The city of Rawabi.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Rawabi, the first modern planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, can finally open its doors this May.
Although its first batch of apartment buildings is finished, homeowners have been unable to move in for the past year because the city lacked water.
“I’m very excited,” said the city’s founder and developer Bashar al-Masri, who first began work on the project in 2007 with the help of the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company.
It’s designed for a population of at least 40,000 people.
On Thursday night, while he was aboard a plan to London, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Israel’s Water Authority would hook Rawabi up to its grid.
It was one of two gestures Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to the US on the eve of his trip to Washington to address a joint session of Congress in spite of US President Barack Obama’s objections.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced that it would use funds from PA’s tax revenues it has withheld for the last few months, to help pay a potion of its NIS 1.9 billion debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.
The IEC this past week had shut off electrify to the West Bank Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, first for 45 minutes and then for an hour, as a warning over the PA’s unpaid debt.
Netanyahu’s government had stopped transferring the tax revenues in December in protest of the Palestinian decision to accept membership at the International Criminal Court so it could sue Israel for war crimes.
When a reporter quizzed US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki about Netanyahu’s gestures, she said, “we’d see that as a positive step.”
Masri told The Jerusalem Post he learned from its website and that of other media outlets that the water issued had been solved upon landing in London.
He was immediately, deluged by phone calls, but was only able to confirm the veracity of the report on Friday morning.
“It’s a done deal,” he said.
It is expected to take some three months to build a pipeline for water to flow into Rawabi, he said. The 600 families who have purchased homes are expected to move by the end of May, Masri said.
Work can begin on another 500 apartment units, he added.
For the last nine-years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created multiple delays in the development of the city.
But the last hurdle has been the much needed approval for a water hookup from the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee.
According to a 1995 interim agreement under the Oslo Accords, the JWC must approve water and sewage projects for Israelis and Palestinian in the West Bank.
But the JWC has not met for the last five years, creating a back-log of projects needing approval, of which the most publicly known is Rawabi.
Earlier this month Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai tried to solve the water crisis.
Ya’alon circumvented the JWC and ordered the authority to pipe water to the city, which is located on a Samarian hilltop between Ramallah and Nablus in Areas A and B of the West Bank.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, whose office has oversight over the authority, however, had refused to heed Ya’alon’s order.
He blamed the Palestinians for the defunct JWC and explained that the only reason it had failed to meet is because they refused to sit down with Israelis.
Shalom told the media he would provide Rawabi with water only once the PA returned to the committee as per the Oslo agreement.
Ya’alon and Mordechai went over Shalom’s head and appealed to Netanyahu, who on Thursday night ordered the authority to provide water.
Masri said he was glad that Israel had finally “seen the light,” and understood that their request for water was legitimate.