Friday, August 14, 2009

The West Bank Has A Stock Exchange?

This is a really heart-warming op-ed from the WSJ written by the Israeli ambassador to the United States. It's called "The West Bank Success Story," and in it, Ambassador Oren discusses the progress that the West Bank has made economically just in the last year. I want to include an extended excerpt here, because I think what he says is extremely important.

Since 2008, more than 2,000 new companies have been registered with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Where heavy fighting once raged, there are now state-of-the-art shopping malls.

Much of this revival is due to Palestinian initiative and to the responsible fiscal policies of West Bank leaders—such as Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad—many of whom are American-educated. But few of these improvements could have happened without a vastly improved security environment.

More than 2,100 members of the Palestinian security forces, graduates of an innovative program led by U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton, are patrolling seven major West Bank cities. Another 500-man battalion will soon be deployed. Encouraged by the restoration of law and order, the local population is streaming to the new malls and movie theaters. Shipments of designer furniture are arriving from China and Indonesia, and car imports are up more than 40% since 2008.

Israel, too, has contributed to the West Bank's financial boom. Tony Blair recently stated that Israel had not been given sufficient credit for efforts such as removing dozens of checkpoints and road blocks, withdrawing Israeli troops from population centers, and facilitating transportation into both Israel and Jordan. Long prohibited by terrorist threats from entering the West Bank, Israeli Arabs are now allowed to shop in most Palestinian cities.

Considering the state the West Bank has existed in for half a century under the tyranny of religious rule, this is amazing news. For anyone familiar with the region, or who has even gone there and seen what the West Bank looked like (I was there at the end of 1999), the concept of shopping malls, movie theaters, foreign cars, and even a stock exchange is baffling.

I also find it to be an interesting example of how important the rule of law is. For years, the Palestinians have wavered somewhere between fascist centralized control and a sort of anarchic psychopathocracy. Introducing a consistent protection of individual rights, those of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis, is integral to forging an economic relationship between the two peoples. The possibilities for peace that arise from the scenario are enough to bring tears to one's eyes.

Oren also notes the contrast with Gaza, where the psychopaths continue to reign supreme, spending their money on rockets instead of shopping malls. Perhaps one day, if the West Bank pursues a pro-capitalist policy, enforcing property rights, the two regions on either side of Israel will become another study in opposites like East and West Germany or North and South Korea.

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