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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Man Behind Palestine's Green City Rawabi

(PalestineTwitter)-Bashar Masri is sitting behind a yellow desk in Ramallah with two Israeli newspapers open in front of him. A large photo of Masri is featured in one of the dailies and his wife Jane is pictured in the other. As he speaks, he plugs the text into Google for a translation.

Since announcing plans to build Palestine’s first planned and green city back in 2008, the Rawabi project has faced its fair share of criticism. From political complications over using Jewish National Fund trees, concerns by environmentalists over the lack of water and waste-water management plans to threats by Israel to shut down access roads and boycotts- the project really has seen it all.

Palestinian tycoon," he reads, shaking his head. He doesn't like the word. He prefers the headline of the piece next to it: "We Need Peace, or We'll Face an Economic Catastrophe." The editorial was written by Idan Ofer, one of Israel's wealthiest businessmen. Masri smiles and then reaches for the phone and calls Ofer. "Great article," he says. They have a short conversation and then Masri hangs up. Ofer and Masri, the tycoons of Tel Aviv and Ramallah, are friends.

Rawabi (which means hills in Arabic) is an ambitious $800 million USD project which aims to build houses for up to 25,000 people in a location between Jerusalem and Nablus whilstrespecting the environment. Despite these good intentions the Rawabi project does seems to pose more questions then it answer.

Masri has hired landscape architects, designers and event managers to invent the sort of city that has never existed here before: with green space and decorative fountains, and without uncollected garbage, potholes and unadorned concrete structures. "In Palestine, the world has an opportunity to build a new state that's efficient and modern," he says. Masri wants Rawabi to be the centerpiece.

For example, how does it plan to navigate the political conflict between Israel and Palestine during construction? Does the Rawabi project really live up to its green credentials? And what do Palestinians think of the project? In a bid to get to the bottom of these questions we caught up with Bashar Masri, the man behind the Rawabi project.

We are very clear in stating our hope that Rawabi becomes a model for new urban planning standards across Palestine, yes. All of us who live in Palestine realize that as much as we revere the past, and cherish it, it is equally important to take advantage of technological advances and international best practices in community development, housing construction.

Although these are still small sums, they represent more money than has ever been in high-tech in the West Bank. Sadara is just as big, says Kaufmann, as the first Israeli venture capital fund was when it was launched in the late 1980s. After that, Israel became a pioneer in the field of Internet telephony. Now Palestine could very well become the next startup nation.

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