Palestinian governor and Israeli politician believe economic prosperity will foster political stability
December 04, 2008
Middle East Bureau
Jenin, West Bank-Qadoura Musa has good cause to carry a powerful grudge against Israel.
The one-time Palestinian firebrand is a life-long refugee, whose family had to flee the port city of Haifa when Israel was established six decades ago.
Later, Musa spent 12 years in Israeli jails on security-related charges. Twice, his home was destroyed in punitive actions carried out by Israeli authorities.
Experiences such as these would embitter just about anybody, so it is surprising to learn that Musa is now a champion of co-operation with the very people whom many would describe as his tormenters.
"I have decided to work with the Israelis, rather than fight with them," said Musa, now a grey-haired elder who serves as Palestinian governor of the region around the northern West Bank city of Jenin, an area populated by some 265,000 souls. "Between individuals, relations are good."
Relations are especially good between Musa and Dani Atar, an Israeli politician who dwells just across what was until recently an impassable border slicing through a region long poisoned by distrust and hostility.
Atar is head of the regional council of Gilboa '' a largely rural collection of Jewish towns and Arab villages '' and he is working in partnership with Musa to address and possibly resolve some of Jenin's grave problems.
Only economic prosperity will foster political stability, Atar says.
"On a personal level, there is wonderful co-operation between Qadoura Musa and myself. The main thing is economic development in the area."
The current focus of both men's attention is a long-delayed plan to develop a large industrial park on the Palestinian side of the boundary between the West Bank and Israel, a project that could eventually provide jobs for as many as 15,000 Palestinians, while employing about 2,000 Israelis.
Germany is underwriting the construction of a connecting road as well as preliminary work on the park itself. Musa conceded no contracts have yet been signed with prospective industrial tenants, although foreign businesses are making inquiries, he said.
He said he believes the processed-foods industry could be a natural candidate '' Jenin's main industry is agriculture '' and he mentioned electrical appliances and car assembly as other possible activities.
Most of the goods produced at the park would be destined for export and the Israelis are planning a logistical complex on their side of the border to help move the products swiftly to market.
"The plans are ambitious and visionary," Israeli pundit Gershon Baskin wrote not long ago in The Jerusalem Post. "If Atar and Musa are allowed to move forward without the interference of their governments, Jenin-Gilboa will become a model for moving from conflict to co-operation."
First, however, both men will have to persuade the Israel military to make it a bit easier to cross the border between Jenin and Gilboa.
Closed for years because of Palestinian violence, the reopened Jelameh checkpoint is now understaffed and an infuriating obstacle to cross-border collaboration.
Atar said he has received assurances from Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak that waiting time at the checkpoint will eventually be reduced.
Atar's lobbying on behalf of his Palestinian neighbours has already produced concrete benefits for people on both sides of the border.
Thanks to his intervention, the Israeli foreign and defence ministries recently agreed to allow Israeli Arabs '' who make up about 40 per cent of the population in Gilboa '' to travel into Jenin to shop for goods that are generally far cheaper there, a boon to a region where nearly 60 per cent of workers are unemployed.
Atar and Musa have also promoted establishment of a joint chamber of commerce that will bring together businesspeople on both sides of the border to explore projects that could benefit them both.
Atar says the body's first meeting will come before Christmas.
Once a hotbed of militant Palestinian politics, Jenin was the scene of an infamous Israeli military operation in 2002 that some recall as "a massacre."
Later, the city was notorious for general lawlessness, but Jenin has transformed itself in recent months, as evidently well-trained Palestinian security forces have increasingly assumed responsibility for law enforcement, replacing Israeli troops.
The Israeli soldiers continue to enter the city at will but less frequently than before.
Musa said the goal of ending the Israeli occupation is his top priority, even more important than economic development. But when it comes to co-operation between Jenin and Gilboa, economic development is the key.
"This co-operation is already a model for others," said Atar. "It inspires other Israeli politicians."