Just beyond an 8-metre-high grey concrete wall – in some places decorated with graffiti and in some places burnt black by demonstrators – lies the building that was slated to become the Palestinian parliament. Today, it is a white behemoth of a building that sits hollow and unfinished, locked behind towering gates on a road that leads from Jerusalem into Abu Dis, a West Bank village just outside the Israeli-declared municipal boundaries of its capital.
A nearby guard provides the key to a building that seems to embody the dashed hopes of a failed peace process, and in particular, of a people who were told that the Oslo Peace Accords signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1993 would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Soon after, Israel began to withdraw its army from major cities in the West Bank, and the two sides agreed on a plan to divide the West Bank into three temporary territorial categories: A, B and C. Among the other creative ideas bandied about in those heady days was to base the Palestinian capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The building is a hulking skeleton on the scarred landscape of the city’s outskirts, a city whose boundaries may yet be redefined and redrawn in peace negotiations. Other cities around the world have their own white elephants – large empty buildings that have failed for a variety of reasons – often due to poor planning or a financial shortfall. Sometimes, such buildings can bring down a whole neighbourhood and contribute to urban blight. But here, the story is further complicated by political realities, and stands as an architectural reminder of the dysfunction that reins in this part of the world. […]