughout the world. “The state will forever be a peace loving state that rejects violence; it is committed to a peaceful co-existence with the world community of nations.” This vision may or may not become a reality. But one thing is certain — a new, educated and politically savvy Palestinian populace, led by 21st-century politicians, businessmen and women and a resurgent national pride, is working to put Palestine on the map.
World’s Most Sacred Sites Try To Find a Spot on Tourist Map
THE AL-AQSA MOSQUE, LOCATED IN THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM, HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THE CITY.
r. Khouloud Daibes, the Palestinian minister of tourism, faces challenges that few — if any — of her professional tourism colleagues around the world must endure. The Palestinian territories boast some of the world’s most ancient and cherished religious sites and treasures, including the birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, as well as geological and archaeological wonders such as the Dead Sea and Jericho, the world’s oldest city. Millions of people the world over are intensely interested in these places, but because of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, Daibes has to struggle to get these potential tourists — and their money — directly into the territories. Instead, visitors must fly into Israel, Jordan or elsewhere and make an arduous trek past Israeli security checkpoints, where they are subject to
Daibes explained with a patient smile. “But if you want a destination still under occupation, we have that. It’s a very unique situation.” It’s a hurdle that Daibes finds exasperating, but the tough-yet-cheerful tourism minister is making progress despite the obstacles. Tourism is up sharply in Palestine, a trend that Daibes hopes will continue despite global concerns about the Arab Spring uprisings in countries throughout the region. Similar upheaval, per se, is not occurring in Palestine, but Daibes For a future state of Palestine, explained that the perception of potential tourism will be one of the key components…. unrest can affect tourism throughout the Middle East. We don’t have natural resources, we Despite the indirect conflicts simmering throughout the region, tourism don’t have oil. Our oil is tourism. ” is trending sharply upward in the Palestinian territories. In 2007, 350,000 Khouloud Daibes tourists entered Palestine, according to the Palestinian minister of tourism ministry’s calculations. In 2008 — after violence from the 2007 Israeli intense vetting and frequent delays, and are bombardment of Gaza subsided — that number sometimes cautioned against proceeding. jumped to 1 million visitors. In 2010, just more than “We are promoting a destination without a 2 million visitors came to the historic area. gateway, without an airport, without controlling “It is a sign that there is a big demand,” Daibes borders, and without the ability to issue visas,” said proudly.
Photos: Palestine Ministry of Tourism
TOURISTS LIGHT CANDLES IN THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, WHICH IS LOCATED IN THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM AND WAS BUILT WHERE JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED. IT IS SAID TO ALSO CONTAIN THE PLACE WHERE JESUS WAS BURIED.
She says that perhaps the biggest demand and potential for growth in Palestine’s tourism sector is from religious pilgrims who want to see Palestine’s holy sites. “Most of our pilgrims are Christian pilgrims, so we offer them interaction with Christian Palestinians and organize mass prayers together,” she explained. “They can experience these holy places not only as stones but as living stones — the people of Palestine. The Christians living here were the original Christians. “For pilgrims, for believers, it’s a once-in-alifetime experience,” she said. Daibes also maintains that tourism as a concept actually started in Palestine 2,000 years ago when Christians began making pilgrimages to Bethlehem to witness the birth site of Jesus Christ. “Tourism started here,” she declared. “You have families in Bethlehem and Jerusalem who have been
TOURISM working in this industry for hundreds of years. They did not come in the sixth or seventh century — they were here when Jesus was born.” In addition to religious sites, the Palestinian territories are steadily adding more cultural touchstones to lure visitors interested in the region. For example, in November a new monument commemorating famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish opened in Ramallah. Darwish, who died during open-heart surgery in 2008, is revered as the national poet of Palestine. “I don’t doubt this will become one of the most important monuments in Ramallah,” Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in a statement, according to the Maan News Agency. “It stands high, breaking the Ramallah sky to reflect the great spirit of Mahmoud Darwish,” Fayyad declared at the ceremony attended by Ramallah Mayor Janet Michael, Paltel Chief Executive Officer Ammar Aker, and Mahmoud Darwish Society Director Yasser Abed Rabbo. Yet a longstanding and often legitimate complaint among Palestinians is that Israeli officials sometimes discourage visitors from venturing into the Palestinian territories, keeping tourists inside Israelicontrolled parts of the Old City and other locales by warning them that Palestinian areas are unsafe or unpleasant. None of that could be seen during a recent visit, though. Instead, strangers helpfully offered directions, accommodations in Ramallah were clean and modern, and aside from some lengthy waits at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, most days unfolded with no hassles or hostilities. “Our tourists are always safe,” Daibes said. “Palestinians are known to be very welcoming and consider tourists as their guests. Even in difficult times, in an intifada or political instability, it has never happened that we attacked our tourists. “Practically, there is no danger for anyone to come and visit,” she added. “But the image is very different — that it’s not ready or it’s not safe.” The Palestinian community, led by a thriving private development sector, has worked tirelessly over the past several years to make Palestine — and Ramallah, especially — attractive from an amenity standpoint. Several high-end hotels dot the downtown landscape, and modern shopping and dining are increasingly available. “What we have been doing in the last few years is to improve the tourism product to make them stay,” Daibes said. “Not only can they visit the holy sites, but they can stay longer and use the infrastructure. They can experience the culture, the nature, etc. We have good, quality services in our hotels and facilities.” Daibes argues that it would help the Israeli-Palestinian peace process if the Israelis would do more to encourage tourism in Palestine. “If we were marketing the same product — the Holy Land —and the two sides were working on an official level, it would be so helpful,” she suggested. “When it comes to tourism, we are not considered an equal partner but Palestine hosts sites of universal value. “These Palestinian sites are open for everyone to come and see and visit,” she added. “They are respected and of universal significance. Tourism is a link between Palestine and the world. In addition to the economic benefit, tourism can play a major role in bringing stability to the region.” Daibes said truly intellectually curious visitors should take it upon themselves to see both sides of the conflict zone. “The local Palestinian churches are working with churches all over the world to invite pilgrims to come and have a balanced visit to the area,” she said. “Stay on both
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
Photo: Joel Carillet
SITES TO SEE For those considering a visit to Palestine, here are some sites the Ministry of Tourism suggests as “can’t miss” destinations:
JERICHO IS THE OLDEST INHABITED CITY IN THE WORLD. Photos: Palestine Ministry of Tourism
sides [of the Palestinian-Israeli divide], use the infrastructure on both sides, and try to understand the conflict. It’s a conflict that is affecting humans on both sides and it’s not always visible to outsiders.” The Palestinian National Authority Ministry of Tourism is employing traditional and nontraditional means to get that word out. The quasi-government agency relies on advertisements in BETHLEHEM ATTRACTS international magazines and TOURISTS FROM ALL OVER newspapers, as well as spots on THE WORLD DURING television and radio stations EASTER AND CHRISTMAS. abroad. The ministry is also encouraging help from Palestine’s Christian churches. Fewer than 4 percent of all Palestinians are Christians, however, prevalent active churches are located throughout the territories. “The Christian churches are important partners for us,” Daibes noted. “They are bringing many Christians to the region.” Daibes said about 15 percent of Palestine’s GDP is currently generated through tourism. If Israel and Palestine could reach a political solution to the longstanding conflict, she expects that number would skyrocket. “For a future state of Palestine, tourism will be one of the key components,” she said. “We don’t have natural resources, we don’t have oil. Our oil is tourism.”
1. The Dead Sea: The lowest geographic point on earth, the Dead Sea is a geological formation belonging to the Great Rift Valley, located between the Jordan Valley to the north and Wadi Arabah to the south. It serves as a transboundary site between Palestine, Jordan and Israel. The Dead Sea is the world’s saltiest large water body, with its concentration 10 times higher than the Mediterranean. Floating in the Dead Sea and applying the sea floor’s unique mud to the skin is an otherworldly experience that is said to have medicinal healing powers. 2. East Jerusalem: Jerusalem is the heart of the Holy Land. This beloved city has withstood the test of time for thousands of years. Revered by three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Old City of Jerusalem is enclosed by large stone walls. Within these walls, one can enter the compound that holds the shining golden Dome of the Rock, behind which stands the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Also inside the Old City is the place where Jesus was crucified, now a destination for Christian pilgrims from all over the world. You can also visit Wailing Wall, one of the most sacred sites to Judiasm. 3. Bethlehem: In the birthplace of Jesus Christ, visitors can cross Manger Square into the Church of Nativity and walk across time to visit the spot where the Baby Jesus was born. The adjoining Church of St. Catherine possesses marvelous woodcarvings of the Stations of the Cross. The diversity of the town during Christmas, when thousands of Christians from around the world descend on it, is for many a redefining life experience. 4. Ramallah: When you head to Ramallah, you will be convinced that Palestine is a country of contrasts. Visitors are embraced by this city upon entering the Main Square of the Lion Heads, which leads into numerous streets lined with charming shops and traditional souks. Unlike other Palestinian cities, the presence of international agencies and NGOs, as well as a thriving network of university students give Ramallah a different flavor from the rest of the Palestinian experience. Yasser Arafat’s temporary tomb is located here. 5. Jericho: The oldest continuously inhabited city on earth is a peaceful town that dates back some 10,000 years. Jericho lies 260 meters below sea level, also making it the lowest city in the world. Layers of 23 different civilizations have been uncovered here.
Al Kamandjâti Turns to Music, Not Muscle, to Find Harmony
amzi Aburedwan first rose to international prominence as a child living in the Palestinian refugee camp of Al-Amari in Ramallah. At the age of 8, Aburdewan was photographed throwing a stone at Israeli soldiers during a Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s after his best friend was killed in an Israeli military attack. The photo of the stone-throwing Aburedwan, splashed across newspapers and magazines the world over, made the child an instant, iconic figure in the Palestinian resistance movement.
