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.

  

Arabs should embrace non-violence

Christopher Dickey argues that Arabs need to study the approch taken by Martin Luther King in his quest for racial justice and civil rights in America.

What the vast majority of Arabs have been slow to realize, however, is the profound connection that exists between the history of the struggle that opened the way for Obama to become president, and the future of their own fight for freedom and dignity, and not only in the face of Israeli occupation, but under the tyrannies of so many Arab dictators. We talk about remembering Martin Luther King because of the power of his vision, of his language, of his morality and of his faith. But mainly we remember him because he adopted a strategy of nonviolent confrontation with an insidious and pervasive system of repression—and broke it—and broke through it. We remember him because his way worked.

What we know about the Middle East today is that wars no longer end in victories, and the process of peace never delivers more than the process itself. A new approach has to be found, and the leaders of the governments in the region don’t seem up to the task. The most promising is nonviolent resistance: mass protests, boycotts, refusal to obey unjust laws.

When one considers what figure like King and Ghandi were able to accomplish using non-violent protest, it’s still stunning to me that this tactic is not used in the Middle East. Perhaps it’s a cultural issue. I’d love to see Obama make this point all around the world.

  

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