Zahlan: The Reconstruction of Palestine
Since the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords of 1993, the challenge of reconstruction and development has acquired a central position in the Palestinian political agenda. Underlying increased interest in this issue has been the dual imperative of reversing the long-term decline in infrastructure neglected during twenty-seven years of Israeli occupation and realizing tangible achievements on the ground through the peace process. Among the development needs identified by the Palestine Authority (PA) and donors since 1993, those of basic infrastructure, including housing to sustain a rapidly growing population squeezed by land and housing shortages, are seen as crucial in terms of development and peace.
As head of a team from the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, Antoine Zahlan, renown for his work on science policy, technology, and human resources in the Arab world, conceived and organized a conference in Amman in 1996 bringing together a diverse group of Palestinian, Arab, and international experts to address the issues covered in this volume. To his further credit, he has edited and published this unique collection of over forty forward-looking papers on Palestinian housing conditions and needs and urban and rural development strategies and policies for the interim period and beyond.
In what surely should become a basic reference work on the subject, Zahlan has carefully structured the diverse technical and policy questions under six interrelated themes: 1) institutions, planning, and policies; 2) land use and tenure; 3) regulatory framework; 4) housing alternatives, conservation, and renewal; 5) financial services; and 6) the construction industry. All the papers address priority issues facing the housing and reconstruction effort, drawing on the Palestinian reality, as well as on relevant international experience and lessons. Each of the contributions represents a self-contained study, well supported by a wealth of references and data. The six major sections are preceded by theme papers that draw on the subsequent papers to provide a broad view of the issues at hand. This useful presentation allows the reader to identify the common issues under each theme and highlights the strong points of the different contributions. Needless to say, few readers may ever need to examine the housing dilemma in Palestine from all the angles covered in this volume. Yet, despite its size, depth, and apparent complexity, this book is accessible to a broad audience interested in the dynamics of Palestinian institution-building and reconstruction efforts, as well as to specialists and policymakers.
A summary of the Amman conference recommendations regarding the enormous future needs and corresponding policy measures to rehabilitate urban and rural housing in Palestine and the planning and institutional framework is presented in this volume. The summary outlines the urgent and immediate steps needed alongside medium- and long-term measures, providing a useful plan for action at different levels. One of the strongest messages conveyed through these recommendations is the urgent need to establish quality institutions, flexible coordination mechanisms, modern policies, relevant priorities, and internationally acceptable regulations and procedures, with the lead in most areas expected to come from the PA and nongovernmental organizations.
Indeed, while the technical and substantive quality of this monograph is sustained in all its sections and contributions, equally pervasive is the urging for swift action on various levels in order to avert further decline and avoid repeating others' mistakes. A wide range of reforms, measures, and actions are considered necessary by this distinguished array of experts in order for Palestine to address its needs and aspirations with regard to urban and rural development, land-use planning, housing, conservation and environmental protection, and the growth-inducing role of housing and construction in the revival of the Palestinian economy. This plan of action constitutes a daunting challenge for Palestine.
It is precisely this gap between the realities on the ground and the aspirations of a modernizing and professionally capable Palestinian civil society which is perhaps the only disturbing implication raised by this significant volume. As in other areas of Palestinian development, a certain frustration sets in when comparing what needs to be done with what has been achieved since 1993 and what realistically can be expected to occur. Given the PA's performance to date and the current Palestinian situation--between occupation, autonomy, and an ephemeral concept of independence yet to come--the ambitious blueprint for action proposed in this volume may take much longer to see the light of day than expected, needed, or desired.
Raja Khalidi is a researcher and writer specializing in Palesitnian development economics.