Fast forward 20 years. Today, Aburedwan is still resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but he’s doing it with music instead of muscle. Aburedwan is one of many artists and musicians overseeing a Palestinian cultural renaissance now blooming after a long period of dormancy imposed by Israeli restrictions. These cultural ambassadors hope to give Palestinians a peaceful voice for change through the power of arts and music. As a founder of Al Kamandjâti, a musical education association that is teaching children a message of peace and coexistence through music in France, Italy, Lebanon and Palestine, Aburdewan hopes to repay a life-changing opportunity he was granted at age 17, when he was invited, by chance, to a music workshop. Aburedwan’s proficiency at the viola garnered notice and led to a series of other opportunities and eventually a scholarship at the Conservatoire National de Région d’Angers in France in 1998. A celebrated viola and violin player, Aburdewan today runs the Palestinian operation Al Kamandjâti, overseeing the instruction of 500 kids in an airy, rehabilitated building in central Ramallah. The kids come after their regular school day to focus on their musical education. Al Kamandjâti is Aburedwan’s way of repaying the opportunities he was given as an underprivileged youth. Aburedwan — a child born into an epic conflict — said he had a revelation years ago during a musical instruction with his multiethnic and multi-national peer group in France. He noticed during practice that everyone was literally and figuratively on the same page, despite their differences.
about how I could bring it to other kids in Palestine.” Aburedwan stressed that his organization — funded generously by European countries, Arab nations, private foundations and the American consulate in Jerusalem — has no political objectives. “If you want to see it from an international point of view, giving these kids a chance to play and be a musician is preserving the Palestinian musical heritage,” he said. “We are working on that rehabilitation and also playing music in the Arabic world.” A recent Al Kamandjâti newsletter described how the school’s students brought their musical gifts to the historic plaza outside the Damascus Gate in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. “Permissions [to enter Jerusalem] were not granted to some of us, so we had to find a way to get to Jerusalem on our own account. In the end, every member of the orchestra was reunited. We set up our equipment, instruments and music stands. There we all stood, waiting for the conductor’s cue to begin. The historical site afforded us the best venue of any musical performance with no additions needed. As the Youth Orchestra performed, their musical vibes opened up the city’s I realized that we were all playing gates for us. The specification of the place, the the same music and everybody understood — unique concert sight, the orchestra members in black, everybody had this connection. ” and the sound of music all drew an extraordinary scene Ramzi Aburedwan of a live performance.” Al Kamandjâti musical association As the newsletter illustrates, Palestinians are not the only ones benefiting “I realized that we were all playing the same from Al Kamandjâti’s vision. Jason Crompton, an music and everybody understood — everybody accomplished young pianist from Freehold, N.J., had this connection,” Aburedwan said. “I saw the is one of the school’s numerous foreign importance of music and I started dreaming instructors. On an early fall morning, as the
shaky sounds of practicing musicians emanated from a nearby studio, Crompton said the opportunity to teach at the school is “special.” “We get to bring music to a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity,” Crompton said. “What you are able to give here is really unbelievable.” Crompton also said his time in Palestine has changed his perceptions dramatically. “I always had this picture of Palestine as a war zone,” he said. “It’s not like what you expect at all. It’s not like what you would picture at all.” Al Kamandjâti isn’t the only organization teaching classical music to young Palestinians. There is also the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music has more than 500 students combined at branches in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was established in
AS A CHILD, RAMZI ABUREDWAN PROTESTED THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION BY THROWING ROCKS. NOW, HE FIGHTS THE OCCUPATION BY TEACHING A NEW GENERATION OF PALESTINIANS THE VALUE OF MUSIC AND CULTURE.
CULTURE THE EDWARD SAID NATIONAL CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC TEACHES MORE THAN 500 STUDENTS.
1993 as the National Conservatory of Music, with its first branch, in Ramallah, opening in October of that year. The conservatory is a tribute to the Palestinian musician Edward Said, a literary critic and forceful advocate of Palestinian rights in the United States. Meanwhile, across town from Al Kamandjâti, students at the new International Academy of Art are busy learning about visual arts. The beautiful institution, located near a bustling Ramallah business district, offers fouryear degrees, including a bachelor’s in contemporary visual art, and aims to develop a range of courses at the bachelor’s and master’s levels in this field. “Our main aim in establishing an academy of art is to nurture the creative potential of Palestinians and to foster originality of thought, while creating a space for the development of individual expression,” the academy’s website states. “We envision that our students will play an important role in developing the creative industries of Palestine and in shaping our visual culture. The academy is an initiative that is anchored in Palestine and aims to maintain collective memory, history and identity through its education programs and activities.” On a recent fall afternoon, Dr. Tina Sherwell, the academy’s director, walked the academy’s hallways as they buzzed with students and teachers preparing for an upcoming photo exhibition.
THE CITY OF RAMALLAH RECENTLY INAUGURATED A MEMORIAL TO FAMED PALESTINIAN POET MAHMOUD DARWISH.
YOUNG PALESTINIANS PERFORM THE TRADITIONAL DEBKEH DANCE.
RENOWNED PALESTINIAN ARTIST SULEIMAN MANSOUR
“Our main aim is to provide them with a core of basic skills and then cultivate them in an understanding of doing research,” Sherwell explained of the mission. “It is for them to find in themselves what it is they want to say and express. We give them the tools and the methodologies to do that in different forms.” She said the numerous visiting professors expand the students’ artistic worldview. “In a sense the students are still quite isolated. There are still no
Credit: Jamal Aruri
major museums in Palestine or huge art galleries,” Sherwell said. “What we try and do is bring the artists to the student.” Suleiman Mansour is perhaps Palestine’s most famous and celebrated visual artist. He is a co-founder and director of the Wasiti Art Center in Jerusalem. He is also a member of the “New Vision” artist group, which focuses on the use of local materials in artwork, as well as a cartoonist, art instructor and author of two books on Palestinian folklore. In addition, he was a leading pro-Palestinian artistic voice during the 1970s and ’80s. He was frequently jailed, and many of his paintings were confiscated or lost. Mansour said Palestinian art instruction began to thrive again after the 1993 Oslo Accords. Today, Mansour is on the board of directors at the International Academy of Art in Ramallah. Over coffee at the academy he discussed the evolution of artistic expression in Palestine over the past four decades. “We used to have something called a Palestinian Artists League, which was established in 1975,” Mansour said. “We used to organize exhibitions and make projects for artists. But the Israelis always put a veto on two kinds of academies in West Bank and Gaza — art and agricultural academies. If you put these together you can understand how they think. One of the rules was we can’t make paintings in red, green, black and white [colors of the Palestinian flag].” But today, Mansour looks with great satisfaction at the artistic bustle surrounding him. “It’s a radical change that we have now,” he said.
Palestinians Break With Old Ways, Build New Nation at Breakneck Pace
RAWABI WILL BE ONE OF THE WEST BANK’S LARGEST PLANNED COMMUNITIES, GEARED TOWARD MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES IN RAMALLAH.
n the eyes of many people around the world, the image of Palestine is one of chaos. Bombed buildings, rock-throwing refugees and political paralysis — these are the unmistakable global perceptions of Palestine after decades of relentlessly negative media coverage.
While the perceptions are grounded in the longrunning conflict with Israel, an exciting new reality is emerging in the Palestinian territories. Even a cursory examination of the current situation reveals a new era of development happening at a breakneck pace as professional, progressive Palestinian business leaders, entrepreneurs and government officials work to prepare the territories for eventual liberation from Israel — sooner rather than later. Led by business-friendly Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian National Authority has moved aggressively to clean up corruption, reduce Palestine’s reliance on international aid and boost the private sector, earning worldwide plaudits and respect. Samir O. Hulileh, chief executive officer of Padico Holding, Palestine’s largest development company with assets of more than $80 million, stood on the balcony of Padico’s modern offices in downtown Ramallah and pointed to a skyline filled with gleaming new buildings and multiple cranes ushering in even more growth.
“Whatever risk we have here is temporary. Forget about perceptions and come and see it for yourself. ” Samir O. Hulileh CEO of Padico Holding
SAMIR O. HULILEH
Many of the new structures, including a facility under construction for the Palestinian National Authority cabinet, are being developed by Padico. Hulileh said he and other Palestinian political and business leaders are moving to make Palestine a firstclass place to do business, despite the occupation (see page 21).
“We will not build the state after we are free. We need to do it now in spite of the situation,” Hulileh explained. “When Palestine is free it won’t be built on garbage. It will have business people who are international with a good standard and who are an integral part of the world and region.” Hulileh said the Palestinian stock market, launched in 1995 and opened to the public last year, offers solid investment opportunities, despite perceptions of risk because of the volatile political situation in the region. Today, Padico has grown its portfolio of investments to include almost every sector that is vital to Palestine’s development goals — with rewarding returns for shareholders. Padico is involved in telecommunications, tourism, real estate, energy and environment, manufacturing, finance and capital markets and agriculture.
