Both Israeli and Palestinian officials report economic growth for the occupied areas of 4 to 5 percent and a drop in the unemployment rate of at least three percentage points. The Israelis report that in 2008 wages here are up more than 20 percent and trade by 35 percent. The improved climate has nearly doubled the number of tourists in Bethlehem and increased them by half in Jericho.Of course, given that this is the Times, much of the rest of the article drips with venomous hatred against Israel (the article was written by correspondents Isabel Kirschner and Ethan Bronner and not by a 'Palestinian' stringer). And of course, they remind us over and over again that what the 'Palestinians' really want is not economic prosperity, but a
It is not just tourists. The Bethlehem Small Enterprise Center, financed with German aid, has been open for eight months and busy, helping printers improve their software and olivewood craftsmen their marketing.
“It has been the best year since 1999,” noted Victor Batarseh, mayor of Bethlehem. “Our hotels are full whereas three years ago there was almost nobody. Unemployment is below 20 percent. But we are still under occupation.”
And all this in a year when the global economy has been sinking at an alarming rate.
A senior Israeli official in the northern West Bank said that 4,000 Israeli Arab citizens were driving in to shop in the area every weekend and that 115 new stores had opened in the city of Tulkarm in the past four months.Of course, what has fueled the 'Palestinian' prosperity is the huge influx of international aid money - more than $3 billion this year alone. Will the 'Palestinians' trade a reichlet for economic prosperity?
Even in Nablus, a volatile city of 200,000 that has been subject to a particularly suffocating Israeli security regime, the atmosphere is beginning to change. A gleaming mall owned by the municipality, under construction since 1999, finally opened earlier this year.
Ahmed Ayed, 22, manages a women’s clothing store there. Sporting long hair and a goatee, he said the outlet, the sixth in Nablus of a chain owned by his father, opened half a year ago; a seventh has since opened nearby.
Ziad Anabtawi, chairman of the Anabtawi Group, which includes import, distribution and investment companies, has recently expanded into the production of premium Palestinian olive oil with an eye abroad. He says the Palestinian economy is much healthier today than it was in the 1990s, when it was based on laborers working in Israel, their entry dependent on Israeli good will. Today, it involves large Palestinian investment companies and bankers.
The old city of Nablus, known as the casbah, was until recently a danger zone where Palestinian gunmen frequently clashed with Israeli forces. On a recent afternoon, groups of women relaxed, smoking and sharing picnics, at a historic Turkish bathhouse, the Shefa Hamam.
In the West Bank, Hamas is currently subdued, with its armed men deep underground, its political leaders in Israeli jails and those representatives still at large in the local authorities diligently playing by Palestinian Authority rules.Here's my guess: given free choice, the 'Palestinians' might choose economic prosperity over a reichlet. But don't bet on them having free choice forever.
The governor of Bethlehem, Salah Tamari, an advocate of coexistence for decades, said Hamas was weakening in the West Bank as people saw how hard life was in Gaza. What he really worried about was a future with Israel despite his years of Israeli friendships.
In his office, the curtains to his right were drawn shut to keep out the view of the opposite hill of Har Homa, a huge Jewish suburb whose construction he had worked against in the 1990s.
“Israelis are paranoid because of their past, while Palestinians are paranoid because of their present,” Mr. Tamari said. “But we are doomed to live together or blessed to live together, depending on your point of view. It is true that the economy is improving slightly. But beyond that, I’m afraid very little is getting easier.”
UPDATE 12:18 PM
The World Bank is accusing Israel of 'halting West Bank trade.' Maybe they don't read the Times?
Cross-posted to Israel Matzav.