Sherwin Pomerantz
The Jerusalem Post
August 15, 2010 - 12:00am

In mid-January, I was in Tel Aviv for a presentation by Bashar Masri, President of Massar, a Ramallah-based holding company with investment interests in a number of projects in what may one day become a Palestinian state. Masri, having lived in America most of his life, moved to Ramallah some years ago to share his business acumen, know-how, and connections with the locals in order to assist in building the economic trappings of a new Palestinian society.

The purpose of the meeting in Tel Aviv was to hear about the new Palestinian city of Rawabi north of Ramallah. Rawabi will be the first ever Palestinian municipality built according to a master plan which, when completed, will provide housing, work and recreation for 40,000 people. At the time I clearly saw the positive ramifications of this project for those interested in seeing the development of responsible Palestinian governmental leadership.

The planned City of Rawabi is a major undertaking of the Palestinian leadership funded in great part by the Qatari government through one of its real estate arms. Thursday’s Jerusalem Post carried a story headlined “Settlers [I really don’t like that term] protest new Palestinian city” which said the following: “Settlers who believe a Palestinian state is being unilaterally built in their backyard plan to march Thursday afternoon, to protest against what will soon be the new Palestinian city of Rawabi. Rawabi is nine km northwest of Ramallah, 25 km south of Nablus and 20 km north of Jerusalem. …..Settlers have opposed the city’s construction, fearing that it is part of a plan by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to unilaterally seek statehood.”

MY REACTION is that we simply cannot have things both ways. For years those of us living in Israel have lamented the fact that the Palestinians have no visionary leadership, that the leaders they do have allow their people to live in poverty and that the only objective of the leadership is to stay in power. Now along comes Salam Fayyad with an actual plan to create something that begins to look like progress and development, and yet we still complain.

I, for one, applaud the plan to build this new city because for the first time in the 62+ years of the history of the State of Israel, our neighbors who, for the moment, live under our control, are actually doing something constructive about creating a framework that bespeaks economic and social progress.

As for where they will build this city, of course it will be near existing population centers. After all, we share a small land mass that, at its widest in the center of the country only spans 66 km or 40 miles. So no matter where the city would be built, if it is close to Palestinian population areas it will be close to Israel as well. And as for the inclination of the government to cede 50 hectares of land to the project in order to build a decent access road, that is an absolute necessity as the present one-lane Ottoman-built cow path is hardly sufficient to handle the regular arrival of building materials and construction vehicles.

Again, we cannot have things both ways. We cannot continue to complain that the Palestinians are guilty of letting their people live uneducated and in squalor and then complain, yet again, when they try to do something constructive about the situation.

True, that Salam Fayyad may not be the great white hope. True, that he may not even be such a great friend of Israel. True, that the city will be built close to existing settlements such as Ateret. All that may be true but what is also true is that someone has finally come along with a reasonable plan to begin addressing some of the social and economic issues of Palestinian society and is prepared to do without using Israel as an excuse why it cannot progress. Regardless of our discomfort, we should support such initiatives as economic progress remains the only hope for peace.

Sources tell us that Ezra the Scribe urged his disciples not to shy away from a task simply because they knew, in advance, that they could not complete it. The lesson has meaning for us today as well. The task of peace may very well not be completed in our time but we, nevertheless, have an obligation to pursue it.


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