Outsiders are beginning to take note of the turnaround, too. The official PLO Wafa news agency reported last week that the third quarter of 2009 witnessed near record tourism in the Palestinian Authority, with 135,939 overnight hotel stays in 89 hotels that are now open. Almost half the guests come from the U.S or Europe.
Palestinian economic growth so far this year — a year dominated by economic crisis elsewhere — has been an impressive 7 percent according to the IMF, though Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayad, himself a former World Bank and IMF employee, says it is in fact 11 percent, partly helped along by strong economic performances in neighboring Israel.
In Gaza too, the shops and markets are crammed with food and goods — see, for example, the photos from last Friday’s Palestine Today newspaper about the Eid celebrations in Gaza. These are not the pictures you are ever likely to see on the BBC or in Le Monde or the New York Times. No, Gaza is not like a “concentration camp,” nor is the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza is on the scale of Darfur,” as British journalist Lauren Booth (who is also Tony Blair’s sister-in-law) has said.
In June, the Washington Post
’s Jackson Diehl related how Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had told him why he had turned down Ehud Olmert’s offer last year to create a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank (with three percent of pre-1967 Israeli land being added to make up the shortfall). “In the West Bank we have a good reality,” Abbas told Diehl. “The people are living a normal life,” he added with a candor he rarely employs when addressing Western journalists.
Nablus stock exchange head Ahmad Aweidah went farther in explaining to me why there is no rush to declare statehood, saying ordinary Palestinians need the IDF to help protect them from Hamas, as their own security forces aren’t ready to do so by themselves yet.
The truth is that an independent Palestine is now quietly being built, with Israeli assistance. So long as the Obama administration and European politicians don’t clumsily meddle as they have in the past and make demands for the process to be completed more quickly than it can be, I am confident the outcome will be a positive one. (The last time an American president — Bill Clinton in 2000 — tried to hurry things along unrealistically, it merely resulted in blowing up in everybody’s faces — literally — and set back hopes for peace by some years.)
Israelis and Palestinians may never agree on borders that will satisfy everyone. But that doesn’t mean they won’t live in peace. Not all Germans and French agree who should control Alsace Lorraine. Poles and Russians, Slovenes and Croats, Britons and Irish, and peoples all over the world, have border disputes. But that doesn’t keep them from coexisting. Nor — so long as partisan journalists and human-rights groups don’t mislead Western politicians into making bad decisions — will it prevent Israelis and Palestinians from doing so.
– Tom Gross is the former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.
This piece first appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe.