How Israel put the brakes on another Palestinian dream

The peace process is stalled, but that hasn't stopped Palestinians planning their first modern town in the West Bank. Work has begun on the project, but the lack of an access route could still kill it off, reports Ben Lynfield

The West Bank scene is all too familiar: yellow cranes lifting boulders, bulldozers scooping up soil, drills transforming a hillside set in a biblical landscape of rolling olive groves.

But this is not another Jewish settlement under construction. Small Palestinian flags wave from the bulldozers, a hint that this is a nationally significant project, the start of the first planned city in modern Palestinian history.

"You are walking in downtown Rawabi," says site manager Maher Sawalha, burly and enthusiastic. Around him is empty brushland, dotted with hyssop and speckled with red anemones. But Mr Sawalha is not indulging in a fantasy: preliminary construction work on the town started last week, and it has a very detailed plan.

But there is a hitch: Israel has yet to grant permission to build an access road, without which this town, intended to have a population of 40,000, will simply not be viable. But, for the time being, that does not stop the dream from being dreamed. "Where we are standing there will be retail stores, hotels, a cultural centre, restaurants, a theater and a cinema," says Mr Sawalha. "In another part of the city we will also have an open-air theatre ."

This is the man who oversaw the building of the mausoleum of the Palestinian founding father, Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah, but he is convinced that Rawabi, 10 kilometres north of Ramallah and close to the Palestinian village of Atara and the Jewish settlement of Ateret, is more significant.

While Israel has altered the West Bank beyond recognition since the occupation began in 1967, this is the first time Palestinians have taken matters into their own hands and tried to change the map. The Palestinian Authority is strongly backing the project. "It is very important for the Palestinians because we have a housing shortage and very high demand on housing that the cities are not capable of dealing with," says spokesman Ghassan Khatib.

Rawabi is intended as a demonstration of how the Palestinians can take action – although peace efforts are stalled – to begin building their future state. And Rawabi will have Palestinian characteristics, says Bashar Masri, managing director of the Bayti Real Estate and Investment Company, which is overseeing the development. "It will have a lot of Western components and a lot of Palestinian components," he says. "Pushing a purely Western town will not sell here."

Mr Masri, whose company is Qatari- and Palestinian-owned, is himself a mixture of Western and local, a Nablus native who speaks with an American accent. "We are for profit, that's for sure," he admits. "But taking the risk is motivated by the fact that I'm Palestinian and we need to build this nation." Most residents will be middle- income, he says. Every residential building will have underground parking, not the norm for Palestinians, and in contrast to the sprawl of Ramallah, everything in from kindergartens to electricity will be meticulously planned.

But the town centre's design will evoke the old city cores of Jerusalem and Nablus, with narrow alleys made of stone or brick, for pedestrians only. The town will be divided into 23 neighborhoods that will feature "semi-private pocket gardens" so that residents will meet, and relationships will be forged and reinforced, says Shireen Nazer, a project architect. It is a feature in keeping with the Palestinian concept of the hara, or neighbourhood, where everyone knows each other.

But the project is very much at the mercy of the Israeli authorities. Despite an easing of checkpoints since Benjamin Netanyahu took office last spring, Israel remains unwilling to allow the growth of some key projects.

Security is clearly not the reason. The second Palestinian mobile phone operator, Wataniya, has been waiting for more than two years for Israel to grant the frequencies it needs to expand. Palestinian officials say they have been waiting 18 months for Israel to approve the paving of three kilometres of road for Rawabi that would cut through territory still under Israeli control.

Despite Mr Masri's optimism, he is realistic about the most basic need. If the access road is not built, he says, at some point a decision will be taken to scrap the town. "It would be stupid to continue until it is totally completed if the road is not approved," he says.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players