Palestinian city Rawabi is almost ready for...

Palestinian city Rawabi is almost ready for residents

By Ofra Edelman, Haaretz (print only)

via Haaretz
After long battle with Israel over water supply, builders plan to start handing out keys to apartments next week.
The owners of the first apartments in the first planned and long-delayed Palestinian city, Rawabi, are due to receive their keys next week. Over the next few weeks, the Palestinian-Qatari partnership that built the city, located nine kilometers north of Ramallah, plans to deliver the keys to almost 600 apartments, and when about 70 percent have been handed over, people will be able to start moving in. The entrepreneurs think this will happen by mid-August.
Journalists during the Geneva Initiative tour of Rawabi
Rawabi won't be bustling city anytime soon. Those 600 apartments are just the first of about 6,000 that Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar al-Masri plans to have built; the rest are slated to be built by the owners. The planned public services are also far from operational; among other reasons, because the entrepreneurs had to fight protracted battle with Israel for permission to connect the city to water and pave an access road.
One of the entrepreneurs' major fears, however, is the possibility that foreign investors will buy apartments and not live there, turning Rawabi into ghost town. They have therefore tried to make sure that no more than a quarter of the purchasers are foreign investors.
Of this quarter, the entrepreneurs say, about half are Palestinians from overseas or East Jerusalem. Most of the rest, amounting to 10 to
12 percent of all buyers, are Israeli Arabs.
During meeting with Israeli journalists in late June at a seminar sponsored by the Geneva Initiative, Al-Masri said he was surprised by the level of demand from Israeli Arabs. The business daily Globes quoted him as saying he had wondered why they were buying, and found the answer when, during a trip to visit a friend in the Israeli Arab city Taibeh, he accidentally ended up in Jewish town Kochav Ya'ir instead. The difference between the two locales, he said, was "like heaven and hell."
But conversations with Arab Israeli purchasers reveal that in most cases, their reason for buying in Rawabi is strictly economic: Apartments in Rawabi are selling for much less than similar apartments in Israel or other cities in the West Bank. Some also said they chose to invest in Rawabi because of the difficulty of buying apartments for investment in non-Arab towns in Israel.
None said they intended to live in Rawabi, and most said they may not rent the apartments out, either. But they didn't rule out the possibility of going there on weekends.
“99.9 percent of Israeli Arabs are investing not out of ideology, but because of the cheap price," said Dr. Saad Haj Yahia of Taibeh, who bought a 140-square meter apartment in Rawabi for about 400,000 shekels ($106,000) “if the prices were what they are in Israel, nobody would have bought there. They would have bought in Haifa, Nazareth or Be'er Sheva."
Asked about Al-Masri's comparison between Rawabi and Taibeh, he said, "The city is prettier than the Arab villages, but not prettier
than Haifa or Tel Aviv."
Gladys Binyamin of Haifa said she was one of the first to buy in Rawabi, three years ago. Her motive was also financial, and the investment has already proved worthwhile, she said: While she paid $80,000 similar apartments are now selling for $120,000.
Binyamin said the entrepreneurs had originally asked her to wait for the second round of sales."They wanted Palestinians, so it wouldn't be ghost town. But we said, 'No. We want to be in the first round.'"
Her only hesitation, she added, was fear that she wouldn't be able to register the apartment in the Palestinian land registry. "We've been looking for an investment apartment in the territories for years," she explained."But when we looked in Nablus, everyone told us it's impossible to register the apartment in the registry because we're Israelis, so we dropped it. And then, suddenly, we heard about Rawabi.
"Unlike in other West Bank cities, Israelis who buy in Rawabi will be allowed to register their apartments in the Palestinian land registry as long as they get a special permit from the Palestinian Authority's security services.
"They picked the people one by one," Binyamin said. "They researched the people, checked names. Had to answer questions about my income, my workplace, all kinds of things."
At every stage of the purchase process, she noted, she saw "tons" of Israeli identity cards. But she stressed that living in Rawabi wasn't an option."I was born in Haifa and I'm going to die in Haifa," she said. "Think about the social benefits in our country, think about health insurance, jobs and earnings here; it's hard to leave."
Dr. Qusay Masarawa of Haifa, in contrast, said he has already sold his Rawabi apartment and he did so for ideological reasons. "All the wealthy Arabs from Israel," he charged, have driven up prices to the point "that a Palestinian from Ramallah couldn't buy an apartment there. The idea was to provide a place where middle class Palestinians could
live, and in the end, the entire Israeli upper class bought there and it became a kind of swinish capitalist project. I couldn't take an apartment there at the expense of a Palestinian looking for cheap apartment."
But the entrepreneurs disputed his claim, saying that most of the Palestinian families who have bought in Rawabi are middle-class.
Muad Haj Yahia of Taibeh considered buying an apartment in Rawabi, but ultimately got cold feet. He said he feels caught between rock and a hard place.
On one hand, he said, "They don't like selling to Israeli Arabs there; they don't look at us as pure Palestinians." But on the other, he said, "In Haifa, they won't sell to you anywhere. There are people who say they aren't willing to sell an Arab house with a mezuzah on it."
The result, he added, is that "we're stuck where we are."
But Saad Haj Yahia countered that if Rawabi becomes "a flourishing city like Ramallah, I'm sure [IsraeliArabs] will live there, and not just on weekends ."