Signs of hope in the West Bank?

Given the recent turmoil in the region, I was a little shocked to read this article about progress in the West Bank.

The International Monetary Fund is about to issue its first upbeat report in years for the West Bank, forecasting a 7 percent growth rate for 2009. Car sales in 2008 were double those of 2007. Construction on the first new Palestinian town in decades, for 40,000, will begin early next year north of Ramallah. In Jenin, a seven-story store called Herbawi Home Furnishings has opened, containing the latest espresso machines. Two weeks ago, the Israeli military shut its obtrusive nine-year-old checkpoint at the entrance to this city, part of a series of reductions in security measures.

Whether all this can last and lead to the consolidation of political power for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, as the Obama administration hopes, remains unclear. But a recent opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinian news agency, found that Fatah was seen as far more trustworthy than Hamas — 35 percent versus 19 percent — a significant shift from the organization’s poll in January, when Hamas appeared to be at least as trustworthy.

A critical factor has been the strength of the Palestinian security forces.

An important element in making the Palestinian force effective, American and Israeli officials say, was taking young Palestinian men out of the ancestral grips of their villages and tribal clans and training them abroad, turning them into soldiers loyal to units and commanders.

There still remains much to do. Israel has eased some checkpoints and other restrictions, but Palestinians are still angry over the many controls imposed by the Israelis. That said, the improved situation in the West Bank is a very significant development that can increase pressure on Israel to move forward on the peace process.

  

The mess in Gaza

It’s depressing to see the same pattern unfold in Gaza. Tom Friedman provides some useful background on the situation.

One point Friedman makes is that Iran can now dictate when fighting will resume in the region. Given how low gas prices have further decimated the Iranian economy, one has to wonder whether Iran is pushing for more rocket attacks with the purpose of having this conflict increase oil prices.

  

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