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Mahmoud Abbas: The Luckiest Man in the Levant

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's relaxed trade policies have caused a growth spurt in the West Bank.

by
Michael Weiss

Bio

August 26, 2009 - 12:22 am
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So they are. The International Monetary Fund has recently concluded that the West Bank’s economy has improved dramatically in the last year. Michael Oren, Israel’s newly-minted ambassador to the United States, recently pointed out in a Wall Street Journal editorial that six thousand new jobs have been created since 2008, trade with Israel has increased 82%, tourism to Bethlehem has increased 94%, and agricultural exports are up 200% — all the result of a fusion between smart Palestinian planning, the Netanyahu government’s relaxed trade policies, and its continued dismantling of military checkpoints.

There are now 10 manned roadblocks in all of the West Bank, compared to the 35 that were in place place during Ehud Olmert’s administration. Although the UN estimates over 600 “obstacles and roadblocks” still in existence, according to a June 24 report by Amos Harel in Haaretz, “the [Israeli] defense establishment has allowed several hundred Palestinian businessmen, holders of BMC (Businessman Card) permits, free access to Israel.”

Additionally, residents in Jericho can now travel throughout the West Bank unencumbered; all roadblocks surrounding Nablus have been lifted; and the only cars the IDF are bothering to inspect are those crossing the Jaba roadblock at the Adam-La Ram junction.

The Israeli military also aims to “radically reduce” its own presence in the West Bank, a happy concomitant of U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton’s success in training 2,100 members of the Palestinian security force, who have brought law and order to the territory and with it, bolstered investment opportunities. Two thousand new companies were registered with the PA in the last year, a stark contrast with the autarkic poverty that persists in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

That all of these developments have taken place under a right-wing coalition government is noticed most of all by the Palestinians themselves, though you’d be forgiven for not reading more about them in the Western press. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who earned a PhD in economics at the University of Texas, has more or less conceded to Netanyahu’s “economic peace” in advance of any substantive political reconciliation, which no one expects to see anytime soon.

Fayyad told Haaretz this month that he realized that “security was the glue between a thriving economy and proper government and achieving liberty for the Palestinian people.” (On the question of whether or not Israel is a “Jewish state” — an admission Netanyahu has been adamant about getting from the Palestinians and which he has hitherto been denied officially — Fayyad sounded more Zionist-friendly than the New York Review of Books typically is: “The character of Israel, as the total character that Israel would like to have, is Israel’s own choice.”)

Abbas has all the time in the world to visit his Arab allies like Omar al-Bashir, the genocidaire-in-chief of Sudan. He watches with glee as an American president applies pressure to Israel on a matter that is only popular to the Israeli religious right. Meanwhile, his people are creating, with Israeli assistance, the fretworks for a viable, sovereign state that all participants in this geopolitical saga recognize as a historical inevitability. Is it any wonder George Mitchell found Abbas reluctant to cut a deal? As Barnea puts it, “Obama faces not one, but two, reluctant partners. He’s suddenly discovered the Middle East.”

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Michael Weiss is a senior editor of Tablet Magazine and a culture blogger for The New Criterion. He also writes occasionally for Slate, The Weekly Standard, City Journal, The New York Daily News and Standpoint.
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