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Biggest challenge in building Rawabi, Palestine was water



Rawabi WestBank Palestine (30 of 53)
Annie Zheng/Business

  • Rawabi
    is the first planned city in the West Bank built by
    and for Palestinians. 
  • The $1.4 billion project is the brainchild of Bashar
    al-Masri, a Palestinian-American billionaire. Masri hopes the
    city can form the economic backbone of the nascent Palestinian
  • Masri told Business Insider that the biggest obstacle to
    building Rawabi was
    Israel’s occupation of the West Bank
    , which meant that he
    had to lobby for years to get the city approved for roads and a
    water supply.

Palestinian-American billionaire developer Bashar al-Masri is the
brains behind Rawabi, a
$1.4 billion planned city of 40,000 in the West Bank, the
territory home to 2.6 million Palestinians.

Around 4,000 of a planned 40,000 people currently live in the
shiny new city, which is both the first planned city built by and
for Palestinians in the West Bank and the largest private
sector project in Palestinian history.

Though it remains to be seen whether Rawabi will become the
thriving, bustling metropolis of Masri’s dreams, the development
is already a success. Getting a Palestinian project of that size
completed in the West Bank is no easy feat.

But as Masri told Business Insider in a recent interview, the
biggest challenge he faced in building Rawabi was the realities
of “the occupation.”

While Rawabi is located in Area A of the West Bank, the 18% of
the territory under full Palestinian control, access to the city
is in Area C, the 60% of it under Israeli military control. That
left Rawabi at the mercy of the Israeli government for approval
for infrastructure like roads and water.

First, Masri had to lobby to get permission to build an access
road to bring materials to the construction site and then for a
road to allow residents and visitors to go to Rawabi. It took
years to get the road approved. Even now, the city only has a
dinky two-lane country road that winds through vineyards.

The development has a temporary permit for the road, which must
be renewed annually. If the Israeli government does not renew the
permit, the road would have to be destroyed,  Jack Nassar, a
Rawabi spokesperson, told Business Insider.

Rawabi’s water became a political football

Rawabi WestBank Palestine (12 of 53)
Jacobs/Business Insider

An even bigger issue was water access.  

“This is a story of defying the occupation, and a story of how
this project is not just about economics. It’s about the
situation here,” Masri told Business Insider

When Israel took control of the West Bank over 50 years ago, it
took control of the water supply as well. The 1993 Oslo Accords
dictated all water agreements had to be approved by a Joint Water
Committee established between Israel and the Palestinian
Authority. But in 2010, the Palestinian Authority
decided that it would no longer participate
in the JWC
because it did not want to approve water infrastructure to Jewish
settlements in the West Bank. In return, Israel refused to
approve new water infrastructure for Palestinian

At the time, Masri was optimistic that Rawabi would be approved,
despite the tit-for-tat difficulties. But then, the other shoe

“We had 200 meetings with Israeli authorities about the water.
Everything was lovely and dandy. All of a sudden, in April 2013,
we said, ‘Where’s the pipeline? Let’s go,'” Masri said.

Through back-channels, Masri found out that Israeli officials
were holding the approval for Rawabi’s water to punish the
Palestinian Authority
for forming a unity government
with Hamas, the
Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

But then that issue passed and still Rawabi was not
approved for water. Rawabi’s first few hundred residents
were ready to move in to the development, but without water
approval, it was impossible. The Israeli government gave no
indication when or if water would be approved.

“We’re on the verge of bankruptcy. It has permanently
devastated the project financially,” Masri
told The Washington Post
at the time. 

Masri lobbied the Israeli government for a year to no
avail. By early 2015, apartment buyers were starting to pull out.
Elections were due to be held in Israel that March and Masri said
he heard from government sources that no one was interested in
approving water to Rawabi so close to an election.

Rawabi is not popular with the settler
movement, a powerful bloc of Israelis who have established
communities on lands within the Palestinian territories. A
headline of a column in the pro-settler Arutz Sheva news
organization at the time conveys the sentiment: “Qatar-Funded
City to Arise in Israel
; More Tunnels,

High-profile domestic and international
and US
Jewish groups
lobbied Israeli prime minister Benjamin
Netanyahu to approve the water supply. In March 2015, Netanyahu

gave in
and Rawabi was approved for a temporary water supply
of 300 cubic meters per day.

That’s enough for
first 5,000 residents

But Rawabi’s difficulties are likely far from

With 4,000 people already living in the
city, it won’t be long before Masri and his cohort have to

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