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Blair-backed city that became beacon of hope

    Computer-generated image of a finished Rawabi, north-west of Ramallah (Photo: Zumllc)
    Computer-generated image of a finished Rawabi, north-west of Ramallah (Photo: Zumllc)

    Its supporters see Rawabi as proof that the financial situation in the West Bank can improve and that a Palestinian middle-class is emerging. Its detractors see it as merely an extension of the “Ramallah bubble”, disconnected from the rest of the Palestinian territories and perpetuating the occupation.

    Meanwhile, some Israeli officials worry that the high-rise buildings of the first planned Palestinian urban centre could be used to fire missiles at aircraft landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.

    The ironies surrounding Rawabi, the new city north-west of Ramallah, abound. Its name means “hills”, the same name of a settlement half an hour’s drive away, and its cascading layout is almost identical to that of Israeli towns on both sides of the Green Line.

    Originally, the corporation building Rawabi had announced that it would not be using Israeli materials and services. To the consternation of the BDS movement, however, Israeli firms have been heavily involved. On the other hand, former environment minister Gilad Erdan threatened to stop all Israeli aid to building Rawabi as it failed to comply with Israeli environment standards — but, according to a Civil Authority official, “we have done everything we can to help push along the infrastructure for Rawabi”.

    Naturally, the Palestinians are not content with the Israeli co-operation so far, complaining that permits needed to build roads and connect the town to water sources have been delayed for many months.

    Now, seven years since the project was started, the first phase is almost complete, with 600 flats soon to be handed over to their new owners. Glowing articles about Rawabi are appearing in the international media, the PA has already appointed a municipal council and, as the new round of peace talks start, eternal optimists such as international envoy Tony Blair will try to hold this up as proof that a viable state is in the making.

    But Rawabi still has major obstacles to overcome. Permits for new stages are still hostage to regional developments and the neighbouring settlements have all registered their objections to the town they claim is “encroaching” on them. The security situation will affect the flow building materials. Then there is the fact that at $100,000 for a three-bedroom flat, the few Palestinian families who can afford to buy will be highly reluctant to do so if the future seems unsure.

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