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DEVELOPMENT Continued from Page 8 Hulileh stressed that the new, relatively simple Palestine Exchange (PEX) isn’t burdened by accounting gimmicks that have plagued other markets around the world. “The whole world is in trouble, but we are here and we are real,” Hulileh said. “We don’t use tricky accounting tools. This is direct, real investment.” He also insisted that the Palestinian economy will remain resilient despite the ongoing global economic downturn, and he urged other potential investors to do their own homework on what life is really like in the Palestinian territories. “We have learned how to survive because we’ve had a lot of hard times,” Wataniya Mobile Palestine Hulileh said. “Whatever risk we have DR. BASSAM HANNOUN, here is temporary. Forget about CEO OF WATANIYA MOBILE PALESTINE perceptions and come and see it for yourself.” won’t let supplies and expert workers He added that as Palestine’s largest into the country, either. development company, Padico will “From a planning perspective it’s continue to invest heavily in the very difficult,” Hannoun said. “The territories with an eye toward liberation movement of people and the movement and eventual corporate leadership in the of goods sometimes can get restricted Middle East. “This is employment, this is due to the political situation on the prosperity,” he said. “It’s a new spirit we ground and the blockages that can take have and we believe in it.” place. Across town at Wataniya Mobile Palestine, business leaders from Kuwait and In the past three years, Qatar have already decided that Palestine is a good we have dramatically reduced our place to invest and further dependence on international aid. It’s develop their company. Wataniya Mobile Palestine about good governance. It shows was first established as a partnership between the the world that we are capable of Wataniya Group, dealing with our revenues internally headquartered in Kuwait and majority owned by and that we are serious about the Qatar Telecom (Qtel) and funding we do receive. ” the Palestine Investment Fund, with ownership Ali Jarbawi stakes of 57 percent and 43 percent, respectively. Dr. Bassam Hannoun, CEO of Wataniya Mobile Palestine, “Also, it’s not very easy or sometimes Palestine’s second largest even impossible to get expertise into the telecommunications company after country,” he continued. “We sometimes Paltel, said the company opened for select not on the quality of service but business two years ago and its principals their ability to access our operation and have no regrets. The company initially come to Ramallah to do the business.” invested $350 million to start up and However, the same setbacks that plans to invest a similar amount over the make doing business challenging in next three to five years. Palestine can also help forge lean, “It symbolizes the state of Qatari effective, high-performing companies. interest in the region and in the state of “Some other companies’ challenges Palestine, in particular,” he said. “From a are challenges that we see as a piece of commercial perspective, it made sense. cake,” Hannoun said with a laugh. From a risk-taking perspective, there Birzeit University President Khalil may have been some sentimental role Hindi also spoke of challenges in around the decision. The difference we securing human resources and supplies have made in the economy is pretty for the school. He said the strategy seems significant. We directly today employ just to be part of a concerted Israeli effort to over 200 employees.” stymie development in the Palestinian Hannoun said that while Wataniya is territories. enjoying success in Palestine, The Palestinian Authority’s own monumental business challenges do National Development Plan for 2011exist as a result of the occupation by 2013 lays out a clear vision for the Israel. The company has trouble finding country’s growth. The plan asserts that skilled workers who speak Arabic, for the current political fragmentation in instance, and Israeli officials sometimes Palestine (the rift between Hamas in
Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank) is a recent and temporary phenomenon and that the situation has been exacerbated by the physical segregation of Palestinians into “islands surrounded by walls, closed military zones and Israeli settlements.” “A rollback of the forces and infrastructure of the occupation will enable us to rebuild the fractured political, social and economic ties that underpin the very fabric of our nation,” the report states. As far as government priorities go, one of the Palestinian National Authority’s primary goals is the reconstruction and redevelopment of the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which it envisions as the future capital of the Palestinian state. Ali Jarbawi, the minister of planning, said another major Palestinian goal is to
Palestinians and Israelis can reach an agreement that provides Palestinians with a fair amount of their own water, the country can immediately be selfsufficient. “If the occupation ended yesterday rather than today or tomorrow, we are capable of taking care of ourselves,” he said. Despite the external obstacles, the 2011-2013 National Development Plan, directed by Jarbawi, asserts a very optimistic view of the territories’ future. “The journey has been long and arduous, but the end is now in sight — we are now in the homestretch to freedom. With the help of our many friends in the international community, we have shown seriousness, commitment and determination to establish a modern, democratic and wellgoverned state,” it says. “Situated near
ALI JARBAWI, MINISTER OF PLANNING
reduce its reliance on foreign aid — an objective it is steadily achieving. In 2006, the Palestinian government received $6.5 billion in international aid for direct budgets and support. In 2011, that amount dropped to less than $1 billion. “In the past three years we have dramatically reduced our dependence on international aid,” Jarbawi said. “We want to reduce out direct budget assistance until it’s only 5 percent.” He adds: “It’s about good governance. It shows the world that we KHALIL HINDI, PRESIDENT OF BIRZEIT UNIVERSITY are capable of dealing with our revenues internally and that we are serious about the funding we do receive. some of the world’s strongest and fastestWe want to prove to the world at large growing economies, Palestine is wellthat we are capable of handling the positioned to build a robust economy affairs of our state.” driven by international trade. A major impediment to development “We have great ambitions for the and growth, however, is water. future of Palestine,” it adds. “Years of Palestinians currently only have access instability, occupation and conflict to 18 percent of the water located within cannot prevent us from fulfilling our their own territories. Jarbawi says that if great potential.”
PIF: Economic Development Despite the Challenges
the country develop.” Mustafa, who spent 23 years in the United States — 16 of them at the World Bank — said the PIF is a publicly owned fund with about $820 million in assets under management. According to its mission statement, PIF “prudently invests through an investment strategy focused on long-term value creation with an aim to generate high and stable returns through diversified strategic investments in partnership with international, regional and local partners.” In plain English, said Mustafa, “the difference between PIF and other funds is that we’re willing to take a longer-term view of things. Infrastructure projects typically take seven to eight years before they give you a return. Not many people want to wait that long, especially in uncertain conditions like the ones we have. We don’t claim to have a perfect investment environment; on the contrary, we believe it’s very challenging. But it could be worse.” Among other things, PIF took the lead in helping to establish a second mobile operator, Wataniya Mobile, back in November 2009, in partnership with Qatari Qtel. The entry of Wataniya mobile liberalized the telecommunications market in Palestine, which was previously dominated by a single monopoly. The new competition led to reduced prices to
“As long as banks are willing to lend, that’s a good sign. Banks have always been conservative, but they’re sitting on billions of dollars of people’s money. ” MOHAMMAD MUSTAFA
s Palestinian politicians step up effor ts this year to achieve statehood and rally international suppor t for their cause, Mohammad Mustafa is focusing on attracting badly needed foreign investment to his fledgling country. Mustafa, chairman of the Ramallah-based Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), says the Fund’s objective is to invest badly needed capital in strategic sectors of the Palestinian economy, such as real estate, energy and telecommunications, in order to create jobs and spur economic growth.
“Palestine’s economic development has been undermined and constrained by the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. Creating job opportunities and employment has been challenging,” he said. At the end of 2011, despite economic growth, Palestine’s overall jobless rate stood at more than 25 percent, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). In the more prosperous West Bank, the rate is 19.7 percent, with the highest concentrations of jobless people in Tulkarem — the town where Mustafa grew up (28.5 percent) — and Qalqilya (26 percent). In the impoverished Gaza Strip, unemployment is now running at 28 percent, with the highest rate in Rafah (34.1 percent). In comparison, Israel’s unemployment is about 5.6 percent.
The average daily wage for workers in the West Bank was 84.3 Israeli shekels, compared with 59.3 shekels in Gaza, reported PCBS, though for Palestinians employed in Israel and its West Bank settlements, the average daily wage is around 164.5 shekels. The average daily wage for Israelis is roughly 400 shekels. As chairman of PIF, Mustafa wants to boost job opportunities in Palestine itself while contributing to an improvement in the standard of living. “Regardless of whether your goal is developmental or financial profit, if you’re investing in Palestine, the most natural thing to do is to hire local people,” said Mustafa, recently interviewed in Washington. “It makes sense, not only from a political but also from a commercial perspective. By doing that, you will obviously create jobs and help
Mohammad Mustafa chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund
customers and improved services across the board. In less than two years, Wataniya has grown to 415,000 subscribers in the West Bank; it’s preparing to expand to Gaza later this year. PIF is also involved in a partnership to develop the Ersal Center in downtown Al-Bireh, just outside Ramallah. The 200,000-square-meter, mixed-use project, to be completed in early 2015, involves total investment of $400 million and will include commercial and office buildings, residential units and a five-star hotel. Among other things, the four towers in the first phase of Ersal Center will house the headquarters of several leading Palestinian institutions including the Bank of Palestine, Al-Quds Bank, Amaar Group and Consolidated Contractors Company. PIF has also established the Dead Sea and Al-Aghwar Al-Falastiniyah Development Co. to promote agriculture and tourism projects in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea region, which is sparsely populated yet comprises 30 percent of the West Bank’s total land area. PIF has partnered with a number of local and international organizations, from both the private and public sectors, to launch the $500 million Affordable Mortgage and Loan Program (AMAL), in order to facilitate the provision of mortgages to working and middle-class Palestinians with the aim
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FINANCE Continued from Page 11 of increasing home affordability. PIF is providing $72 million dollars to the AMAL Program, while the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provides about $241 million of the funding. Other partners include Bank of Palestine, CairoAmman Bank and the International Finance Corporation — the private-sector arm of the World Bank. PIF has also partnered with a number of local and international organizations to launch the $230 million Small and Medium Size Enterprises Loan Guarantee Facility (LGF). The program works with nine banks to facilitate the extension of badly needed credit to small and medium size enterprises, which form the backbone of the Palestinian economy. Asked if Palestinians have overextended themselves, possibly heating up the economy too fast for their own good, Mustafa said that to the contrary, we need to see more investment and to see more credit flow into the productive sectors of the economy. “As long as banks are willing to lend, that’s a good sign. Banks in Palestine are conservative, but they have more than $7 billion dollars of deposits and though they have been expanding lending, the loan to deposit ratio is still very low by international standards,” he explained. “What we are trying
“In the long term, there is no better guarantor of peace and stability than a prosperous economy that gives people a fair chance at prosperity, employment and the hope for a better future. ” Mohammad Mustafa chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund
to do through the LGF program is to encourage banks to extend more credit to finance small enterprises and startup businesses.” Mustafa points out that PIF is financially and administratively independent and that it is governed by a board of directors composed of highly regarded individuals from the business community, regulatory agencies, the academia and civil society. He points out that the World Bank specifically praised PIF in its recent report governance in the West Bank and Gaza. Mustafa proudly adds: “We’ve had auditors since the establishment of PIF, from day one, and we continue to do so. Our annual reports
are posted on our website for all to see. We are audited by two of the big four international audit firms. Our financials are audited by our external auditors Ernst & Young and our operations are audited by our internal auditors, Deloitte. We take every step possible to ensure that we comply with the highest standards of good corporate governance.” When asked about the recent release by Congress of part of the assistance to the Palestinians, which had been frozen over Palestine’s bid for United Nations membership, Mustafa commented “I think that releasing the aid money was a wise thing to do and we hope that the American aid to the Palestinian Authority will continue without interruption. PIF does not receive any American aid money or any aid money from any other donor country. But, we realize the great benefits to the Palestinian economy of the generous support of the donor countries and we hope that the United States will continue its strong support of economic development in Palestine. The aid money ultimately helps the Palestinians build a viable economy that eventually can stand on its own and it helps in expanding economic opportunity for our citizens. In the long term there is no better guarantor of peace and stability than a prosperous economy that gives people a fair chance at prosperity, employment and the hope for a better future.”
Women Make Strides In Palestinian Society
endorsed as a strong message to our people that a woman can play a major role not only in traditional positions, as well. For many years we had only a minister of women’s affairs or social affairs. Now we have ministers of education, sport, tourism, interior, etc.” Daibes, who projects a friendly yet businesslike demeanor, said her male cabinet members treat her as an equal and her subordinates accept her position of authority. “I would not accept otherwise,” Daibes adds. “I impose this.” She also said that she accepts responsibility as a role model for young Palestinian women and girls, including her own daughters. “It sends a message that a woman can have any position and can do responsible work,” she said, before cautioning that “more has to be done.” “I don’t want to say I never have problems because I am a woman,” she conceded. Daibes said the 2005 law was a good step toward validating women’s rights, but it doesn’t guarantee them.
