First New Palestinian City ‘in 1,000 Years’ Finally Opens Doors – Calev Ben-David and Elliott Gotkine/Bloomberg Business
A 3D model of Rawabi.
A West Bank town touted by developers as “the first Palestinian city in 1,000 years” is welcoming its first residents, after years of delays and heated debate over whether it represents collusion with Israel’s occupation or defiance of it.
Rawabi’s limestone-colored residential towers rise out of a pastoral landscape of terraced hills northwest of Ramallah, a contrast to the low-rise Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements in the surrounding area. With its own schools, shops, services and cultural and religious attractions, the $1.2 billion project’s 6,000 planned units will eventually house about 40,000 people.
As many as 2,000 are expected to be living by year’s end in the 600 finished units that have been sold, said Bashar al-Masri, the Palestinian-American chairman of Massar International Group, the driving force behind the new city.
“The point of Rawabi is to create a large ‘Wow’ project that picks up the Palestinian economy and has a potential domino effect to make a huge impact on unemployment despite the political situation, the occupation,” Masri said.
Masri estimates the project can create as many as 10,000 jobs to alleviate the West Bank’s 23 percent unemployment, especially if its success helps attract more external investment to the Palestinian economy. About 60 percent of Rawabi’s funding came from Qatar, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
The road to Rawabi’s opening was long and costly, with delays stretching out its development to almost a decade, and cost overruns nearly bankrupting the project. Masri puts most the blame on Israel, saying it took years to get permission to build the small access road to the city, and even more time getting it hooked up to the West Bank’s Israeli-controlled water system.
U.S. officials stepped in to help mediate disputes, and Secretary of State John Kerry visited the site in 2010 to show his support. A senior Israeli official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record denied any intentional delays, saying the government did what it could to facilitate construction.
Masri also lays blame on the Palestinian Authority for failing to invest resources in Rawabi, even basic services it provides to other West Bank municipalities. Some Palestinians view such projects, even if they benefit the local population, as a form of collaboration with Israel.
“For people who say we’re normalizing the occupation, I say, on the contrary, we are defying the occupation,” he says. “We wanted to build the city and establish facts on the ground, which is what the Israelis have been doing since 1967.”
Israeli restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank “have been particularly detrimental to the Palestinian economy,” according to the World Bank, including regulations that “tend to limit development within the confines of existing villages,” with too little land made available for demographic growth. The Palestinian economy shrank almost 1 percent last year, the first contraction since 2006.
Rawabi’s ultimate success will be determined not by political rhetoric, but whether its meticulously planned homes and streets can attract enough Palestinians to buy apartments and standalone homes ranging from $60,000 to $220,000, 20 percent less than comparable homes in Ramallah. Masri says that while delays and overruns mean the project is now expected to lose about $200 million, his company could recover the costs with further development of the property.
“We’ve been waiting two years to move here into a new house,” said Khaled Alamleh, a civil engineer who just moved into Rawabi from Ramallah.
“I find this a good place to live, despite the complicated situation,” Alamleh says. “It’s a good example of of how we are challenging our situation, and how we have a good vision for the future.”
*PLATO’S NOTE: Adding pictures below to article – couldn’t find any pictures of interiors of this hideous substitute for East Jeruslaem homes etc – probably cuz they’re all cookie-cutter square boxes made of thin, cheap concrete – and where the heck are the olive tress goddammit – it’s perfect weather and soil to grow them there – there’s barely a smidgen of Palestine as we know it in this high-rise prison: