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West Bank, Palestine: Rawabi City is $1.4 billion new city

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Rawabi WestBank Palestine (39 of 53)Bashar Masri sees a new future ahead for Palestine.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 hopes the city can form the economic backbone of the nascent Palestinian state.
  • I found the city to be beautifully constructed with the facilities one might expect of a luxury real estate development. And though around 4,000 people are already living in the city, it feels very much like a place waiting to come alive. 

As I sat in a French cafè al fresco, chatting with Palestinian-American billionaire developer Bashar al-Masri, it occurred to me that I could be anywhere.

But I wasn’t anywhere. I was in the West Bank, the occupied territory home to 2.6 million Palestinians,  400,000 Jewish settlers, and scores of Israeli soldiers.

More specifically, I was in Rawabi, a $1.4 billion planned city constructed to serve as a model city for the new Palestinian state. At least, that’s according to Masri, who came up with the plan over a decade ago.

“I’m a believer that we have a state in the making,” Masri told Business Insider. “The question in my mind is not when we will have the state, but rather what shape the statehood will be in.”

Masri believes Rawabi, whose master plan calls for housing for 40,000 and everything from a nightclub to a hospital, could form the economic backbone of Palestine.

“A Marshall Plan to pick up the economy,” said Masri, noting the West Bank’s 18% unemployment rate and moribund economy.

At first, sitting in the mixed-use public square that forms the heart of Rawabi, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might as well be in Maryland, where such shiny new developments abound. But as we sat, Masri pointed out the details: the pedestrian town center and the tiled walkways are based on the old cities of Nablus and Hebron, the city has five gates like the old city of Jerusalem, and the corniches and arches are drawn from Arabic architecture. Above us towered American-style office buildings.

Rawabi has received criticism from Palestinian activists who say it sugarcoats the occupation and Israelis who worry about having a large Palestinian city near Jewish settlements, but ultimately the success of Masri’s vision will rest with the Palestinian people. Are they interested in what he’s selling?

Masri and his associates gave me a tour of the nascent city. Here’s what it was like:

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.

Source: Asal Technologies, Haaretz

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