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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rawabi, روابي‎

(PalestineTwitter)-Rawabi, روابي‎, meaning "The Hills" is the first Palestinian planned city in the West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories. Located close to Bir Zeit, Rawabi is being built to a master plan and, when complete, will cover 6,300,000 square meters and initially have space for 25,000 people to live. The development is linked to a $500m affordable mortgage scheme that has been likened to Fannie Mae. It is the largest private sector investment project in the history of Palestine. Rawabi is a project of the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, led by Bashar Masri.

Rawabi is 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) northwest of Ramallah, 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) north of Birzeit, 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the north of Jerusalem and 25 kilometres (16 mi) south of Nablus. Amman, the capital of Jordan, is 70 kilometres (43 mi) to the east of Rawabi. On a clear day, it is possible to see the Mediterranean Sea, 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the west, and the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv from the proposed site. Most other developments in the West Bank are Israeli settlements, which are considered to be illegal under international law. Israeli settlements on the surrounding hills are visible from Rawabi's proposed location, and the development has been described as the first "Palestinian settlement though according to its developers it is not designed to look like a settlement following market research that showed a strong preference for a different appearance.

Greening project
Thousands of saplings are being planted as part of a greening project which involves growing a forest around the city. The Jewish National Fund is donating 3,000 saplings to the project, the announcement of which sparked some internal Israeli and Jewish controversy. Saplings have also been donated by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture and by local and international organisations, corporations and individuals.

Rawabi Masterplan
The Rawabi master plan was developed by AECOM, in cooperation with local experts from Birzeit and An-Najah National Universities and the technical teams of Bayti. It has been approved by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Higher Planning Council.
The residential areas will surround a city centre that includes banks, shops, petrol stations, offices, eight schools, playgrounds, walking trails, two mosques, a church, a hospital, hotel, cinema and numerous other arts venues.

The total cost of the development, mostly funded by the Qatari government, is estimated at over US$700 million and it is estimated that it will generate between 8,000 and 10,000 new construction sector jobs. The project involves a public-private partnership between the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, jointly owned by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company (the Qatar Investment Authority's property investment fund) and Massar International, and the Palestinian National Authority. The Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing off-site infrastructure, while Bayti is tasked with the design and development of the city. The Rawabi economic growth strategy has the aim of creating 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs in "knowledge economy" industries including information technology, pharmaceuticals and health care.

Israeli settlers have held demonstrations to protest against the Rawabi development. Protesters have stated that they do not feel that they can prevent Rawabi's construction but that they wanted to ensure that territorial continuity between Rawabi and Ramallah was not established. Some settlers have announced plans to establish settlements close to Rawabi.
In December 2010, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee raised concerns about the involvement of Israeli contracters in the project. Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a website that covers the Arab-Israeli conflict from a Palestinian perspective, has argued that through the development of Rawabi, Bashar Masri "appears to be actively helping Israel deepen its hold on the Palestinian economy despite his earlier claims that he is trying to help end this relationship". Abunimah argues that Masri "appears to have made the choice to work closely with the Israeli government and businesses in order to bring even more Israeli companies into the occupied West Bank", whereas Masri himself claims that his decision to use Israeli businesses was a matter of necessity given Israeli restrictions on Palestinian economic activity. Masri has made it a requirement that all contractors working on the project "sign an agreement refusing to use Israeli products originating from the settlements or work in the settlements themselves.
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