How the $8 Billion Lost in Iraq Could Have Brought Peace to the Middle East

In his recent blog post regarding the West Bank's widely noted economic and security improvements and the prospects for Palestinian democracy, Andrew Sullivan ended by proposing to his readers: "Imagine what the $8 billion thrown into corrupt hands in Iraq could accomplish in Palestine." It's an exercise well worth undertaking, but it doesn't require a stretch of the imagination, just a click of the mouse. The Arc project for a Palestinian state -- which coincidentally was first reported in the New York Times by Sullivan's Atlantic editor, James Bennet -- has already imagined what $8 billion could accomplish in Palestine.

What's the Arc? It's a visionary plan for a sweeping infrastructure corridor that would lay the foundation for a prospective Palestinian state. Developed by Suisman Urban Design and RAND Corporation, the Arc offers a tangible and detailed vision of a successful and prosperous Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. The Arc would create a national infrastructure corridor that follows the West Bank's curved mountain ridge, from which it derives its name. It would provide swift intercity rail service, a toll highway for trucks, electric power with an emphasis on renewables, natural gas from offshore Gaza, water supply, and national parkland. It would serve all of the main Palestinian towns and cities. The Arc corridor -- and its lateral branches providing modern public transport within each city -- would enable the new state to accommodate a very fast-growing population by renovating existing urban cores and expanding urban neighborhoods in a coherent and sustainable manner. This urban expansion would include new housing, office buildings, shops, hospitals, schools, and public parks -- all within walking distance of public transportation. The Arc is designed to guide both international aid and private investment towards an efficient, integrated national space, rather than towards a costly array of scattered and disconnected projects. Building the Arc could produce as many as 150,000 jobs per year over ten years, in areas like finance, engineering, and construction where the Palestinian workforce is already strong.

The Arc has won many accolades and awards, and has gotten a warm reception from many Palestinians. President Abbas has called it an important project for his people. Prime Minister Fayyad has made it a key planning principal in his two-year plan for Palestinian statehood, and asked RAND to provide technical support to his Ministry of Transportation, with work already underway. The Palestine Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of the Palestinian people, has expressed great interest. The Arc has even inspired the formation of a community of supporters, called Friends of the Arc, at whose website you can watch a 9-minute introductory video or the complete 30 minute video; download a host of Arc-related materials; join Friends of the Arc on Facebook; or follow them on Twitter.

The Arc is not derived from a political agenda but from sustainable planning principles -- yet it could have a powerful impact on politics. Given President Obama's focus in his Cairo speech on economic development in the Middle East, and his calls for out-of-the-box thinking on Middle East peace, the Arc would seem to be a natural expression and implement of U.S. foreign policy. The Administration already has at its disposal the kind of political risk funds, like the Middle East Investment Initiative and the Palestinian Political Risk Insurance (PPRI) program, that could be funded to help offset the risk necessary to attract $8 billion from investors - a tiny fraction of the current $300 trillion euro/dollar market which is desperately seeking attractive places to invest. An endorsement by the Obama Administration could pave the way for the public and private investment needed to realize the Arc in ten years or less. Work on many aspects of the Arc could begin almost immediately, with visible progress in one or two years.

So Sullivan is right to ask his readers to imagine what $8 billion could buy, and the Arc demonstrates what such an imaginative exercise can produce: a powerful and inspiring vision not only of the infrastructure for a successful Palestinian state, but of a new path to help reach the long-sought peace that must accompany it.