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How did Rawabi get its water?

By Jan Selby | MEMO | September 17, 2015

In February this year, the new Palestinian town of Rawabi at last managed to secure a water supply, after several years of acrimonious negotiations with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. With the greatest obstacle to populating Rawabi overcome, the first 200 families of this planned “shining city on a hill” have now finally started moving in.

Rawabi’s water woes have received extensive coverage in the Israeli, Palestinian and international media, not least owing to a campaign instigated by the town’s owners, the Bayti Real Estate Investment Company. But why did Rawabi encounter such problems? And how did they eventually get resolved? For all the media coverage, the reasons are not well known.

When I meet Amir Dajani, Deputy Manager Director of Bayti in his Rawabi office, he reserves most of his anger for the Palestinian Authority. “No one did anything to support Rawabi,” he says of the PA. He recognises, of course, that Israel’s occupation poses huge challenges to a billion-dollar investment project, but about these he is pragmatic. The contrast between his visceral anger at the PA and his cool realism about the occupation is striking.

For all that, it is Israeli demands and an Israeli-drafted document which were the ultimate reasons for the hold-up. Under Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II Agreement – which Palestinian negotiators were simply handed and accepted when they should have known better – all new water facilities in the West Bank require prior approval from a Joint Water Committee, meaning that Israel has complete veto rights over Palestinian water developments in the occupied West Bank.

Worse still, while Article 40 did not directly mention water projects for Israeli settlements, it did not preclude them from being brought to the Committee either. Israel exploited this ambiguity by making its approval of Palestinian water projects conditional on Palestinian approval of settlement water infrastructures. For fifteen years, the PA’s pragmatic policy response – pursued with the full knowledge of Presidents Abbas and Arafat – was to consent, however unhappily, to this blackmail and approve every single water facility proposed by Israel for its settlements.

This changed only in 2010, when the Palestinian Water Authority and later the PLO Executive Committee decided that they would no longer approve settlement water infrastructures. The result has been five years of deadlock within the Committee; the PA refuses to approve settlement water projects, and Israel in turn refuses to approve new wells and pipelines for Palestinian communities.

Until February, this included Rawabi. But then, following a media campaign plus a series of high-profile interventions – including from Israeli President Rivlin – and a very public disagreement between the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) head, Major-General Yoav Mordechai and Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom, the issue was finally decided by Benjamin Netanyahu. Rawabi became an exception, the site of the only new West Bank Palestinian water infrastructure to have been formally approved by Israel since August 2010.

Contrary to reports, however, this was neither a “goodwill gesture” nor a function of a new era of Israeli “water generosity”; simultaneous to approving Rawabi’s connection, Mordechai and Netanyahu also unilaterally approved a handful of settlement water projects (one source has told me “four or five”, another says “six or seven”). These projects included, for instance, a new water supply line for Tekoa in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, supposedly needed because of declining groundwater levels in the Herodian area from which Tekoa is currently supplied.

Rather than an act of generosity, approval for Rawabi’s water was an internal Israeli quid pro quo. The Israeli government bowed to domestic and international pressure to provide the new Palestinian town with water, but could only square this with itself by simultaneously accommodating – nay, supporting – the country’s illegal settlements, by providing them with even more.

When I discuss this with Baruch Nagar of Israel’s Water Authority, he offers two justifications: that these settlement projects were “emergencies”; and that the Palestinian Water Authority, by refusing to approve settlement facilities, is acting unreasonably and is disrespecting Article 40. “We can’t understand why they stopped,” he says, as if the PA was just behaving irrationally. “We respect the water agreement,” he claims, “the Palestinians do not.”

This, though, is specious. Israel’s unilateral approval of settlement water facilities is a clear violation of Article 40, and invoking the false label of “emergency” does not alter this. There are scores of Palestinian communities across the West Bank which have no water in their pipes for days, weeks, even months on end each summer, and plenty of others which are not connected at all or whose small water collection systems are routinely demolished by the Israel Defence Forces. If “emergency” is the standard, then the PA would have every right – but not of course the power – to implement water projects unilaterally across the West Bank.

Moreover, no amount of deadlock within the Water Committee gives Israel the right to decide which new water facilities should be allowed to go ahead, and which not. However, this typifies Israel’s approach to the vestiges of the Oslo agreements, which can be summed up as bilateral “cooperation” when possible (i.e. when the Palestinians are compliant), unilateral violations whenever deemed necessary.

At least, though, Rawabi got its water supply, at least for now. For the other far-from-minor detail about this case is that Rawabi’s new water connection is only temporary; it will only supply 300 cubic metres of water per day, sufficient for the town’s first 5,000 residents and the next eighteen months. Thereafter, Rawabi will need another source, which is still being negotiated with Israel and the PA. Expect another raft of headlines about Rawabi’s water problems in a year or so.

