Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) threatened on Tuesday to
do his utmost to prevent construction of the new Palestinian city of Rawabi if
the developer did not offer solutions for potentially troubling environmental
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Erdan visited the planned site for Rawabi near Ramallah and
Ofra with a media delegation to hear from a representative of the developer,
even as the matter of the construction freeze in Israeli settlements continued
to be a diplomatic hot potato.
“The government of Israel views aiding the
Palestinian economy as a matter of great importance, and therefore we are
cooperating in the construction of Rawabi. However, at the same time,
constructing a new city comes fraught with potential problems – air pollution,
ground contamination, insufficient water treatment and waste disposal,” Erdan told
reporters from an adjacent hilltop overlooking the hill that is being terraced
to accommodate the first 1,350 apartments.
Construction equipment was
visible on the slope, but no activity was taking place at the time of the
“Pollution respects no borders and can affect the
surrounding settlements – Jewish and Arab – and even have an effect across the
Green Line,” he said.
The developers did show the ministry their
environmental assessment, but “it was not at the level which we are accustomed
to seeing,” Erdan said. Therefore, ministry officials submitted a number
of comments for clarification.
Erdan said that if end solutions to issues
like sewage, water and waste disposal were not presented, he would request that
the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria prevent use of the access roads to
Rawabi will be built completely within Area A of the West Bank,
where the Environmental Protection Ministry does not have any jurisdiction
whatsoever and where building permission is given by the PA and not Israel.
However, the access roads to the site to bring in vehicles and supplies run
through Area C, which is under Israeli military control. Erdan stated he would
ask that those access routes be cut off – thus de facto freezing construction –
if solutions were not presented.
The developers have been asking for an
access route to be rezoned as Area A for some time.
Erdan responded to
questions about that request by saying, “I am absolutely not in favor of turning
the access route over to the PA. First of all, I think it would set a bad
precedent, which the government would likely be asked to repeat, like the
construction moratorium. Second, this is our only way to put pressure on
the developers. I have no intention of creating an environmental double
standard where one thing is expected of Jewish settlements, while Palestinian
cities can do whatever they want.”
He added that “we can’t allow
contamination of the [mountain] aquifer [which runs beneath the West Bank],
Rawabi is intended to become a modern metropolis similar in
scope to Modi’in. When completed, it will be home to 40,000 people. Rawabi is
being planned and built by Bayti Real Estate Investment Company – a joint
venture owned by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Palestinian
Massar International. Ground was broken in January, although Erdan only entered
the picture a couple of months ago when he requested the developers’
The developers were not obliged to submit the
document to the ministry, but were convinced to do so after the civil
administration applied pressure.
In an unusual move for Erdan, who
generally chooses to keep his politics and his policies separate, the hawkish
minister chose to respond to questions regarding the possible continuation of
the construction freeze while gazing at Rawabi. Media reports have indicated
that some form of continuation of the freeze may be in the
“Usually, when there is a disputed territory, as we are in the
disputed territories, [there is an even-handed policy for both sides]. However,
now we have a situation where one side can’t build a single room or balcony, but
the other side can build 4,000 apartments in a city that perhaps doesn’t have to
be built in the first place,” he said.
From an environmental perspective,
he continued, it would have been much better to expand Ramallah with its
existing infrastructure than build an entirely new city, “but it’s a reality
Amr Dajani, who represents the developers, briefed the minister,
especially regarding the environmental aspects to be incorporated into the
Palestinians’ first master-planned city.
“The planners have included
green parks, public transportation, and cutting-edge telecommunications and
information technology,” he explained to Erdan, gesturing once in a while to a
“We sought approval of the master plan from the PA, and we
are delighted to have begun construction. During the construction, we will
create 8,000- 10,000 new jobs, and afterward the city will provide 3,000- 5,000
new service positions,” Dajani said.
The developers hope to incorporate
an information and communication technologies business hub within the city, he
On its website, the developers write, “The vision is for Rawabi to
serve as a prototype of the first Palestinian green city and ultimately, to
guarantee a higher quality of life for present and future
Dajani said the city would eventually be incorporated into
a regional solid waste and wastewater management system, which would include
nearby Ramallah, but that they were looking at short-term solutions to enable
completion of phase one in two and a half years. He said Israeli companies that
offer wastewater treatment solutions had been approached, such as
Regarding transporting fresh water to the city, Dajani said
solutions were being reviewed, but it was likely that Mekorot, Israel’s national
water company, would convey the water. The developer was also planning to
collect storm water from rooftops to water gardens, he said.
basic infrastructure was also challenging because of the 45-degree slope of the
city, Dajani pointed out.
The dirt and stone removed to build the city
would be reused in construction for streets and roads, according to
Ministry Director-General Yossi Inbar asked about a solution for
all the dust that rises during construction. Dajani responded that they were
looking into it and offered a general, partial answer about “wetting down the
area with water.”
Dajani enthused that the city would be pedestrian- and
“We will build underground garages to
encourage people to leave their cars behind and walk,” he said.
aesthetic standpoint, water containers on roofs would be eschewed in favor of a
central water reservoir. Similarly, personal satellite dishes would be
prohibited. Instead, residents would get video on demand (VOD) via fiber optic
cables, he said.
He added that solar applications were also being