Rawabi, West Bank – NBC News reports: As gambles go, it hardly gets bigger: A $1 billion dollar bet on peace – or at least a measure of calm – in the West Bank.
Even the founder of Rawabi, the biggest construction project in the history of the Palestinian people, says nobody in his right mind would invest here.
Standing on a wind-swept hilltop overlooking the biblical hills of Judea, a half-hour drive from Ramallah, Bashar Al-Masri points to the Palestinian flags flying atop the giant cranes that are building, with phenomenal speed, the first modern Palestinian town.
“As a teenager, raising the Palestinian flag was enough to be shot and killed,” he says, immaculate in a form-hugging, thin-lapelled dark suit and narrow burgundy tie.
“This is a small, symbolic way of how long we came along, and how much we will come along in the future,” adds Al-Masri, who as a teenager threw stones at Israeli soldiers.
The largest flag is mounted on a pole facing the Jewish settlement of Atteret, a community of about a hundred families located across a small valley.
Two-thirds of the investment in this town comes from the government of Qatar’s investment fund, Al-Masri explains. The design, planning and construction are all by Palestinians, with outside help, and what appears to make him proudest of all, he says, there is no input from Israel.
He says there are more than 8,000 families interested in moving in, and the first few hundred apartments will go on the market in March, with the town’s inauguration in May. The cost of the apartments, depending on size and location, is between $75,000 and $140,000.
“This is about nation-building, this is about doing what’s right, this is my contribution that I know the best,” says Al-Masri. “The human rights activists have their contribution, the [Palestinian Authority] people are building capacity and building the government, we’re all together as the Palestinian people building a state.”
There are two main practical problems for the new town. All the water has to be piped in, and there is no obvious source. “We are in this project, putting facts on the ground, and things will have to follow,” is Al-Masri’s answer, hoping for a miracle.
And access. The only road to Rawabi passes through what is known as Area C: that part of the West Bank that is fully controlled by Israel, administratively and militarily. It is a narrow, winding road that the Palestinians can use only with an Israeli permit, which must be renewed each year.
Al-Masri talks of a tunnel through the hills linking Rawabi with Ramallah, barely visible on the horizon. Will that ever happen? “Probably not,” he admits. “It’s a problem.”