Jan Selby is Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, UK

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Israeli authorities ban water hook-up to Palestinian city

MEMO | February 16, 2015

Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Silvan Shalom, banned water connection to the new West Bank Palestinian city of Rawabi, which is to house around 40,000 Palestinian families, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the Coordinator of the Israeli Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories Major General Yoav Mordechai had ordered the Israeli Water Authority to provide water to the city.

However, Shalom refused Ya’alon’s instruction saying that water and sewage projects in the West Bank require the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee’s (JWC) approval.

Shalom blamed the Palestinians, claiming they have been refusing to convene the committee since 2010. The response from Shalom’s office stated that according to an agreement with the Palestinians signed in 1995, the committee is the principal party which decides on such issues in West Bank communities.

Haaretz reported the Palestinian side confirming that the committee had not convened since 2010, but they insisted this does not justify the ban to connect water to the city.

The head of project department in the Palestinian Water Authority, Ihab Al-Barghouti, said: “The reason that the committee has not convened was the Israeli condition that the committee must approve an Israeli settlement project in return for any approval of any Palestinian project.”

Al-Barghouti insisted that the Palestinians refused this condition, thus, they do not attend the committee’s meetings.

February 16, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 1 Comment

Rawabi: Israeli Model for “Neo-Palestinian” City

By Abbad Yehya | Al Akhbar | June 1, 2012

Ramallah – Halfway between occupied Jerusalem and Nablus, in middle of the West Bank and 9km north of Ramallah, private Palestinian funds, generously supported by Qatar, and protected by the occupation army, are building a city for the “new Palestinians,” as US General Keith Dayton, US Security Coordinator for Israel-Palestinian Authority in Tel Aviv, calls them.

Rawabi is a “Palestinian settlement” currently under construction at a cost nearing US$1 billion. It is located on a 6,300-dunum (6.3 square kilometers) piece of land seized by the Palestinian Authority (PA) through a decree signed by president Mahmoud Abbas in November 2009.

After a failed attempt by landowners to reverse the decision or reduce its impact, the land was bought by businessman Bashar al-Masri. On several occasions, al-Masri called on Israelis to buy apartments and houses in his city and become neighbors with the “new Palestinians.”

In the nearby village of Attara, residents whisper about Israeli officers who visit the city to eat breakfast with its developers. The visits are frequent and include officers from the Israeli Civil Administration accompanied by army units and border guards.

Villagers speak about soldiers who man the Attara roadblock, allowing everyone related to the Rawabi project to pass through while barring the flow of regular Palestinians.

Things were made clear following friendly conversations al-Masri had with the Israeli press. He sent out statements to appease “the neighbors” and inform them that everything is under control and security prevails, due to solid collaboration with the occupation army.

This is a new phase of spatial engineering. Israel went to war against the old camps and towns that were immune to infiltration during the intifada. It sought to destroy spaces of resistance in Palestinian towns. It even rebuilt Jenin in an exposed and permeable manner, financed by the United Arab Emirates.

Now, the architecture of Rawabi will suit the needs of the colonialist invaders. It will stand before them completely exposed. Ironically, the money for it also came from the Gulf. Thus, the architectural style bears a close resemblance to Israeli settlements.

Architect Lynn Jabri analyzed the building style in Rawabi. She compares the style to the criteria used to build Israeli settlements in mountainous regions, according to a guide used by the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry. The same criteria are all applied in the city (with the exception of painting the roofs red for the Israeli air force to identify).

Jabri believes that “the search for a modern Palestinian architectural style remains superficial and does not exceed some formal features, without the proper understanding of local architecture. Actually, Rawabi’s “Palestinian” architects are proposing an architecture that looks Israeli.”

Bashar al-Masri considers the project to be part of building the Palestinian state. But he said in a “very friendly” interview with Israeli TV Channel 10 that he visited the Modi’in luxury settlement west of Ramallah to learn from the building experience there and create a better model.

On the way to the largest investment project in Palestine and inside the city itself, countless cameras monitor everything in sight. Nobody knows exactly who sits behind the monitors and sees all that is displayed.

The exposed nature of Rawabi is manifold: Broad streets, buildings aligned according to a strict plan, and a service center looking more like a control tower above the city. Thus, controlling the city becomes no more difficult than taking a pleasant ride in a military Jeep, as a young man from Ajoul, a village being suffocated by the project, likes to put it.

This is the other similarity with early Zionist colonies which erected control towers at the highest point in the settlement as part of their absolute security regulations.

Speaking about the sustainability of the project, Rawabi’s website asks visitors to plant a tree in the city because “the natural beauty of the country has been damaged by war, development, neglect, and climate change.”

