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Bashar Masri: Palestine is opportunity to build model for Middle East

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Rawabi WestBank Palestine (39 of 53)
Harrison
Jacobs/Business Insider


  • 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 believes that the Palestinian territories are a “golden
    opportunity” for Palestinians and the international community to
    build a model, economically equal democracy in the Middle East.
  • Masri is hoping that Rawabi can be the first step. He is
    trying to create 3,000-5,000 permanent high-paying jobs in the
    city and hoping it becomes a secular and culturally vibrant city
    in the West Bank.

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.

Rawabi is the first planned city in the West Bank built by and
for Palestinians. With a price tag of $1.4 billion, it is the
largest private sector project in Palestinian history. Around
4,000 of a planned 40,000 people currently live in the shiny new
city.

When most outsiders look at Palestinian territories in West Bank
and Gaza, they see only the poverty. Masri told Business Insider
that he sees “a golden opportunity to build an oasis.” 

“Not every year, not every hundred years a new state is created,”
Masri said. “The whole international community has an opportunity
to build a model state if they want. We have no choice. We must
build the model state.”

Masri plans for Rawabi to create an ‘economic backbone’ for
Palestine

While a true, independent Palestinian state does not yet exist,
Masri believes that Rawabi and other projects can pave the way by
forming an “economic backbone” for the state, providing
high-quality jobs, and lifting as many Palestinians into the
middle class as possible. 

“That’s what I’m motivated by: improving the economy, upgrading
the standards of living, preventing the brain drain, and keeping
these young people here and giving them hope,” Masri said.

“One of the biggest problems before you can have a free nation is
to ensure that your house is in order. To ensure that our house
is in order, we need the bulk of our people to be middle income
people,” he added.

Currently, the
West Bank has an 18% unemployment rate
and a moribund
economy. In Gaza, the unemployment rate is as
high as 54%
.

Because Palestine lacks natural resources and is, more or less,
at the mercy of the Israeli military when it comes to imports and
exports, Masri believes that creating a tech industry is critical
to Rawabi and Palestine’s success.

Since construction began, Rawabi has created about 10,000 related
jobs per year. But Masri’s goal is to draw major tech
corporations to create 3,000-5,000 high-paying, permanent
jobs.  That goal is still a long way off. 

Rawabi has only just begun

Today, most of the businesses operating in Rawabi are owned by or
invested in by Masri. The main company is Asal Technologies, a
software development company that outsources developers. It

includes Microsoft, Intel, and Israeli tech giant Mellanox

among its clients and has hired a couple hundred developers in
Rawabi. 

There are other aspects of Rawabi that point to Masri’s goal of a
model. Rawabi has set up homeowners’ associations for
each neighborhood — the first of their kind in the West Bank —
with the goal of getting residents to be politically engaged. A
city council, which included members of the homeowners
associations, was elected several months ago. Elections for a
mayor and other positions are due to follow.

While most states in the Middle East are monarchies or run by
strongmen and experience vast inequality, in Masri’s vision,
Palestine could be a truly unique: an economically equal Arab
democracy. 

“Rawabi must be a model for other Palestinian cities and a model
for the future Palestinian state,” Jack Nassar, a spokesperson
for Rawabi, told Business Insider. “We are not resisting the
Israeli occupation to end up under another dictatorship or
another religious state. We want Palestine to be modern,
democratic, and secular.”

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