Planning Problems in Palestine

Palestine is in a gamut of problems ranging from lack of better transportation to upgraded infrastructure.
Planning Problems in Palestine
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Palestine is in a gamut of problems ranging from lack of better transportation to upgraded infrastructure. Kashmir based town planner Ghulam Hassan Mir recently visited Palestine and talked to Dr. Sameer Eisheh, Professor of Civil Engineering at Al-Najah National University, Palestine about the future vision of the Occupied Palestine Areas.

Q: From your perspective as a planner – what is your vision for the state of Palestine?

Our vision is that Palestine is an independent prosperous state, where Palestinians live in dignity, have full control over their resources, land, air, water, have good connections with the other countries, and live in peace in this region of the world. We have many resources and assets that can facilitate the achievement of the vision: natural resources though limited – we do have the blessed land, the good environment, water, of which Israelis have stolen much; also, we have human capital, which is very worthy. Palestine's location is unique, where Palestine will be a focal point; a connecting point or a bridge between North & South, East & West – between this part of the world and rest of the world, between our culture and heritage and other cultures.

Q: Where do you see the biggest problems or obstacles towards achieving this vision?

Problems mean constraints – we can think of the occupation as the main obstacle to achieving the vision. There must be an end to the occupation. At the same time when we plan, we should not think that such constraints will not make us plan well for our future. I would just say that I have supervised a master's degree student – she was looking specifically at planning under uncertainty in Palestine and doing planning under uncertainty means many challenges, assumptions, constraints, limitations, scenariosrelated to the political, economic, demographics aspects, but the first constraint is the Israeli occupation.

Q: Planning also includes an institutional level. What is your perspective on the institutional framework?

We have the capacity and institutional building over the years since the establishment of the PNA (Palestinian National Authority). We made very good progress in the institutional set up, but there are institutional constraints that can't be dealt with. Another important constraint related to institutional aspects is the lack of formulated and implemented policies in spatial questions, as much of the space is under-developed. Urbanization resulted in a reduction of fertile agricultural land, for example. Such concerns had forced the government to prepare an emergency protection plan under the National Spatial Plan. The PNA´s institutional interventions are affected always by Israeli constraints especially in working in area C that forms more than 62% of the West Bank area.

Q: A glimpse of the future – how do you think will mobility and transportation look like in the state of Palestine?

For sure, the road system is the backbone of the transport system. More efforts should go towards the transit system, for example a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on the urban level, because it guarantees an efficient use of space, technology, energy, and resources. This approach should be accompanied with policies to restrict the ownership of automobiles.

Q: Are you thinking about a multimodal transport system?

We should also develop proper modes of transportation. We need to invest more in publictransportation. Next to that, I think there must be also rail system developed – but in a wise manner: rail is very expensive and the Palestinian topography is not very suitable. Palestine is also in need of two airports, one on the West Bank and the other in Gaza, and a seaport.

Q: Palestine has an important location in the Middle-East. Thinking about Palestine without constraints in travelling – what would be your ideas for inter-regional linkages and the connectionto the international transport system?

Regional links must be established, whether these are roads, railways, airports or the seaport. Proper border crossings must be planned and constructed. Palestine is a very attractive place for tourists as it could be a focal point in the region, andtherefore proper connections are essential. In addition to connections with the rest of the world, there must be a corridor connecting the Gaza Strip with the West Bank that is being suggested by the ISOCARP-team. We also need to connect people by air between West Bank and Gaza.

Q: Jumping from a more long term – to a short-term vision, from your perspective – what should be done on short notice to improve the quality of life?

Well, considering the limitations on mobility caused by the Israeli occupation, which is a great impediment to transportation, development, trade and to travel, I think the number one issue is to ease the constraints on mobility, whether in internal or external travel. This is very important for every aspect of life, for social purposes, but equally important for trade and economic development – and if you do not have the proper mobility and accessibility, you will not be able to fulfill the developmental needs.

Q: You attended the presentation of the ISOCARP team who showed the first results of the UNDP/UN-Habitat Workshop. What is your impression – are there lessons to be learnt from such international cooperation workshops?

First, I would like to thank ISOCARP for the very good effort to provide excellent ideas during the short period. Although, there are some comments or some reservations on the output of the work they have done, I believe the best thing is to come up with different scenarios and to keep the eyes open for different aspects and different options to develop the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt). The focus on the public infrastructure, specifically transportation, is crucial and essential. I appreciate the work of Urban Planning Advisory Team, and we can together developthese ideas and bring them intoa modified version. Local planners and organizations, who have beenworking on the NSP or its components,need to be involved in theteam. Together with friends, likeyour group, we can express ourvision into plans for the future ofPalestine.

Q: Planning and Politics. Where do you see the nexus between the two domains and their mutual impacts in the next 20 years? Is the link between those two spheres a fruitful one?

It's of course possible to think about planning without thinking about constraints – but when it comes to the realization and to make plans work on the ground and bring them to life – another set of constraints arise. There are fancy plans that are looking very good on paper – but they cannot be implemented. There is a close relation between planning and politics and again we think that there must be a solution in the coming years to the problem of Palestine – to end the Israeli occupation. However, the world should move in a quick way to end the occupation that has affected all the aspects of the everyday life of Palestinian people.

Dr. Sameer Eishehis a Professor of Civil Engineering at Al-Najah National University, Palestine. He received his Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University, U.S.A., in 1987. He served as the President's Assistant for Planning and Development, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. He was a visiting Professor at a number of European and U.S. universities. He was the former Minister of Planning, Acting Minister of Finance, Acting Minister of Education and Higher Education, and Acting Deputy Prime Minister. He served as the Chair or Member of many Ministerial Committees. His area of specialty is transport planning and engineering. His fields of experience include as well road and traffic engineering, management of transportation systems, strategic planning, spatial planning, national and regional planning, and infrastructure development. At global level, he has been associated with World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, UNDP, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UN-Habitat, GIZ, KFW, USAID. As an academician, taught at the Lille University, France, Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany, University of Washington, Texas A & M University, USA. He authored more than 100 published or conference papers, and participated in authoring two books and five manuals. He has offered consulting services to various international and local entities and led many transport and planning projects on the national, regional, and urban levels. 
Ghulam Hassan Mir is Divisional Town Planner in Srinagar Development Authority, who was associated as a senior planner with Urban Planning Advisory Team of UNDP/UN-Habitat /ISOCARP for West Bank (Palestine) during the field trip in June 2015. Mir has completed higher education in urban planning & policy development from USA through Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program. He pioneered the concept of advocacy in heritage conservation and pre-disaster preparedness in J & K State. In April 2015, Mirattended/participatedin ICLEI World Congress at Seoul, South Korea on the theme, "sustainable solutions for an urban future". He was recently invited to attend Climate Conference, "COP21" at Paris (France) and 51st   ISOCARP Annual Conference at Rotterdam (Netherlands). He has been a prolific writer on urban environmental management and disaster risk reduction.
(As told to author. Courtesy: ISOCARP Magazine, "PLAN" Issue 1, October, 2015- The Netherlands)
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