Column: Inside the Bubble

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Ramallah Buildings

Less noted is a parallel development in the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah. I’m not sure exactly what I expected from a city under Israeli occupation, but it wasn’t what I found in Ramallah. Once you get through the checkpoint and on the road into town, Ramallah turns out to be a pretty nice place. Not uniformly, of course. It has a Third World vibe and the slum districts that come with it. But the Grand Park Hotel is very nice and by no means the only hotel catering to foreigners. The friendly cab drivers ask if it’s your first time in Palestine and chitchat in passable English. Five Americans can walk without fear late at night through the confusing street grid and find a delightful Palestinian-Italian fusion restaurant with a bustling crowd and enjoy round after round of drinks. A construction boom is underway, with banks and offices and houses springing up everywhere. Roads are being renovated, with banners eagerly extolling the U.S. government’s role in footing the bill. […]

But the Ramallah bubble is truly a bubble. Fayyad’s achievements come either as gifts from Israel (in terms of reduced checkpoints and road closures) or from the U.S. and Europe in the form of money used to underwrite a massive growth in the state apparatus. He has no democratic legitimacy and has no way to deliver sustainable economic gains under the current circumstances of the occupation. Politically aware Palestinians understand what’s happening all too well: More than one described him as a tool of the occupation rather than a leader of the Palestinian people. Nonviolent resistance organizers observed that Fayyad’s strategy is predicated on engaging in essentially no resistance of any form. His economic-development strategy amounts to running a tight ship in terms of personal corruption, plus begging for scraps from Israel and America, which severely constrains his political options in a way that utterly destroys his credibility.

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