Cultural Revolutions

Best-Laid Plans

A day or two after the signing of the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993, I attended a meeting at a think tank in Washington to discuss the economic prospects of an independent Palestinian state.  One of the speakers outlined a very economically bullish vision for the new Palestine—the West Bank plus the Gaza Strip.  First, tourists would flood the area—Christian pilgrims to Bethlehem, and northern Europeans to Gaza’s beaches.  Commerce would probably flourish, with Palestine becoming a financial center for the Arab world.  Then the Palestinians, known as the “Jews of the Arab World,” and the Israelis would help transform Palestine into the “Singapore of the Middle East.”  At that, the audience applauded.

Indeed, during the booming and swinging years of the 1990’s, everyone was applying East Asian models to forecast a productive and rosy future for their economies.  Yasser Arafat envisioned the area becoming the “Hong Kong of the Middle East,” a small strip of land on which hundreds of thousands of hard-working Arab and foreign entrepreneurs would lay the foundations for a world-class business center.

One of the participants in the think-tank event sounded a bit skeptical.  “In theory, you might be right,” he responded to the Palestine-as-Singapore proposal.  After all, the Palestinians, Christians and Muslims...

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