“When we started, it was only two [female] ministers. This has been endorsed as a strong message to our people that a woman can play a major role not only in traditional positions, as well. … Now we have ministers of education, sport, tourism, interior, etc. ” Dr. Khouloud Daibes Palestinian minister of tourism
DR. KHOULOUD DAIBES
n much of the Middle East, women don’t enjoy all of the same advantages that men do. But even a quick examination of Palestinian society reveals a culture that does highly value women, increasingly placing them in positions of power while multiple organizations help to provide disadvantaged Palestinian women with assistance.
Visiting Palestine, one repeatedly encounters women in charge, whether in government, business, arts and culture or the nonprofit sector. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that women are completely equal to men, but it does indicate progress in a Muslim majority area that hasn’t always respected women’s rights. Palestinian law as amended in 2005 dictates that all people, including women, are equal. A 2010 report by Euromed’s Gender Equality Program examined the state of gender equality and women’s rights in Palestine. The study found reason for optimism, but also noted that hurdles — most of which are attributable to the Israeli occupation of Palestine — remain. The report cited the 2005 law as a fundamental benchmark of
progress. “This means that, at least in theory, men and women in Palestine are equal in all civil and political rights,” it said. The study found women were underrepresented in the Palestinian government, with only about one-fifth of ministerial positions held. However, Dr. Khouloud Daibes, the Palestinian minister of tourism and a former minister of women’s affairs, said the inclusion of any women is progress. She noted that women currently hold five of 19 ministerial positions. “I think this is part of the positive change we have been witnessing in the past few years,” she said in an interview. “When we started, it was only two [female] ministers. This has been
“It’s a matter of education,” she said. “It’s not only about the legal framework — it’s about practicing it.” Palestinian women are finding success in many different professions, and some even have two careers. Suad Amiry, a writer and architect living in Ramallah, is the founder and executive director of a non-profit Palestinian cultural preservation organization called Riwaq, as well as the bestselling author of a memoir entitled “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law,” which has been translated into 19 languages. Amiry has also served as a member of a Palestinian peace delegation in Washington D.C., where she engaged in some major peace initiatives on behalf of Palestinian and Israeli women. Amiry calls herself a writer by accident and an architect by profession. “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law” is her tale of living under the Israeli occupation. The title is derived from the time she spent waiting out a military curfew while being stuck in the house with her motherin-law. These days, the stylish, gregarious and outspoken Amiry tends to business at Riwaq, situated in a sturdy old residential building near downtown Ramallah. Continued on Page 24
As Hopes for Two-State Solution Fade, Pressure Ramps Up to Make Peace
undreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled during the creation of Israel in 1948. What was a long-held dream for one people became a decades-long nightmare for another. For more than 60 years, Palestinians have been struggling to reclaim their freedom and basic rights. Although they’ve accepted to live on a mere 22 percent of their original homeland, they’ve witnessed the slow suffocation of their dream as illegal Israeli settlements chop up that remaining 22 percent, making a two-state solution increasingly unattainable — the repercussions of which would be devastating to Palestinians, Israelis and Americans alike. The parameters of a solution have long been known: 1967 borders with mutually agreed-upon land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states, access to holy sites for all, security arrangements between the future Palestinian state and Israel, and a just and agreedupon resolution to the Palestinian refugees issue. For decades, many in the international community viewed Palestinians as the main obstacle to peace and urged them to renounce violence. The reform-minded Palestinian leadership has done precisely that. “While the U.N. recognizes the right of any people under occupation to resist using any means necessary, we believe that nonviolent means are the most appropriate for our cause,” said Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian representative in Washington. “In fact, we renounced the use of violence in 1988 and the PLO and Israel mutually recognized each other in 1993.” But that doesn’t mean the Palestinians have accepted living under a stifling and illegal occupation either. “Nonviolent resistance can take many forms such as civil disobedience, building the institutions of our prospective state despite the occupation, and even diplomatic means such as our latest U.N. bid to be admitted as a full member state.” Areikat also stresses that the Palestinian campaign for observer status within the United Nations was the direct result of Israel’s perpetual refusal to take negotiations seriously, and a lastditch effort to keep the entire two-state solution alive. “Our U.N. bid is important because it changes
the political dynamics of our relationship with Israel. For 20 years we’ve been waiting for the Israelis to step up to the plate or for the international community, particularly the U.S., to help them get there. We’ve waited long enough without results, and we are now taking matters into our own hands,” said Areikat. “U.N. membership will give us access to many international instruments and that will help level the playing field with Israel. Israel has enjoyed military, political and diplomatic advantage for far too long and that has made it complacent in not taking the peace process seriously. Simply, Israel has no incentive to commit to the peace process. With the changed dynamics we believe it will. “We believe our objective is realistic even if very challenging,” Areikat added. “The U.S. opposition to our move is a serious challenge but we believe persistent diplomacy will help this administration, and maybe the one after it, to see the bigger picture.”
DEFINING MOMENT And that bigger picture is one of dramatic
PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS Credit: Jamal Aruri
change that comes at a defining moment in one of the world’s most difficult conflicts. Mahmoud Abbas’s pragmatic, technocratic government has revamped state institutions, bolstered the economy, and significantly improved security coordination with Israel — earning widespread praise. “Of course, our democracy and institutions are not perfect,” Areikat says. “In fact, it is a great source of pride for us to have achieved what we did while operating under a brutal military occupation. This attests to the potential that is latent in our people and how much more we’d be able to do if we were completely free.” Corruption is another deep-seated problem that the Palestinian National Authority has finally
POLITICS confronted and been working to weed out. “After President Abbas was elected in 2005, he made it clear that there will be zero tolerance for corruption” Areikat explained. “Today, the Palestinian National Authority posts its budget online for everyone to see. We’ve achieved levels of transparency and accountability that rival those of many developed countries; they are cornerstones of our success. We’re not trying to impress anybody by doing this — we are only serving our people and our national interests.” Moreover, Areikat says that contrary to popular American misconceptions, President Abbas and previous Palestinian governments have consistently offered serious proposals in negotiations with Israel, yet saw little reciprocity from Israeli negotiators. Areikat adds: “Over the past three years of indirect and direct talks aimed at establishing a solid ground for negotiations, Israel has refused to respond to Palestinian and U.S. interlocutors urging engagement on the core issues, such as the future of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security and border issues. This has been the reality since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in February 2009.”
BARRIERS TO PEACE In fact, most Middle East experts say the Palestinians have opened an unprecedented window to finally resolve one of the world’s most intractable yet geopolitically consequential conflicts. But in Israel, just the opposite seems to be happening, with politicians hardening their stances and abandoning the long-held promise of peace. As a result, polls in Israel have been showing a steady erosion of public faith in the peace process and the two-state solution. Today, many observers say the most intractable thing about the conflict is Israel’s hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During a May 2011 speech to Congress in which Netanyahu was supposed to offer a hand to the Palestinians, he seemed to swat down any real possibility for talks by issuing a litany of preconditions that have long been a nonstarter to Palestinians (while also telling Palestinians they shouldn’t make any preconditions to negotiations). Although he declared Israel was ready to make “painful compromises” to achieve peace, those compromises were strangely absent in the widely watched oratory. A return to the 1967 borders? Absolutely not. The sharing of Jerusalem? It will never be divided. Relinquishing control of major settlement areas? Impossible. A return of any Palestinian refugees? Never. And what about security? Any Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, with Israeli troops along the Jordan
River and in control of all airspace. In stark contrast, the Palestinian side has been seeking creative solutions to bridge seemingly intractable positions on the issues of territory, Jerusalem and refugees. They have considered alternative scenarios for land swaps, explored arrangements for sharing Jerusalem, and settled for a “just and agreed-upon” solution to the question of Palestinian refugees, a wording adopted by the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002. That initiative is regarded as a historic compromise and has been endorsed by 57 Muslim countries, including all 22 Arab nations. It offers Israel peace and full normalization of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian territories and resolving the refugee issue. But Israel continues to ignore the Arab Initiative, and for the last three years has lacked a government willing to engage negotiations in a meaningful and constructive way. With this backdrop, the Palestinians decided to take their case to the United Nations where it all started, not by way of substituting the U.N. for negotiations, but rather to safeguard the possibility of a twostate solution and return to the negotiations table on a more equal footing. Many had hoped Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress would be a good opportunity to head off the pending Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. Instead, it seems to have had the opposite effect, leaving Palestinians with little choice but to turn to the world body in the wake of perpetual Israeli intransigence. Netanyahu’s rapturous reception during his U.S. speech also struck some commentators as strange, not the least because the prime minister has consistently rebuffed pleas and generous incentives from the White House to restrain settlement growth and return to the negotiating table.
