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The Ramallah miracle: Is Palestine ready for independence? Add to ...

From the top of the soon-to-be-completed Palestine Trade Tower, you can see right across Israel, past Tel Aviv to the Mediterranean Sea. It's a spectacular view and quite unexpected.

How did the Palestinians, a struggling nation under occupation, manage to build a 29-storey luxury office and hotel tower? This one, with façades of Omani and Chinese marble, a three-floor shopping mall and four levels of underground parking, looks as if it could be in Toronto or Dubai, but not in the occupied West Bank.

It's a new side of life here and tangible proof that a viable state is taking shape beyond the barbed wire and barriers that define this territory.

In the past week, reports by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations all testify that the Palestinian Authority has begun to build the core functions of a state - particularly in areas such as health and education - and is ready for independence.

On Wednesday in Brussels, Salam Fayyad, the energized Prime Minister of the PA, presented a 63-page blueprint for a Palestinian state to a meeting of Western donor nations.

"I believe our governing institutions have now reached a high state of readiness to assume all the responsibilities that will come with full sovereignty on the entire Palestinian occupied territory," Mr. Fayyad told the countries, and then asked them for $5-billion in new investment over the next 36 months.

"The next three years will witness a transformation in the nature of external aid from 'life support' to real investment in the future of Palestine."

While the West has been fixated by the popular uprisings in the rest of the Arab world over the past few months, Mr. Fayyad and PA President Mahmoud Abbas have continued the business of building their state, cracking down on corruption, seeding infrastructure projects and hiring teachers and doctors.

Their efforts over the past two years (along with unheralded support from the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) are paying off. Mr. Fayyad's approach has attracted billions of dollars in new investment, lured back the Palestinian diaspora and helped to build not only marble towers but entire new communities.

It's an approach similar to the one used successfully by Zionists in British-mandate Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel, and it may hold lessons for other Arab countries in the region.

The Palestinian economy (excluding the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas and largely sealed off by Israel) is doing remarkably well: It grew 8 per cent in 2009 and 9 per cent last year. With further investment, Mr. Fayyad's plan foresees the gross domestic product increasing 9 per cent again this year, rising to 12 per cent by 2013.

The quality of life for most people in the West Bank has never been better - not under the Ottomans (before 1917), not under the British (1917 to 1948), and not even under the Jordanians (1948 to 1967). Urban centres such as Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus and even Jenin all display this improved quality of life, but none more than Ramallah, the West Bank's administrative capital, 20 kilometres north of Jerusalem.

The big question is whether Israeli support for this new economic order will survive the Palestinian bid to establish a sovereign state at the United Nations this fall.

Come home, get rich

Construction in Ramallah never seems to stop - new apartment buildings, office complexes, shopping malls and coffee shops.

The trade centre amazes even its owner: "I never dreamed of building such a thing as this," said Ibrahim Abushkadim, 70, wrapped tightly in his red and white checked keffiyeh on a recent blustery day as he looked out to the Mediterranean, 50 kilometres to the west.

Mr. Abushkadim and his son, Jamal, 40, the project manager, are enormously confident in the Palestinians' future and they are putting their money and energy where their mouths are.

Having got rich from the land and quarries they own in a village a few kilometres north of the city, the Abushkadims shifted their focus to the southwestern United States, where they worked for several years in construction and in getting Jamal his engineering degree. They returned to the West Bank in the late nineties to build their dream.

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