More Rawabis, not more walls

Rawabi is the Palestinian Modi’in lookalike city that is under construction near Ramallah and Masri is the Palestinian entrepreneur who has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.

January 28, 2016 22:05
4 minute read.
herzog limmud

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog speaks at a Limmud FSU gathering at Kibbutz Ginosar, December 18, 2015. (photo credit: ANDREY DEVEIKIN)


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Complete the separation barrier, build walls around the settlement blocs and split off Palestinian villages from Jerusalem. “We will be here and you Palestinians will be there,” Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog told the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv last week.

Herzog told his audience that “under current conditions a two-state solution is impossible” and it was that message, along with his plans for separation, that grabbed the headlines. But Herzog had another message that went under the media radar.

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In addition to calling for a regional security conference with the “moderate” Arab states and for Israel not to vitiate a future Palestinian state diplomatically or geographically, Herzog said that Israel needs to put in place confidence-building measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

“Palestinians will have total freedom in civil but not military matters. They’ll be able to build new cities and expand existing ones, to develop agriculture, industry, employment,” he said.

Walls – while they can certainly improve security – we have plenty of.

What is really needed is the latter part of Herzog’s message: more industry, more agriculture, more employment, more prosperity and yes new cities.

What is needed is not more walls, but more Rawabis and more Bashar Masris.

Rawabi is the Palestinian Modi’in lookalike city that is under construction near Ramallah and Masri is the Palestinian entrepreneur who has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the project.

According to Masri, Rawabi has created 6,000 jobs in construction and engineering, and will create another 5,000 in the next 10 years in retail, health and other sectors. He is also in talks to bring hi-tech companies to the city.

Only around 140 apartments have been occupied so far, but eventually Rawabi is expected to house some 30,000 people.

A city where people have jobs, education and a high standard of living is unlikely to become a hotbed of terrorism.

The inverse is also true, as the IDF has pointed out to Israel’s political leadership.

Where there are no jobs, no infrastructure and no hope, violence will simmer.

But neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority seems to be overly enthused with the project. Masri said the Palestinian authority has not stepped up despite its initial promises to fund and support the project. “Their contribution so far has been zero when it comes to funding,” Masri said of the PA in a recent interview with JTA.

Israel, too, has also placed stumbling blocks to the project’s completion, holding up water supplies and approval of an access road for four years.

I spoke to Masri to try and understand why the project has faced so many obstacles.

He told me that, from the Israeli side, every required authorization has taken years – whereas an Israeli settlement would get one in months. From the Palestinian side, he said that the Palestinian Authority is not making the project and economic development a priority and that it is putting politics ahead of long-term vision.

An Israeli observer I spoke to put it another way: Projects like Rawabi are the seeds of normalization – which the PA does not want – and they also sow the seeds of Palestinian state building, which the current government does not want.

Like other centrists on the Israeli political map, Herzog has been moving right to try and garner support, hence his emphasis on separation. He is also promoting his plan on the international stage. After first unveiling it at the INSS, he traveled to Paris to present it to French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.

“The world’s nations must change direction and aim for a realistic solution – primarily a separation that brings calm to the area,” Herzog told his hosts, adding that all possible energies should be invested in that separation.

Herzog is right to call on the world to start looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a realistic and pragmatic prism and not to continue to push a zero-sum end of conflict two-state solution that has proved unattainable and remains impossible for the foreseeable future given the sides’ unbridgeable positions.

But the world’s energy should not be focused on separation. It is the building of a modern and developed Palestinian society that trades and lives with Israel that will both reduce the pull of radical Islam and build the bridges to peace, not walls and separation.

Caveat emptor: Masri warns that any initiative that is anything less than a full political solution – even if it is implemented over a period of time – is doomed to failure and that at the end of the day the economy is not the problem, the problem is Palestinian political rights.

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