The New York Times recently profiled the struggles to build Rawabi, a pre-planned Palestinian city between Shechem (Nablus) and Jerusalem. Rawabi is controversial in some political circles because construction naturally involves cooperation and trade with Israel.
Rawabi is like the Palestinian counterpart of Israel's Mod'iin, a city conceived with all the modern amenities: a city center, parks, roads. Rawabi is a diversion from the organic construction of most Palestinian towns, villages, and cities that know little of urban planning. I'm also glad the city planners decided to forgo the names "Arafat City" or "Jihad City" and instead chose a very "settler" word: "Rawabi," Arabic for "hills."
Videos on Rawabi's fancy website brag how the yuppy Palestinian endeavor is being received with such international admiration. The UN's Ban Ki-moon, John Kerry, and even American rabbis have paid a visit to its state-of-the-art visitors center. While Rawabi is supposed to be a point of Palestinian pride with Palestinian flags waving across the fresh stones, I'm not bothered, certainly not bothered the way Palestinians claim to be bothered when Israeli settlements go up.
I'm happy to see Palestinians focus on building life rather than devising the death of Israel. I am bothered by the fact that Rawabi is welcomed with international fanfare, while Jewish settlement in the West Bank, whether built or populated out of political, religious, security or economic considerations, is so shunned. In general, you don't really hear any Jews vocally opposing Arab settlement the way left-wing Jews vocally oppose Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Why is that? Why can't people be happy for Jews when they foster life? Why can't the building of life be the primary value that guides the politics of the region instead of divisive formulas?
If both cities foster life and eschew violence and destruction (although with Rawabi, it awaits to be seen how anti-jihad it will be), what difference does it make which banner the city carries? If all of a sudden Rawabi decided to sell off housing mostly to Jews, would the world suddenly change its mind about it? If I decided I want a change of scenery, would I, as an Israeli-American Jew, be able to rent an apartment in Rawabi? I submit the same question regarding Arab inhabitants of Jewish towns and cities. Will we ever reach a point in which we see past race, religion and nationality and instead see and safeguard people for their individual qualities and upright characters? Wouldn't that constitute true peace? (These are not exactly rhetorical questions. Please e-mail your answers via my website.)
Call me naive, but I await for the next great city to be built beyond the green line: a mixed city where Jews, Muslim reformers, Christians, atheists, Buddhists, whatever, can make a home, peacefully, because life and freedom are the foundations upon which it is built.