THE U.S. ROLE Palestinian Representative Areikat said he and other Palestinians were elated by President Barack Obama’s early commitment to the peace process. They were especially heartened by his forceful call during a 2009 speech in Cairo to halt construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. “It was an indication that the administration was serious and we hoped things would start moving forward,” he said. “Nobody doubts President Obama’s genuine, sincere desire to see an end to the conflict,” Areikat continued. “But there is a difference between his wishes and his deeds and actions.” Areikat also wonders why the U.S. president does not create a disincentive for illegal settlement construction. After all, the Netanyahu government
has consistently flouted the president’s request to refrain from settlement building despite the fact that Obama has overseen the largest-ever increase of military cooperation and aid to Israel. “It’s illegal. Why can’t the U.S. government come up with laws or an executive order that says American citizens are not allowed to invest in or help to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land?” Areikat questioned. “We haven’t seen any consequence for Israel’s failure to respond to U.S. demands, a blatant rebuke to the strongest ally Israel has. “The construction of illegal settlements has many facets: confiscation of Palestinian land, tree uprooting, building of illegal housing units and bypass roads, construction of the [security] wall, and restrictions on movement of Palestinians and their goods. All these contribute to what is
In fact, most Middle East experts say the Palestinians have opened an unprecedented window to finally resolve one of the world’s most intractable yet geopolitically consequential conflicts. sometimes referred to as the matrix of control,” Areikat explained. “And what that does is, in effect, fragment the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, into numerous disjointed areas with partial Palestinian control. As a result, the Palestinian people are becoming more and more disconnected from one another and from their lands. These facts on the ground make the possibility of creating a Palestinian state, and consequently the two-state solution, practically impossible. “Furthermore, continued settlement activity erodes the credibility of the peace process. What is the point of negotiating over a land that is slowly being taken away by the other party? People must remember that ceasing all settlement activities including natural growth in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is an Israeli obligation under Phase I of the Road Map of 2003, which Israel accepted.” Areikat stresses that this is why the Palestinian demand to halt settlement building before resuming negotiations is not a precondition. “Israel has already committed to it,” he points out. Despite the dangerous stall in peace talks and incessant settler growth, Areikat says that as the PLO’s envoy in Washington, he is more than willing
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POLITICS Continued from Page 15 to speak to pro-Israel groups in the United States, noting that he was the first Palestinian official to hold talks with representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, at its headquarters in D.C. in 2008. “We believe in talking,” he said. “I have clearance from my leadership to talk to anybody. I remember when I went to school here, we wouldn’t talk to any Israelis or pro-Israeli groups unless they clearly acknowledged our right to exist and to self-determination. Today, most of them say the Palestinians are entitled to a state, but of course their vision differs from ours.” Moreover, he encourages the United States to continue to play a critical role in the peace process. “There is a lot the U.S. government can do. Of course, we are grateful for the role it played and continues to play in the pursuit of a lasting peace in our region. We are also grateful for the economic aid the U.S. provides to many of our sectors. Having said that, there is more that it can do. MAEN RASHID Mostly, in the political realm, it can take AREIKAT a more balanced approach in the peace process and hold all parties accountable to their actions, and should not treat one Friedman says America’s blind faith in party differently,” Areikat argues. Israel and inability to honestly criticize it “I do not believe the U.S. government will do is only hurting Israel. “I love both Israelis and nothing — the region is too strategically important Palestinians, but God save me from some of their for it not to,” he adds, but laments that “the current American friends — those who want to love them to approach to the conflict does not represent death, literally,” he wrote in December op-ed that American values and principles and runs contrary lambasted Republican presidential candidate Newt to them.” Gingrich for groveling for Jewish votes “by outloving Israel.” SHIFTING STRATEGIC AIMS Indeed, GOP debates have exposed the fervant Indeed, today the discourse in the U.S. has also allegiance between Israel and U.S. politicians of all clearly evolved, as even Israeli supporters shudder stripes. Calling the storied tradition of pandering for at America’s unflinching support for wrong-headed Jewish votes an “old game in U.S. foreign-policy policies — not only because they undermine debates,” Michael A. Cohen, writing in Foreign Palestinian statehood aspirations, but more so Policy, still wondered “how Americans have because they seriously damage U.S. and Israeli reached a point in their political discourse where long-term objectives. the behavior of Israel can go virtually unquestioned New York Times commentator Thomas
and the national characteristics of the Palestinian people can be described in the most odious — and borderline racist — terms imaginable without it raising even a hint of controversy.” As Friedman candidly put it: “That’s right. America’s role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own.” Yet the subject of strategic interests has seismically shifted the debate in Washington circles. On the Israeli side, although the country has been living in relative calm and
“Israel has refused to respond to Palestinian and U.S. interlocutors urging engagement on the core issues, such as the future of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security and border issues. This has been the reality since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in February 2009. ” Maen Rashid Areikat Palestinian representative in Washington D.C.
prosperity since the lull in violence after the second Palestinian intifada of 2001, the lack of a durable peace with the Palestinians has led to lingering uncertainty about the future. The choices are clear and they are not pretty. Either Israel absorbs Palestinians into a single state and offers them citizenship, diluting its Jewish majority, or it denies them rights and embarks on a
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POLITICS path toward apartheid. Conversely, forcibly removing over 4 million Palestinians in the territories would inevitably entail ethnic cleansing. Demographics and time are simply not on the Israelis’ side if a two-state solution slips away. Perhaps more interestingly, there’s been a much more frank discussion of America’s strategic interests in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whereby the United States is not seen as an honest broker by much of the world. Gen. David Petraeus, now head of the CIA, was the first high-level U.S. official to broach this sensitive subject during 2010 congressional testimony highlighting a linkage that’s been patently obvious in the Arab world for some time: It’s not Afghanistan or Iraq or Saudi Arabia that fuels the most anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. It’s the Israeli-Palestinian logjam. “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [area of responsibility]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.” More and more mainstream analysts and liberal Americans are in fact questioning the previously unquestioned U.S.-Israeli alliance, which includes billions in economic loans to a highly developed
nation along with roughly $3 billion in annual military assistance (almost half of all such assistance that Washington gives out worldwide each year). “The differences are ones of tone — but also of bright lines of principle — and while they have haven’t yet made any visible impact on Democratic policy, they’ve shaken up the Washington foreign policy conversation and broadened the space for discussing a heretical and often critical stance on Israel heretofore confined to the political margins,” wrote Politico’s Ben Smith.
AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS Even the American Jewish community is becoming disillusioned with the moral ambiguity of an enduring occupation that continues to isolate Israel internationally. “We believe the American Jewish community is an important segment of this country, and we believe they can play an important role in facilitating peace in the region,” Areikat said. “They can urge their administration to take a stronger leadership role and be even-handed in its handling of the conflict. The stakes are too high for the U.S. and the region for this conflict not to be resolved soon. “But at the same time, my advice to some of them is not to be more Catholic than the Pope. Don’t present yourself as more hard line and extreme than the Israeli government or coalition government in Israel. Unfortunately, some here think they can serve the Israeli interest by being so hard line and stubborn. I think they should work with the administration here to convince the Israeli government that peace is in the interest of Israel.” Commentators such as Friedman of the New
York Times have written that the Palestinians are undertaking all the reforms asked of them, but seeing little from Israel or the United States in response. “The Palestinian Authority, which has made concrete strides in the past five years at building the institutions and security forces of a state in the West Bank … finally said to itself: ‘Our state-building has not prompted Israel to halt settlements or engage in steps to separate, so all we’re doing is sustaining Israel’s occupation. Let’s go to the U.N., get recognized as a state within the 1967 borders and fight Israel that way,’” he wrote in a recent op-ed. “Once this was clear, Israel should have either put out its own peace plan or tried to shape the U.N. diplomacy with its own resolution…. Mr. Netanyahu did neither.” Unfortunately, the misperception among many Americans is that the Palestinians are the ones who have not seized the chance for peace. Areikat is well aware of these stereotypes and works every day to counter them. “Can we describe all Americans as violent when one person carries out a violent act?,” he asks. “I tell them that Palestinians, like any other nation, have people from all walks of life and are rich in culture and history as they are rich in political views. I tell them that despite the difficult conditions our people endured, from exile to occupation, they have managed to preserve a strong social fabric that is completely normal and similar to other nations who did not have to go through our suffering,” he says. “We aspire to always be better. Independence and freedom from the Israeli military occupation will undoubtedly provide us with unlimited resources to build a better society.”
Israeli Settlements Eviscerating Prospects for Two-State Solution
JAD ELIAS ISAAC
he Israeli-Palestinian conflict is multilayered and complicated, but few — if any — issues trigger more emotion in the region today than Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.
Jewish settlements on territory that Israel seized from Jordan, Egypt and Syria during the 1967 June War are considered occupied under international law — which the Israeli government has blatantly flouted for years by continuing to build settlements throughout the West Bank including East Jerusalem, while also occupying the strategic Golan Heights. The entire international community — including the United States — does not recognize the settlements as legal. But that hasn’t stopped the bulldozers from uprooting property and lives along the so-called Green Line, the widely recognized pre-1967 boundary that serves as a basis for negotiations. The numbers speak for themselves: Explosive settler growth has resulted in well over 500,000 Israelis living illegally in the West Bank and in Jewish settlements built in Arab East Jerusalem. When the Oslo peace negotiations began in the early 1990s, there were 200,000 settlers. These burgeoning settlements and their accompanying security perimeters and roads eat up land on which Palestinians have long sought to build a nation of their own. Most experts agree
that at the current rate, settlements are making condemnation, Israeli authorities are trying to any two-state solution a distant fantasy, creating forcibly relocate about 2,000 Palestinian Bedouins small, badly connected patchworks of Palestinian to an area near a municipal dump in order to “cantons” that will never become a viable state. expand a politically sensitive part of the In fact, not a week goes by without news of sprawling Maaleh Adumim settlement, which fresh construction — earning little more than would essentially divide major Palestinian token diplomatic denunciations by U.S. population centers in northern and southern government officials even though the settlements West Bank. are in flagrant violation of international law and To that end, critics say many key settlement threaten to kill prospects for a lasting peace. In a areas such as Maaleh Adumim were deliberately typical example, in December, the Israeli Housing Ministry announced tenders to build We brought this issue to the Americans some 1,000 housing units over the Green Line in Jerusalem and the Americans put it on the road map that and the West Bank — where there are an estimated 3,000 the government of Israel should dismantle Palestinian home demolition settlement outposts constructed since March 2001. orders already pending. Two months earlier, the newspaper Just the opposite [happened]. Netanyahu is trying Haaretz reported that a few days after Israeli Prime to legitimize the outposts. ” Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the appointment of Jad Elias Isaac a panel to look for ways to director of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem legalize settlements and outposts built on private Palestinians lands, he also gave his blessing to the construction of more than placed where they are not only to ensure Israeli 2,500 housing units in the Jerusalem settlement control over important resources such as of Givat Hamatos, which joins other expansion aquifers, but also to thwart the possibility of a plans that would form a ring of Jewish contiguous Palestinian state. settlements that cut off East Jerusalem from the “Properties continue to be demolished, land southern West Bank. continues to be confiscated, and Palestinians And in a move that drew recent widespread continue to be evicted from their homes, in
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
occupied Palestinian territory
West Bank: Area C Map
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When Palestinian children learn their ABCs, it’s International Border not so much about memorizing the alphabet — but Green Line rather the complex rules governing where they and Israeli Unilaterally Declared their families may live, work, farm and even draw 1 Municipal Area of Jerusalem well water. 1. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and unilaterally annexed The West Bank is currently home to 2.5 million to its territory 70.5 km of the occupied area Arabs. Under terms of the 1993 Oslo accords, this Delaware-sized territory is divided into three nonBarrier contiguous administrative regions: A, B and C. Constructed / Under Construction Area A, comprising 17 percent of the West Bank’s Planned 5,860 square kilometers and 55 percent of its Arab 2 Oslo Agreement population, falls under Palestinian civilian and Area (A), (B) security control, while in Area B — which makes up 24 percent of the territory and 41 percent of the Area C & Nature Reserves population— the Palestinian Authority enforces civilian control but Israel has overriding security Oslo Interim Agreement control. 2. Area A : Full Palestinian civil and security control Finally, Area C, which comprises 59 percent of the Area B: Full Palestinian civil control and joint Israelitotal area but is home to only 4 percent of the West Palestinian security control Area C: Full Israeli control over security, planning Bank’s population, is totally under Israeli control. and construction Areas A and B are themselves divided into 227 separate areas that are separated from each other by Israeli-controlled Area C. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), roughly 40 percent of the West Bank is taken up by Israeli infrastructure such as settlements, military bases, closed military areas, nature reserves, roads and the 760-kilometerWest long security barrier. Bank The West Bank’s most populated cities, such as Hebron, Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah, are effectively cut off from surrounding towns and villages because Gaza of Israeli checkpoints along roads, hampering Strip economic development. Some 12 percent of the West Bank’s falls on the Israeli side of the so-called “wall of separation.” ISRAEL At present, some 350,000 Israelis live in 121 officially recognized settlements in the West Bank, and another 210,000 in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem. The three largest such settlements — EGYPT JORDAN Modi’in Illit, Ma’ale Adumim and Betar Illit, have achieved municipal status, with more than 30,000 Gaza North residents each. In Area A — in theory at least — Israel needs to call the Palestinians before they enter the area, but Gaza since 2002, Israelis have taken liberties to come in and out whenever they need to. Middle Those same luxuries are not afforded to Area United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Palestinians, who face multiple bureaucratic hurdles. Cartography: OCHA-oPt - February 2011. Base data: OCHA, PA MoP, JRC In Area B, for instance, Palestinians may not even dig update 08. For comments contact <email@example.com> or Tel. +972 (02) 582-9962 http://www.ochaopt.org water wells in their land without Israeli permission.
