Tom Gross describes “the new West Bank”:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107104574571491401847518.html in the Wall Street Journal.
It was in much better shape than I expected when I visited in 2006, but it did not look like this:
[W]e had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring. (There was one border post on the return leg of the journey, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, but the young female guard just waved me and the two Palestinians I was traveling with, through.)
The shops and restaurants were also full when I visited Hebron recently, and I was surprised to see villas comparable in size to those on the Cote d’Azur or Bel Air had sprung up on the hills around the city. Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.
A new Palestinian city, Ruwabi, is to be built soon north of Ramallah. Last month, the Jewish National Fund, an Israeli charity, helped plant 3,000 tree seedlings for a forested area the Palestinian planners say they would like to develop on the edge of the new city. Israeli experts are also helping the Palestinians plan public parks and other civic amenities.
Outsiders are beginning to take note of the turnaround too. The official PLO Wafa news agency reported last week that the 3rd 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.