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

They're not alone.

Palestinian fashion designer Rawan Alami, 30, who studied at Montreal's Academy of Design, has a line of "Made in the West Bank" clothing that is sold in Canada and the United States. Two years ago, she returned to marry and to open a tony boutique in Ramallah.

"Even with the occupation, people still want to live," Ms. Alami said. "They want to be trendy."

Her shop, situated on the fourth floor of another new commercial building, is not for everyone. Ms. Alami deliberately avoided the walk-in shoppers. "We wanted to focus on people who were serious buyers," she said.

"Some people complain of the high prices, but they like the fact that they won't see too many other people wearing the same thing."

Business, she said, is going well.

On a Sunday morning, Ahmad Aweidah, the chief executive officer of the Palestine Securities Exchange - yes, a stock exchange - watches his computer for the market's opening trades.

There are 43 companies listed on the exchange, which has operated since 1996 but began turning a profit only in 2005. Mr. Aweidah is especially interested in PalTel, a Palestinian mobile-phone company that has the largest market share and tends to drive the market.

He likes what he sees. Despite the upheaval in the Arab world that has sent most markets into the red, the PSE is the only Arab market in the black at the end of the first quarter this year - up 1.65 per cent. "We're still on track for a very good year," he said.

Mr. Aweidah also is the principal owner of a sparkling pair of new coffee houses. ZAMN cafés are modelled after Starbucks. "Being under occupation doesn't mean you can't have good coffee," he said with an enormous smile.

His pair of premium coffee houses are built in two of the more expensive parts of the city of 40,000. Their success shows how much Palestinian society has changed. "People thought we were crazy when the first ZAMN opened," he said. The café begins operations at 7 a.m., hours before Palestinians were used to stopping for coffee.

"But we stayed the course," Mr. Aweidah said, "and people changed. They developed the habit of stopping for coffee and a croissant on the way to work." It was a sign of more affluent times.

"Now, the time from 8 to 10 is our busiest," Mr. Aweidah said. Other cafés are opening and keeping similar hours.

The most recently opened ZAMN location is near the Prime Minister's office, the headquarters of the Arab Bank and a bevy of foreign consulates.

Prime Minister Fayyad is a good customer, Mr. Aweidah said. "We deliver to him every day."

Inside the café, a pair of thirtysomething sisters in head scarves linger over a late lunch with their children, the two 11-year-old boys playing with an iPad one recently received.

The sisters' family returned from the United States to Nablus in the West Bank in 1996. Even through the violence of the last intifada, they stayed put.

"Life is very good for us," one acknowledged. "We're glad we stayed."

"But not everyone here lives like this," the other woman hastened to add.

About 14 to 15 per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank, mostly people in rural areas, still live below the poverty line, said economist Samir Barghouthi, director of the Arab Center for Agricultural Development. But it's an improvement from 23 per cent in 2004, according to the World Bank.

At the table next to the sisters, a real-estate agent in a fitted leather jacket sits with a colleague. He, too, came "home" from the United States in the nineties.

"The market's good," he said, "very good."

"My son's a doctor in Manhattan," he added by way of explanation. "But I'm doing better [financially]here."

Abdel Jawad Saleh agrees that life has never been better. The 79-year-old was elected mayor of El Bireh (a large district now part of Ramallah) in the waning days of Jordanian rule. "The Jordanians collected taxes from us, but spent very little of it here in the West Bank," he said. "There was a lot of poverty."

"Ironically," Mr. Aweidah said, under Israeli occupation, "we are the least oppressed Arabs in the region."

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