THe WEST BANK
Kilometers 2.5 5
Credit: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
violation of international law and in defiance of international efforts to revive negotiations between the two sides,” said U.N. General Assembly President Nasser Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar in response to the Bedouin controversy. In one of the more egregious cases of what critics call a “land grab,” Israel’s planned 460-mile security barrier (a mix of concrete walls that reach 30 feet and electronic and razor-wire fences) that it began building in 2002, despite international outrage, snakes deeply into Palestinian territory and has already created a de facto border that physically separates tens of thousands of Palestinians from their property. All of which begs the question at the heart of Palestinians’ grievances: What is there to negotiate if most of the land — the 22 percent of historic Palestine (the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip) that Palestinians have been fighting for since 1967 — is already sliced and snatched up? That is why Palestinian leaders have demanded that Israeli settlement construction must cease completely before
they will return to the table for peace talks. Israel rejects that condition, arguing that the settlement issue will be resolved only after permanent borders are defined through negotiations. But the expectation that settlers will just pick up and leave if those borders are demarcated is naively unrealistic. After all, extreme right-wing Jewish settlers perpetually attack Israeli soldiers who try to dismantle even remote, barren outposts — what would happen if major settlements that house tens of thousands of people need to be curbed in a future peace agreement? Half a million zealous settlers are not exactly going to pack their bags. Moreover, the benign-sounding “facts on the ground” moniker often applied by experts to describe the unabated pace of settlement construction belies the seriousness with which these “facts” threaten to demolish the entire peace process and, in the long term, jeopardize Israel’s own security, legitimacy and character as a democratic nation. As commentators such as the New York Times’s
Thomas Friedman and many others have pointed out, if the Palestinians are denied a viable state, “Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state,” he wrote in a Dec. 13 op-ed decrying the U.S. Republican presidential candidates for fawning over Israel in recent debates. He added: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Indeed, although Netanyahu has received exalting
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SETTLEMENTS LEFT, ISRAELI SOLDIERS OFTEN REDIRECT PALESTINIANS OF ALL AGES FROM ROUTINE TRIPS TO SCHOOLS OR BUSINESSES BOTH BECAUSE OF CHECKPOINTS AND TO KEEP THEM AWAY FROM HOSTILE SETTLERS.
Continued from Page 19 adoration from some quarters of Capitol Hill, many other governments around the world have blasted his steadfast belief that it is Israel’s “right” and “duty” to build in all parts of its capital in Jerusalem and elsewhere — a belief that echoes hard-core Israeli nationalists who claim every inch of disputed territory as their biblical birthright. In fact, some Americans have begun to speak out against Netanyahu’s reluctance to restrain settlement growth and resume peace talks. Respected commentator Nicholas D. Kristof said the prime minister “is isolating his country, and, to be blunt, his hard line on settlements seems like a national suicide policy.” Even former President Bill Clinton has squarely pinned the blame for the stalled peace process on Netanyahu, while also noting Israel’s conservative shift, both politically and demographically. To that end, many Palestinians suspect that Netanyahu — whose historian father was a prominent right-wing advocate of a Greater Israel stretching between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River — will never seriously tackle the settlements. They view that unwillingness as part of a calculated Israeli strategy to bide time while shaping reality on the ground, part of a long-term building campaign that circumvents the peace process altogether and negates the possibility of a Palestinian state ever coming into being — while giving Israeli leaders a convenient excuse in peace talks that it’s impossible for them to withdraw from existing settlements. Jad Elias Isaac, director of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, is perhaps as knowledgeable about the toxic issue of Israeli settlements as anyone in the region. During a lengthy PowerPoint presentation in Bethlehem, Issac explained that the settlement dispute boils down to a question of “land and the control of the land” — one that didn’t start with Netanyahu but has consumed a string of Israeli politicians. He noted that even former Israeli Prime
Explosive settler growth has resulted in well over 500,000 Israelis living illegally in the West Bank and in Jewish settlements built in Arab East Jerusalem. When the Oslo peace negotiations began in the early 1990s, there were 200,000 settlers. Minister Ariel Sharon — who earned international praise for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip but also doubled the number of settlements in the West Bank — has long championed settlement growth. For instance, when Sharon was in the opposition party while Ehud Barak was prime minister, he moved to undermine a potential peace deal with the Palestinians through the shrewd expansion of settlements. “[In 1998], when Sharon felt Barak was going to find a solution to the Palestinians, he came and said to the settlers, ‘Go and occupy hilltops,’” Isaac said, explaining the presence of Jewish settlements on numerous high points throughout Jerusalem. “That’s when we ended up with about 200 or more outposts — you could call it like the Homestead Act, where you go and occupy a hilltop, you bring mobile homes and you prevent access to those territories by the Palestinians.” In fact, every Israeli government since 1967 has actively promoted the occupation of Palestinian territory with subsidies that offer cheap rent and other incentives to attract Jewish settlers. Conversely, countless internationally brokered peace agreements and road maps have failed to put a dent in this growth. And any U.S. administration that has criticized settlements has swiftly come under fire and eventually relented. President Barack Obama initially surprised the
Photos: Jamal Aruri
THOUSANDS OF PALESTINIAN HOMES BUILT HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO HAVE BEEN AND CONTINUE TO BE DEMOLISHED TO MAKE WAY FOR ILLEGAL SETTLEMENTS — DESPITE LEGAL DOCUMENTATION PROVING PALESTINIAN OWNERSHIP RIGHTS.
world by forcefully denouncing the construction of Israeli settlements, agreeing that they are an obvious hindrance to peace talks, but after getting slammed by powerful proIsrael groups and lobbies, he eventually backtracked and has been mute on the issue ever since. To that end, Isaac and many other Palestinians say they’re not too hopeful that the U.S. government will be able to stand up to the drumbeat of Israeli settlements shredding the land — and hopes — for a Palestinian nation. “We brought this issue to the Americans and the Americans put it on the road map that the government of Israel should dismantle settlement outposts constructed since March 2001,” he said. “Just the opposite [happened]. Netanyahu Netanyahu is trying to legitimize the outposts.” And that, many experts say, is delegitimizing Israel. “The whole world is focused on Israel’s settlements’ activity because they speak volumes about Netanyahu and his government’s ultimate intentions,” wrote Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, advocating the negotiation of borders to define the parameters of a Palestinian state and break the settlements impasse. “Physically, settlement construction confiscates land that Palestinians seek for their future state, bit by painstaking bit. Psychologically, construction sends the Palestinians a clear message: that Israel does not accept their claim to the land or their national aspirations, and has no interest in a two-state solution.”
Economic Progress Remains Palpable, But Occupation Ultimate Roadblock
ne of the most frequently used words among Palestinians hoping to reclaim their homeland is “occupation.” The word initially sounds hostile, even jarring. But the term has become such a prominent part of the Palestinian lexicon that it is often simply mentioned in matter-of-fact tones.
“This project is part of building the state of Palestine. It tells the whole world we’re committed to building this despite the brutal occupation, and that one day the occupation will have to end. ” Bashar al-Masri, founder and managing partner of Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, which is developing Rawabi, the first-ever planned Palestinian city in the West Bank
Taxi drivers talk of the occupation making their routes uncertain, farmers discuss the challenges of irrigating crops under occupation, while CEOs of major Palestinian companies discuss how the occupation drives their business decisions. Yet this matter-of-fact reality masks the daily indignation behind the occupation — which is not only in defiance of international law, but also sometimes seems to fly in the face of common decency. For instance, last summer, the Israeli government finalized plans for a “museum of tolerance” that promotes coexistence — built over a centuries-old Muslim cemetery. Tolerance has been sorely lacking in the Palestinian territories, which have seen a spike in violence by radical Jewish settlers who have defaced mosques, burned down olive trees, and attacked civilians and property as part of a campaign dubbed “price tag,” in retaliation for Israeli government policies against their settlements. But beyond recently publicized incidents of homes being vandalized or razed, the Israeli occupation has for decades seeped into virtually every aspect of Palestinian life, from travel to education to commerce. Israel maintains full authority and a tight security grip on 60 percent of the West Bank. Checkpoints and roadblocks are the most visible constant humiliation that Palestinians suffer. A 15-minute trip between towns can take three hours. Young children walk miles to school. Palestinians cannot drive on roads built for Israelis. Similarly, ever since the 1990s when Israel began requiring permits for Palestinians and tightened security measures as a result of threats or attacks, crossing into Israel for many Palestinians can be about as easy as scaling Mount Everest (even those married to Israeli citizens must apply for special permits to enter Israel). On the other hand, Israeli citizens can easily stream into Palestinian territory to take advantage of lower prices. Meanwhile, in the ancient city of Jerusalem, a tinderbox of revered holy sites to all three Abrahamic faiths, Jewish housing units, religious schools and even biblical heritage parks have for years been sprouting up all over Palestinian districts. Israeli-built tunnels underneath the ground even allow visitors to go from one end of the Old City to the other without ever stepping foot inside the Muslim quarter, depriving Arabs of vital tourist revenue. Inch by inch, the occupation has redefined Palestinian life in insidious ways that often fly underneath the international radar. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Jewish Chronicle Online, said he was shocked by what he found during a recent visit to the West Bank city of Hebron. “The centre of a city of 175,000 people has been utterly emptied, its streets deserted, its shops vacant, thanks to a policy the Israeli army calls ‘sterilisation’ — ensuring the area is clear and safe for Hebron’s 800 Jewish settlers,” he wrote in the article “This is Israel? Not the one I love.” “In what was once a throbbing market district, a place teeming with life, successive restrictions have been placed on Hebron’s Palestinian population. A map shows purple roads where no Palestinian cars are permitted, yellow roads where no Palestinian shops are allowed to open and red roads where no Palestinians are even allowed to walk. “Those unlucky enough to live on a red road have had their front doors sealed: they have to leave their own houses by a back door and climb out via a ladder.” Meanwhile, Freedland wrote, “Israelis can walk freely down streets that are barred to Palestinians, surveying the shuttered shops that have been covered with some of the most vile graffiti I have ever seen….