The text fails to mention who carried out the ethnic and spatial cleansing of Palestine, destroyed its environment, then brought trees to plant and cover their crimes. Rawabi wants to mimic the Jewish National Fund’s project of planting trees in villages whose residents were expelled during and after the Nakba.

The city’s planners, enamored by Ramallah’s opulent neighborhoods, did not forget to build a mosque and a church. They even brought religious crews to run them following the inauguration of the city in front of potential clients and residents.

Rawabi does not tire of delegations and visitors. It is now on the map for international travelers, politicians, economists, even athletes. Al-Masri speaks proudly about his city, whether to Palestinian security officers or the United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon.

The city is in harmony with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s rhetoric of building a state and its institutions. It is part of the hackneyed propaganda about “the Palestinians’ right and worthiness to live.”

In following the rhetoric of the PA and its supporters, the project owners attempt to create a fantasy completely detached from the bitter reality.

Al-Masri speaks of the city’s five gates, leading to Jerusalem, Yafa, Nablus, Gaza, and Qatar’s Capital, Doha. The latter is the location of Bayti Real Estate Investment Company, which is jointly owned by Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and al-Masri’s Massar International.

The separation walls, the segregation, and the Green Line, along with a bitter history of 64 years of occupation, are nowhere to be seen in Rawabi’s advertising campaign. “It has a superb view of the Mediterranean,” they say.

From the onset, the PA wholeheartedly supported the project. In May 2008, it held the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem in total collaboration with the Israeli army and government to finance two projects, Rawabi and the Rihan suburbs.

Thus, Rawabi is promoted as a solution to the deteriorating economic situation in language full of numbers: 10,000 new jobs in the city and the commercial activity of at least 40,000 residents.

But there is a deliberate disregard for the role of the occupation in the economic situation of Palestinians. Palestinian groups of all persuasions are either silent or complicit. This complicity is prevalent among the majority of elites and intellectuals who are afraid to challenge this “national” project and its unprecedented media juggernaut.

City planners say that Palestinian expertise has returned from outside the country to work on this city. But they fail to mention that the economic return is based on the occupier’s criteria and the time frame of the project.

Similarly, there is increased talk of the cultural and artistic life of Rawabi. We can now easily imagine the type of culture practiced in the city of “economic peace” so loved by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli press also like to talk about Rawabi. Israelis seem very interested in learning about this “new settlement.” Al-Masri was exclusively interviewed several times in the city by Channel 10, the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and others. The interviews were intended to put Israelis at ease and inform them that Rawabi is different from any other Palestinian city.

Israeli media is keen on comparing Rawabi, and some parts of Ramallah, with “Hariri’s Beirut.” There were open calls for Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak to participate in the inauguration. It is ultimately an outcome of Fayyad’s “silent revolution,” whose slogan is that Palestinians “are tired and weary of conflict and are looking for a new life.”

Al-Masri uses every occasion to insist that his company works under the regulations of the PA and its ministries, namely the Ministry of Local Government. It is expected to be transferred to a locally elected body following the delivery of apartments to the owners (the first batch will be delivered in 2013) and the markets to the investors.

The real estate firm, Bayti, will have an administrative and organizational function and will preserve the architectural style of the city and its neighborhoods. The exact scope of the private company’s authority is unknown. This will allow it to complete its spatial architecture with a social architecture consistent with neoliberalism, the socio-economic framework of General Dayton’s security plan.

One of the biggest ironies is that the only real opposition to the construction of the city came from Israelis living in nearby colonies. They started to attack the Palestinian workers until they were stopped through coordination with the Israeli army.

Israelis can enter the city as visitors, workers, and experts. Relationships with Israeli raw materials providers and experts are not even controversial. The Palestinian private sector, with all its factories and contractors, cannot provide even a third of what is required.

Knowing all of this, it seems that the settlement of Atiret, occupying the nearest hill, will be a friendly neighbor. Its residents could come to the more modern and opulent Rawabi for entertainment. The earlier misunderstanding will turn into mutual hospitality and neighborly relations.

Peace-mongers on both sides now have a model consisting of a new kind of Palestinian who gladly embraces the language of consumerism, malls, and international brands!

A few months ago, Rawabi was but a mere idea of a city for refugees who will be brought back based on strict selection criteria. Their return and residence in the city is promoted as a partial solution to the refugee question.

But such talk disappears beneath the haughty buildings of a durable city that goes against the temporary and impatient architecture of refugee camps. In Rawabi, glass will prevail, signifying the brittle and exposed nature of the setting. Its stones, “expensive and rare,” will not be fit to throw at an occupying soldier.

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Rawabi: Israeli Model for “Neo-Palestinian” City