RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now, a story about construction of the first planned, privately developed Palestinian community in the West Bank. The Rawabi Project aims to offer 40,000 future residents a modern, middle-class, environmentally-friendly lifestyle. The billion-dollar development has faced lots of hurdles.

And as NPR's Emily Harris reports, one of the last is the most critical: securing access to water.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The idea is alluring.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Amid the ancient hills of Palestine, a new vision is becoming a reality.

HARRIS: Over the past five years, Rawabi has gone from a high hill covered in low scrub to a city close to completion. Schools, shops and offices are all being built from scratch. Apartments are selling. But developer Bashar al-Masri is worried about water.

BASHAR AL-MASRI: We're about to have people move into the city December and January and February of next year. Those three months, we will deliver the first several hundred units, and we still do not have a solid solution for the water.

HARRIS: A temporary pipe brings in less than half of what Rawabi uses now for construction. A lot feeds concrete mixers on the site.

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HARRIS: Deputy managing director of the project Amir Dajani says they are trucking in water to meet current needs.

AMIR DAJANI: Without water, you cannot mix concrete. Without water, you cannot operate the offices. Without water, you can't plant the trees. Without water, you cannot cure the concrete on the site, etcetera, etcetera.

HARRIS: Rawabi is not in a good location to tap into one of the West Bank aquifers. It needs a new pipe. And the proposed route for a water line to Rawabi goes across land in the West Bank that Israel fully controls. Dajani says the politics are simple.

DAJANI: Politics is Israeli approval. They control the water. They have to release this control, and they have to approve for the connection point allowing for water to arrive to the city of Rawabi.

HARRIS: An application is in to a joint Israeli-Palestinian commission. But Israeli water expert Professor Alon Tal says it's a lopsided relationship.

ALON TAL: Israel doesn't need Palestinian permission to undertake any number of water development projects. Palestinians are required to get Israeli permission to do so. And in that sense, the Palestinian dissatisfaction is justified.

HARRIS: Still, he thinks for Rawabi, permission will be granted.

TAL: I think all of the major decision-makers - including our prime minister - see Rawabi as a good thing. It sends a message to the world that Israel's not trying to sabotage Palestinian development. It sends a message to the Palestinians it pays to cooperate. We're going to let you guys develop new cities. It's the first city in the West Bank in, what, 100 years. And I think it's a wonderful development.

HARRIS: But stated support doesn't necessarily make a difference on the ground. Rawabi developers have experience with this. Permission for a road to Rawabi that crosses Israeli controlled West Bank land was granted on only a temporary basis, even - says developer Masri - with top-level political pressure.

AL-MASRI: My understanding is President Obama raised it twice with Netanyahu. Of course, I know this second-hand, but I know it from credible sources. It was raised by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It was raised by their own president, President Peres. And I'm certain that it is a political decision.

HARRIS: Israeli professor Tal says the question of Rawabi's water could also get caught up in politics, even in peace negotiations.

TAL: Israel grants a certain amount of water, under agreement, to the Palestinians. We could increase that. It's very easy for us to increase that. But that's a concession. What are they going to do for us? At least this is the thinking of Israeli politicians.

HARRIS: For the developers, Rawabi is a symbol of what a Palestinian nation could be.

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HARRIS: A huge Palestinian flag flies from Rawabi's highest hill. As a model city, Rawabi's plan for water is to use it well. Like Israel - but unlike any other Palestinian city - wastewater here will be cleaned for irrigation. Homes will have meters to help monitor water use and instant hot water to reduce waste. Developer Masri says he has to believe a water pipe will be allowed.

AL-MASRI: It's just hard for me to imagine that all of what we've done here and all the investments will be ruined because we cannot bring the water in.

HARRIS: Until there is a pipe, he says he'll keep on trucking in water as necessary for a few months or a few years.

Emily Harris, NPR News.

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