There is a proposed project developed by a Santa Monica-based urban design firm and the Rand Corporation to build a national transportation and infrastructure corridor in the Palestinian territories. Called Arc, it would link the West Bank and Gaza by rail line. Host Marco Werman speaks with Doug Suisman of Suisman Urban Design, one of the partners involved in project.
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MARCO WERMAN: Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the globe. And the squalid conditions there are a political problem for both Israel and the Palestinians. One of the challenges for Palestinian leaders is how to reduce the population pressure on Gaza and encourage development in the less-crowded West Bank? Well, one idea is to build a mass transit and infrastructure line that would connect numerous towns and cities in the West Bank to Gaza. It’s called The Arc and Doug Suisman co-wrote a paper about it for the Rand Corporation. Now Doug, flesh this out for us. What actually would be built to connect the West Bank to Gaza?
DOUG SUISMAN: Well, The Arc is really an organizing principle, but it materializes in the form of a public corridor about a half mile wide and running around 80 miles north to south through the West Bank, continuing into across the Negev Desert, through Israel, and then into Gaza. It would contain a number of elements that cities in Palestine will need to grow sustainably. That includes a pipeline for natural gas, a toll road mainly for trucking, fiber-optic cable for telecommunication, high-powered lines for solar and wind power that can be generated in the West Bank, and facilities for moving and storing water. And critically a swift interurban rail line connecting the cities together.
WERMAN: Now, it occurs to me that an obvious challenge would be the final link that would cross Israel, the southern point of the West Bank to reach Gaza. Wouldn’t that be politically complicated to accomplish?
SUISMAN: Well, in every diplomatic accord for the last few decades there have always been lines on the map called “safe passage routes.” We perhaps went a little bit further in making the connection concrete and permanent in one location and proposing that it be both highway and rail line.
WERMAN: So, bottom line, what do you need to get going with this project? With The Arc?
SUISMAN: Well, Prime Minister Fayyad has asked us to work with the minister and deputy minister of transportation to create a blueprint for mobility based on the principles of The Arc, so we’re pretty confident we’re going to move forward with that. But in the mean time, if the prime minister or President Abbas were to ask President Obama to support The Arc and to invest in it now with pilot projects – I just got back from [SOUNDS LIKE] Ramallah. It’s pretty remarkable. There’s really a feeling of movement. I think the economy’s growing about 3%, the stock exchange is up, there are high rises and hotels going up. There’s new housing and shops and restaurants. I went to one modern café called [SOUNDS LIKE] Zimon and on the terrace outside was a fashionably dressed young Palestinian woman working at her MacBook with wireless Internet access and inside the cappuccino was very good. This is not the image that most people have of Palestinian cities. There is a lot of investment. The Palestinians are among the most highly educated in the Middle East. They have long history of business and trading and you feel it in Jenin and Nablus and Hebron and in Ramallah, a feeling of great possibility and that is what I’d like to convey and I think that’s part of what The Arc helps convey to people as well. That sense of real possibility.
WERMAN: Do you have anybody in the Israeli government supporting The Arc?
SUISMAN: We’ve briefed the Israelis many times at high levels in the Ministry of Defense and national security officials. I think if the Palestinian reaction has generally been wow, that’s a beautiful vision, but how could we do it, the Israeli has tended to be more that’s a useful vision, but could they do it, meaning the Palestinians. Generally some are skeptical of the Palestinian capacity to deliver on what a lot of Israelis acknowledge is a forward looking approach. Even at the highest levels of the military in Israel, we haven’t heard anyone say that The Arc would pose major security problems for them.
WERMAN: Doug, very good to speak with you. Thanks a lot.
SUISMAN: My pleasure, Marco. Thank you.
WERMAN: Doug Suisman is the lead author of The Arc, a formal structure for a Palestinian state. He runs Suisman Urban Design who have partnered with the Rand Corporation in publishing the proposal for a new national transportation and infrastructure [SOUNDS LIKE] corridor for Palestinian. You can see renderings of The Arc project and see some videos describing how it would actually work at TheWorld.org.
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