Businessman Discusses Challenges of Palestinian City Creation

Bashar Masri, founder and CEO of Massar International, spoke about the challenges he has faced while helping lead the creation of Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city, on Tuesday at the Kennedy School of Government. 

Rawabi has been in the making since 2007, when Masri said he first thought of building a planned city in the West Bank. According to its website, Rawabi will initially house about 25,000 residents, with Masri predicting 40,000 or more in another decade. The city is currently uninhabited as planners wait for government approval to use water from a nearby aquifer.

Political turmoil in the region has repeatedly delayed the authorization process, which is one of the last obstacles faced by developers before residents can begin to move in, Masri said.

When first presenting his idea to the executive board of Massar International, Masri said he asked everyone at the table to identify potential obstacles. “We went around the table three or four times, and we wrote down 102 obstacles,” he said, listing problems such as purchasing land, attracting future residents, and finding investors.

However, Masri said most of these issues have been solved over the last seven years. “Today we only have two or three challenges left,” he said, identifying water issues, a single narrow access road, and job creation in a turbulent economy.

Masri, who is Palestinian-American, cited his personal, rather than economic, reasons for building Rawabi.

“This particular project to me is not about money…. [It is] for Palestine, and it is for the Palestinians,” he said. “We never thought of anyone outside of Palestine.”

The event was part of the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative speaker series that “exists to bring together leaders in political, civil society, and business fields and create a space for dynamic interaction around issues relating to the Middle East,” MEI events assistant Christopher L. Mawhorter said.

Masri said that Rawabi has become “a showcase for Palestine to show the international community what we can do.” He said that while the project was originally intended as a local endeavor for Palestinians, the positive response from international media has been both surprising and encouraging.

“The world is with us, and they want to see a prosperous Palestinian state,” he said.

Nada Al-Sharif, a member of the audience, said she was pleasantly surprised that the company appeared to be so community-oriented.

“I think that people approached them [with investments], they didn’t approach people,” she said.  

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