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OCCUPATION Continued from Page 21 Perhaps most shocking are the Stars of David, daubed on Arab shopfronts and doors. To see that cherished symbol used to spit in the eye of a population hounded out of their homes is chilling.” On that front, beyond the emotional loss of demolished homes is the financial loss of shuttered businesses. Indeed, perhaps nowhere does the occupation do more long-lasting damage to the Palestinians than by choking their economy. In recent years though, the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank under reform-minded President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — backed by the international community — have made tremendous strides in rebuilding aging state institutions and revitalizing a moribund economy. Figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics cited by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank show that the West Bank experienced rapid GDP growth each year from 2007 to 2010, including a 12 percent spike in 2008, 10 percent in 2009, and 8 percent in 2010. The IMF attributes this growth to the “Fayyad government’s sound economic management and reforms supported by donor aid, as well as some easing of Israeli internal barriers.” “IMF staff considers that the PA is now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state, given its solid track record in reforms and institution-building in the public finance and financial areas,” an April 2011 IMF report stated. “These reforms, along with a prudent fiscal policy, have contributed to a rise in the quality of spending and a sharp reduction in donor aid for recurrent spending, from $1.8 billion in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2010, with a view to a further reduction to less than $1 billion in 2011.” Meanwhile, according to the latest figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories during the first three quarters of 2011 was 20.9 percent compared to 23.8 percent for the same period of 2010. Unemployment in the West Bank stands at around 17
percent, while in the Gaza Strip it is about 28 percent. But youth unemployment remains a major problem, and the overall unemployment level is still high compared to the 10 percent figure achieved in the late 1990s. Indeed, not all is rosy on the economic front. Although there has been significant security and economic cooperation between the Palestinian National Authority and Israeli government, experts say the economic progress has hit a wall without a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and a genuine lifting of the occupation. A classic example of the kind of bureaucratic stonewalling that often stifles Palestinian entrepreneurs can be found at Rawabi, the first-ever planned Palestinian city in the West Bank. The highly touted modern development project will house some 40,000 people, targeting middle-class families. But as the Jerusalem Post detailed in the November 2011 article “West Bank: Build it and they will come,” the brainchild behind Rawabi, Bashar al-Masri, said he will not sell any units until the issue of access is resolved with Israeli authorities. “The new town is located in Area A and B of the West Bank, which is under the PA’s control. According to regulations, only those with Palestinian identification numbers or special permission can purchase property in PA territory, including Rawabi,” Tovah Lazaroff writes. “The problem, [al-Masri] explains, is that most of the land around Rawabi is Area C, which is under Israeli military control.” As a result, al-Masri hasn’t received permission from the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria (the arm of the Israeli military responsible for managing civil affairs in the West Bank) to pave a dirt road located in Area C so trucks can bring construction material to the site. “He estimates that the project is behind by a year as a result of the delay in acquiring a paving permit,” the article says. “Separately, for Rawabi to be operational, he needs Israel to approve moving an 11-hectare section of Area C into Area A, so he can build an access road to the city for its inhabitants. Initially, it was his understanding that Israel would approve that request.
But he now understands from the PA that Israel has linked permission to change the zoning for the access road, to the resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been frozen for 13 months and seem unlikely to resume in the near future.” Reports by the World Bank and the IMF have found that these kinds of restrictions have been the main impediment to producing a sustainable Palestinian economy. Israeli-imposed restrictions — largely in place since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967 — still prevent Palestinians from exploiting much of their land and natural resources and from accessing global markets. In addition, there are a plethora of fiscal sleights of hand that keep money out of the territories. For instance, a recent report by the U.N. Conference of Trade and Development pointed out that a majority of Palestinian imports from Israel, while not taxed, are actually produced elsewhere in the world and re-exported to the Palestinian territories. But those import revenues go directly to Israel, not to their final destination. A study by the Bank of Israel found that this rerouting of customs revenue costs the Palestinian National Authority a whopping $480 million a year. The transfer of the government’s own tax revenues is also occasionally withheld by Israel. In 2010, the Palestinian National Authority received $1.277 billion in foreign aid and $1.242 billion in tax revenue transfers from Israel. But in October 2011, Israel refused to transfer the monthly revenue to protest the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership and its tentative efforts to reconcile with Hamas. Similarly, the U.S. Congress has held up much of the $192 million per year it allots for West Bank projects supervised by the U.S. Agency for International Development because of the U.N. bid. The hits to its budget have undermined much of the economic groundwork that Fayyad, a respected former IMF official, has laid, threatening to starve government employees of their paychecks and government buildings of their electricity. Even beyond the immediate crisis of a reduction in aid and tax transfers, the Palestinian economic recovery “cannot be sustained without a further easing of Gaza’s blockade and of restrictions on movement and access in
VERBATIM: LIFE UNDER OCCUPATION “ If we have curfews, my workers can’t make it to work. All of the ports are controlled by Israelis and when you have Israelis you’re always talking about security checks and this can affect our products. ” Imad Nussiebeh head of Nature’s Produce
“ They [the Israelis] are cutting the West Bank with scissors into tiny pieces and they are selling us our own water. We end up with about 12 percent of the water in the West Bank and the rest is being taken by Israel. ” Jad Elias Isaac director of the Applied Research Institute
“Israel can just close down certain road networks and access routes to completely cripple the West Bank. They have done that and it has caused major economic disruption. The West Bank has been Swiss cheesed. This vicious cycle has to end. ” Hashim Shawa, chairman and general manager of the Bank of Palestine
“ If we don’t come back to Palestine to help out who will? We’re still under occupation here. Israel controls every aspect of life in the Palestinian territories and they can take it away or give it back whenever they want. ” Khaled Al Sabawi general manager of Union Construction and Investment
OCCUPATION the West Bank,” the IMF warned earlier last year, adding that growth in the West Bank “is also bound to wane, especially with the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s continued fiscal retrenchment and declining aid, without a strong stimulus from a further easing of Israeli restrictions.” Palestinian officials put it far more bluntly. A report produced jointly by the Palestinian Economy Ministry and the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem think tank in the summer of 2011 found that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories cost the Palestinian economy an estimated $6.9 billion in 2010, around 85 percent of GDP. Ali Jarbawi, the Palestinian National Authority’s minister of planning, said the Israeli occupation keeps Palestinians from realizing even a fraction of their economic potential. He argued that it also keeps Palestinians dependent on the rest of an increasingly cash-strapped world for assistance. “We are capable of taking care of ourselves,” Jarbawi said. “You can imagine the opportunities we will create if the occupation ends.” Ammar A. Aker, president and CEO of Paltel, Palestine’s largest telecommunications company, is one of those people who imagines vast possibilities for the Palestinians. He presides over a major company that employs more than 3,000 people and has been in business for 14 years, and he says the company is thriving in spite of the occupation — but it isn’t easy. “We manage to have our services up and running all the time,” he said. “We have had some service interruptions, but not dramatic ones.” Yet despite the firm’s success, its potential growth is severely hamstrung by uncertainties created by the Israeli occupation. “If you look at all of the changes that have
sometimes seemingly arbitrary security checkpoints — not to mention the agonizing crawl of PalestinianIsraeli peace talks — makes it hard for businesses to attract foreign investment. “The risk factors always make companies hesitate to give their business to us, but at least we can try to make them feel better about it,” Aker said, explaining the universally accepted business techniques that Paltel practices.
“ The uncertainties generated by ever-moving and sometimes seemingly arbitrary security checkpoints — not to mention the agonizing crawl of PalestinianIsraeli peace talks — makes it hard for businesses to attract foreign investment. ” Ammar Aker chief executive officer of Paltel Telecommunications
happened in the last three to four years under our president and still you see checkpoints everywhere under the guise of security,” Aker said in an interview in his spacious, modern office in a new skyscraper overlooking Ramallah. “You take a city like Ramallah, which is very modern and open-minded like any city in Jordan or Lebanon, and if you go just half a mile you have to be stopped by a checkpoint.” The uncertainties generated by ever-moving and
Khalil Hindi, president of Birzeit University outside of Ramallah, said running a world-class university is very difficult when Israel won’t allow visiting professors to take a residence at the university for more than three months at a time. He said visiting professors often come to teach under a tourism visa for a short while, then must leave under Israeli immigration laws. If they come more than three times, they are often denied further entry. The university appeals to the Israeli High Court of Justice but often gets denied. He also says Israeli authorities have refused to allow the importation of even tiny amounts of chemicals for use in the university labs because they are deemed as potential threats. “The security authorities tell them we are denied because of security reasons,” he said. “It really is a joke.”
