Imagine a brand-new city, to be built from scratch with a combination of local and international funds, where modern neighborhoods will squat on either side of a commercial strip dotted with arty coffeehouses, upscale shops, multi-level offices, hi-tech firms and newfangled supermarkets as well as lots of green spaces.
Prospective residents, mostly upper-middle class with some disposable income, will be offered 10 varieties of floor plans in 23 different neighborhoods. The entire city will be perched on a hill that, on a clear day, will offer a view of Jordan to the east and the Mediterranean sea to the west.
In fact the name of the city means hills – not in Hebrew, but in Arabic. Rawabi is being built nine kilometers northwest of Ramallah with $700 million of Palestinian Authority and Qatari funds, and when it is finished, some 40,000 will live there. All of the land on which Rawabi will sit is in Area A (under full Palestinian control) which means it is a fully independent Palestinian project.
This is, in short, the first time the Palestinians are planning their own modern city.
Amid certain inescapable reservations due to the security concerns of Jewish settlers living in neighboring Ateret and Neveh Tzuf, the Rawabi project stands as an apparent sign of readiness, among at least some of the Palestinian people, to abandon the victim complex that has helped perpetuate their political limbo in favor of a self-help strategy that could lead to statehood.
Rawabi is the realization of a dream envisioned years ago by entrepreneur Bashar Masri, which is now being made real by a combination of factors. Masri’s perseverance is part of the equation.
But there is also the influence of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is following the pragmatist’s approach of seeking to realize Palestinian independence by establishing institutions and infrastructure as an essential precursor to statehood.
In addition, Rawabi is a beneficiary of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declared general commitment to improving the Palestinian economy by enabling major infrastructure projects where security conditions are deemed appropriate. Most significant in this regard is his government’s gradual removal of over two dozen roadblocks over the past year that once dissected the West Bank and stifled that economy.
ALL THAT said, one should not get carried away with the prospects of a golden new era of financial prosperity in the West Bank, an era that will transform the Palestinian people who, just four years ago, handed over control of the Palestinian parliament to the radical Islamic movement Hamas.
Fayyad’s down-to-earth approach has yet to prompt persuasive indications that Palestinian society is shifting radically for the better, to become peace-loving, profit maximizing and trade oriented. The hope of the Oslo Accords less than two decades ago was that a “new Middle East,” fueled by economic forces and free-market sensibilities, would overcome old hatreds. The shattering of that delusion is still reverberating.
The Palestinians’ decision to pursue suicide bombings and drive-by shootings prompted near-total disillusionment with the peace process among Israelis. With those bloody memories still so fresh, it is unsurprising that B’sheva and Makor Rishon, two right-wing newspapers, published in-depth stories warning about the possible repercussions of the Rawabi project over the weekend.
In the past two months since construction began on the new city, residents of Beit El, Ofra, Ma’aleh Levona and other settlements near Ramallah have noted the conspicuous tractors, dump trucks and cement mixers that contrast with the mostly enforced building freeze put in place by Netanyahu’s government in Judea and Samaria.
Neighboring Jewish settlers are particularly concerned about the possibility that the government will permit the PA to take control over a strip of land currently defined as being in Area C, under full Israeli jurisdiction, which would enable the completion of a four-lane access road to connect Rawabi to Bir Zeit. This road might cut across route 465, which links Ateret and Neveh Tzuf to Route 60; it might also pass under 465.
Israel simply dare not put aside security concerns, given the bitter
recent history. But the channeling of creative Palestinian energies for
the purpose of building is a positive step. By dedicating so much
money, effort and hope to the establishment of a city like Rawabi, the
PA has upped its interest in maintaining political stability in the
The more it builds cities like Rawabi, the more it stands to lose from
a deterioration in the geopolitical situation. That’s why Rawabi is not
only good for the Palestinian people; it is potentially good for Israel.