Ari Shavit
July 31, 2009 - 12:00am

Remember the name: Rawabi. The city of hills to be built nine kilometers northwest of Ramallah. The first planned city in Palestinian history. The first planned city in the West Bank to be inhabited by Palestinians rather than settlers. A city designed to be a Palestinian city of abundance - secular, open and vibrant. A city of pedestrian malls, cafes, kindergartens and schools. A city of thriving Palestinian start-ups and Palestinian yuppies. A city that will pave the Palestinians' way to the 21st century.

For years Rawabi was a dream. The entrepreneur Bashar Masri always believed in the new Palestinian class: educated young people with a Western orientation and a medium-to-high income. Masri sees great economic, social and cultural potential in this new class, so he thought it appropriate to build a new city for it. But in conditions of conflict and occupation, Rawabi seemed a bizarre fantasy. Many cast doubt on the ability to build a modern Palestinian city when the West Bank was oppressed, split by roadblocks, and tainted by extremist and destructive politics.

But in the past year there has been a revolution. The policies of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have begun to bear fruit. Palestinian security forces have been redeployed in Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron. Anarchy has made way for an orderly regime. Israel, meanwhile, has removed about 25 roadblocks that dissected the West Bank and stifled its economy. Palestinian awareness has also changed: They are sick and tired of the constant friction and never-ending struggle. There is a new desire for quiet, order and a good life.

As a result of these three processes Arab and Western investors are once again investing in Palestine. In Ramallah, banks, financial firms and high-tech companies have opened. Bethlehem and Jenin have also begun to flourish. Even Nablus has recently seen the first signs of change. The quiet, the stability and the almost free movement have gradually returned life to normalcy. After an era of fanaticism and oppression, Palestine has finally begun to sprout its very first signs of hope.

In Israel there is little talk of Fayyad's revolution. Since the lynching in Ramallah, most Israelis have erased it from the map of their awareness. They have no interest in the Palestinians, one way or another. However, even Israelis who have taken it on themselves to defend Palestinian rights do not always show an interest in Palestinians as human beings. They prefer them as victims. They do not have much interest in Palestinians who stop being victims and become entrepreneurs, architects, contractors, programmers and PR representatives. As a result, both the right and left have failed to see and internalize the quiet revolution taking place in the West Bank.

But the quiet revolution is taking place, even though everything is still brittle and reversible. At any moment a diplomatic crisis or security incident could disrupt everything. But a visitor to Ramallah this summer cannot fail to be excited. In the past year alone about 12 new restaurants have opened in the city. At midnight the streets are bustling, commerce is lively and the nightclubs are celebrating. Like Hariri's Beirut, Fayyad's Ramallah is a postwar city - a city recovering from a serious trauma and celebrating its sanity. If the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians do not spoil things again, this sanity is likely to spread to other West Bank cities. Soon a new reality is likely to come into being.

Rawabi is both a symbol and a test of the new sanity. Palestinians and Qataris are about to invest $800 million in an unprecedented initiative: About 6,000 housing units to be built in the city are designed to house 40,000 residents and provide jobs for 10,000 Palestinians.

Rawabi is both a huge economic venture and sociocultural project that offers Palestinians a new horizon. But for Rawabi to become a reality, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak must give the Palestinian Authority control over the land corridor that will link it to Ramallah. They must cut the red tape and let the city of the future receive water, electricity and access roads. There is now a real opportunity in the West Bank. We must not miss it.


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