Planners and development experts suffer from a deserved reputation for technocratic top-downism that ignores the wishes of people and sociocultural context; they are also known for utopian visions disconnected from practical reality. Seldom has that stereotype been more fully fulfilled than in the three complementary RAND studies about a Palestinian state.
Most striking is how the study treats Palestinians as subjects to be studied rather than as actors to participate in the creation of their own state. Blissfully divorced from any discussion about Palestinian social history or the kinds of communities its people have created, the authors happily catalogue advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to developing Palestinian cities. The education chapter, to be fair, does provide a decent account of the existing system, how it evolved, and what Palestinians want, but it is the exception that proves the rule.
The analysis also has a head-in-the-clouds character. Chapter after chapter run through the authors' thoughts to create their model society for Palestinians without betraying the slightest hint of awareness that fifty years' experience with international aid has shown the disastrous effect of such an approach. The report makes only a slight passing references to the extraordinary amounts of aid pumped into the Palestinian territories after the 1993 Oslo accords—aid that led to corruption and social distortions which undermined the Palestinian Authority's ability to function effectively. The RAND authors would exacerbate the central problem of Palestinian society—a refusal to take responsibility for itself but instead blaming outsiders for all problems and expecting foreigners to rescue them. Also, a-Cadillac-rather-than-Chevy-approach pervades the study. The authors' point of reference seems to be the infrastructure and facilities characteristic of Europe and North America, not those of low-income, developing countries.
Finally, the three volumes share the central organizing image of an "arc" formed by a high-speed railroad linking the major population areas of Gaza and the West Bank. There is the minor problem, as the authors note in passing, that roads rather than rail would be used for most freight shipments, for emergency services, and for those who can afford cars (including tourists, dignitaries, and the growing middle class the study envisages). A good road would connect the Palestinian urban areas at a much more modest cost than the billions the authors propose to pour into a railroad, which could quickly turn into a money-losing inefficient public enterprise of the kind which plagues many developing countries.