“ It’s a challenge to
“ Even as a chairman of a company in Pales-
be in Jerusalem if I’m going to be considered part of Israeli industry because I am the underdog always in Israel. The Israeli agencies have the upper hand. They have government funding, which we don’t get as Palestinian tour operators. ”
tine you spend, without any exaggeration, one third of your time on stupid things like getting a permit to go to Jerusalem or talking to Israeli commanders in charge of the West Bank to let the truck go through … . These are things a chairman in other parts of the world doesn’t even have to think about. It’s an occupied territory. What can I tell you? ”
Tony Albina President of Albina Tours
Zahi Khouri CEO and chairman of Palestinian National Beverage Company
“ Well water is one of our big challenges in the Jordan Valley. Now the Israelis want to take the great majority of water in the Jordan Valley, more than 80%. Only 20% of our water is actually consumed or managed by [us], whether by the authority or our NGOs or the private businesses. So this is one of our very large challenges because the wells where we take our waters are becoming more and more salty. ” Mazen Sinokrot, owner of Sinokrot Global Group
“ All of those statebuilding economic resources, are 100%, not 99%, 100% in Israeli control. They are micromanaging those, not closing them totally to us, but trickling only the amount that we need to sustain livelihood but not definitely build the state. ” Sam Bahour Palestinian businessman
WOMEN’S RIGHTS Continued from Page 13 “We’re trying to protect the culture and heritage,” Amiry explained. “The main idea of Riwaq is really to rehabilitate the heritage and the culture. We’re also trying to create jobs -- job creations through conservation. “We are trying to connect the cultural heritage with social and economic development,” she continued. “Instead of seeing conservation as just protecting the stone we see it as reusing historic buildings for community purposes.” Another place where Palestinian women are exercising newfound clout is in the classroom. The Euromed study found that a majority of university students in the West Bank are women. Dr. Khalil Hindi, president of Birzeit University, also noted that female students generally outperform males. “Sixty-eight percent of our students are female and they tend to be heavily represented among the highest achievers,” he said. Women are filling corporate ranks in increasing numbers, as well. At REACH, a gleaming telemarketing and call center company in Ramallah, women occupy several management positions. Ghassan Anabtawi, the company’s chief executive officer, said commitment to diversity is a cornerstone of the company. On the call center floor, some women wear the traditional hijab head covering, while others don’t. Several occupy corner offices. “We don’t differentiate at all,” Anabtawi said during a tour of the company’s offices. “We have
organizations that aim to improve the situation even more. One of them, housed in a small, sun-filled office in Bethlehem, is called TAM. TAM stands for Tanmiyet wa iAâlam al Mar’ah, or Women, Media and Development. It’s a nongovernmental organization established in 2004 to empower women in Palestinian society by incorporating gender issues, human rights and democracy concepts in media production. Suheir Farraj, TAM’s executive director, said women come to the center to receive media training and also to work out their issues and frustrations as women. She said Palestinian women are confronted by unique challenges stemming from two intifadas, the Israeli occupation, the security walls dividing Israel and Palestine, and the general feeling of stress and strife that the seemingly intractable conflict creates. For example, TAM participants SUAD AMIRY, A WRITER AND ARCHITECT LIVING IN RAMALLAH, IS THE recently made a video about the FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF A NON-PROFIT PALESTINIAN challenges of being in a polygamist CULTURAL PRESERVATION ORGANIZATION CALLED RIWAQ. marriage. The project not only gave the equal employment opportunities for all. In fact, we women an outlet for their frustrations, but are pushing females to take a leadership role in the it also helped teach them video editing skills. company.” “We are teaching women to express themselves Yet not everything is ideal for females in openly and to work on discussing their issues,” Palestinian society, and there are some Farraj said. “We are change-makers.”
Pa l e s t i n e R e d i s c o v e r Yo u r S e n s e s The aroma of the fresh bread, soaked in sumac and spices served with meat, the winding foothills marked by footsteps of the Prophets and the buzzing sounds of markets, vendors and bazaars will entice you into Palestine. Cradling the Heart of the Holy Land, Palestine is proud of what it boasts, unlike any other place on earth, roots embedded in ancient architecture, unmatched historical significance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and breathtaking plains, hills and valleys sprinkled with Olive Trees which will all tie you to the soul of the land. Palestine is unique. The stories of Palestine are countless. But it is not a place that is justified through stories and pictures alone. It is a place that must be experienced. It is also a place that is guaranteed to change how you think about the world.
Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities www.travelpalestine.ps
Under Tent of Nations, Family Tries To Keep Land, Community Intact
igh in the hills above Bethlehem, in a region long fraught with IsraeliPalestinian strife, one family’s vision of peace
is in full bloom.
The Nassar family, a long line of Palestinian Christians, have owned and worked this 100-acre tract of fertile farmland for more than a century. Today, a portion of the family land is billed as the Tent of Nations, a thriving educational and environmental farm that brings more than 6,000 strangers together annually from all walks of life and all corners of the world. The idea for what officially became the Tent of Nations in the year 2000 was conceived by Bishara Nassar, a Palestinian Christian who lived all his life in Bethlehem and on the land itself. Nassar devoted his life to protecting his land and ordained it for community network projects, which included a youth activity hall. Nassar, the family patriarch, died in 1976; however his family carried on his work and has upheld — and expanded — his vision. Today, Daoud runs the camp along with his wife and five children. The project is registered under the Bethlehem Bible College umbrella with help from the Friends of Tent of Nations, an independent, international support group. The camp is open to youth from around the world, especially from areas of conflict, and aims to bring these people together for face-to-face interaction. Tent of Nations also offers programs and facilities for solidarity movements, churches, youth organizations and tourist groups, and hosts a large number of visitors each year. The Tent of Nations contributes service and charity to the local community as well. Visitors work the land and live in a series of clean but rudimentary caves that have been burrowed into the landscape. The caves, cool in the summer and warm in the winter, are powered by solar electricity because the Israeli government won’t grant electricity permits, or even building permits for that matter. Water is collected from rainfall or imported in bottles from Bethlehem.
“I stay here because this is my land and I am born here and I spent all my life here. ” Daoud Nassar head of the Tent of Nations
“Tent of Nations started 13 years ago and it means meeting people and building bridges,” said Daoud Nassar, Bishara’s son and now the head of the project. “I invite people from different countries to come here. My father’s vision was to make peace and we’re trying to continue that. Many
DAOUD NASSAR OFTEN HOSTS GUESTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD AT HIS FAMILY’S 100-ACRE FARM, THOUGH HE HAS HAD TO PROTECT HIS PROPERTY FROM ENCROACHING ISRAELI SETTLERS. ITS CAVES ARE STILL USED AS HOMES FOR GUESTS WITH ONE NOW SET UP AS A CHURCH.
people from all over the world come here and help me.” However, it hasn’t always been peaceful, and it still isn’t. The Nassar family farm grows olives, grape vines, almonds, vegetables and fruit. Many areas of Palestinian land are threatened with Israeli confiscation if they are not maintained and cultivated, so the group constantly works to protect the farmland’s survival. During a tour of the farm, Daoud explained that Jewish settlers have long had designs on the land. Twice, he’s had to go to court to get injunctions to stop the construction of roads across his property, and to this day, when nearby Jewish settlers come to talk with him, they bring guns, Nassar said. “In the past two days, 10 settlers came here with guns and all the volunteers were very scared,” Nassar said. “I say, ‘Why are you coming with guns? It’s not good to come with guns.’ They want to know why they can’t come and see the land for themselves and I say, ‘Because you have guns.
Photos: PNN, Lo Yuk Fai
Leave the guns and you can come and see.’ I opened this place for all people — anyone who wants to come can come, but no guns. This place is here for peace, not for guns.” Nassar explained that while he’s been embroiled in legal battles over his land for more than a decade, he holds one major advantage that many Palestinians don’t enjoy: He has the deed to the land. In 1991, the Israeli government declared the whole area including the Nassars’ portion to be Israeli “state land.” However, the Nassar family has all the original land registration papers and has contributed a century of work on the property stemming from the time of Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Israeli governance. The longstanding, steady improvements — coupled with the actual title to the land — show definitively that the land belongs to the Nasser family, not the Israeli government. In 2001, though the property case was still unresolved, the local council of Israeli settlements decided to build a road through the east side of the Nassar farm anyway. This was challenged, and the building stopped. Nevertheless, once again in 2002, the council made a decision to build a road all the way through the Nassar land, this time through the west side. The Nassars were able to stop both road projects through the intervention of the Israeli courts. In 2005, their case was debated in the high court, and after many postponements, the Nassar family was told they could begin the process of registering their land with the Israeli authorities. The legal struggles persist, but Nassar insists they are battles worth fighting. He vowed to never leave. “I stay here because this is my land and I am born here and I spent all my life here,” he said. “I grew up in this cave. I am living in the cave like my grandfather. It’s a difficult life, but it’s worth it.” He also said he is heartened by every single visitor to the Tent of Nations. “I am very happy you came here because we have more friends now,” Nassar said. “When you have people coming, I know that I am not alone.”
Flourishing Herb Company Enjoys Sweet Smell of Success
IMAD NUSSIEBEH HAS BUILT HIS SMALL FARM A FEW MILES FROM JERICHO INTO A LARGE EXPORTER OF PREMIUM HERBS, WHICH ARE SHIPPED TO THE UNITED STATES.
trolling amid the acres of fragrant herbs his company grows on fertile land about six miles north of the historic biblical town of Jericho, Imad Nussiebeh has reason to smile.
Nussiebeh’s rapidly growing company, Nature’s Produce, is putting more than 100 Palestinians to work in a shaky economy and volatile region. Meanwhile, an ever-increasing number of Americans and Europeans are enjoying the basil, arugula, rosemary and 13 other fragrant herbs the company produces each year. Nussiebeh launched the company in 2006 and has seen it flourish. He now employs 110 workers who help produce 40 to 50 tons of herbs each month. About 80 percent of the highly specialized, premium quality herbs are exported to the United States, while the remaining 20 percent are shipped to Europe. Business is good, and Nussiebeh credits dedicated workers and a location in a sun-drenched region for helping to fuel the company’s success, despite Israeli restrictions on water use and transport routes. “We work 12 months per year, which is not usual in agriculture,” Nussiebeh said. “We have a lot of good things going for us in our area because of the sun and heat and the location. We are always trying to get a better quality. We are doing our best and we have the good fortune to be in this part of the world. The air quality helps the structure of the plant.” Nussiebeh, an articulate, congenial man with a degree in chemical engineering, said that while the weather usually cooperates, another
“Although there are always obstacles, we are now succeeding in exporting to the U.S. a very good quality product. ” Imad Nussiebeh head of Nature’s Produce
major factor in his company’s success — the Israeli government — often doesn’t. “Here in the West Bank, we have another thing called the occupation that affects us as growers,” he lamented. “If we have curfews, my workers can’t make it to work. Road closures will make a lot of problems for our shipments. All of the ports are controlled by Israelis and when you have Israelis you’re always talking about security checks and this can affect our products.” Despite the challenges posed by the Israeli occupation, Nussiebeh said he is determined to overcome them. “Although there are always obstacles, we are now succeeding in exporting to the U.S. with a very good quality of product,” he said. “What we are trying to do is put all those obstacles aside and do our best to succeed.” The success of Nature’s Produce is important not only for Nussiebeh and his employees, but for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state, he says. Nussiebeh is like many entrepreneurs in the Palestinian territories who view their hard work as something done for a greater good. “We are helping to found at last a Palestinian state,” he said. “Even if there is one guy who is employed by your company, he is helping to establish the Palestinian state. He is covering expenses and he can live well and grow his children in a good way.”
Published on Feb 3, 2012