Ramallah building boom symbolizes West Bank growth

Mon Aug 2, 2010 7:44am EDT
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By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The din of earth-movers leveling the hilly terrain of Ramallah for construction is unremitting as modern buildings shoot up all over the West Bank city.

Once a mere village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Ramallah has seen its population double in the last 10 years and land prices surge, in part due to the fact it falls within the 40 percent of the West Bank where Palestinians can build without Israeli permission.

The Ramallah construction boom is one of the most obvious signs of West Bank economic growth estimated at an annual rate of 8 percent -- which Palestinian policymakers attribute to relative stability and Western donor support to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967.

But unlike Gaza, where Palestinians are packed into a slowly crumbling city, Ramallah has no shortage of concrete and steel reinforcing rods -- construction materials barred from the Gaza Strip by an Israeli blockade, on the grounds they can be used for military purposes by the enclave's Islamist Hamas rulers.

Ramallah has swallowed the neighboring town of El-Bireh and is home to 83,000 Palestinians. As traffic queues grow longer, the Palestinian Authority is expanding the roads to cope.

Developers say property prices have risen by 30 percent in the last two years. Buyers expect prices to go higher, though accurate price surveys do not exist.

A home in Ramallah is now twice as expensive as in Nablus, an industrial city 45 minutes by car to the north.   Continued...

<p>Palestinian women walk past a money changer in the West Bank city of Ramallah February 16, 2010. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman</p>