About two weeks ago, after a long drawn-out battle, an agreement was finally reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel's Water Authority over connecting the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, located north of Ramallah, to Israel's water network.
But the agreement has sparked a whole new row, due to efforts to appease the settlers in the area who are vehemently opposed to the existence of the city in principle.
The agreement theoretically removed the greatest obstacle to the process of populating Rawabi, where close to one thousand families have already purchased apartments. The senior Palestinian official who announced the agreement said the local company that built the city, headed by entrepreneur Bashar al-Masri, is hoping to house the first tenants within three months.
The most important project
The upper middle class Palestinian families who bought apartments in Rawabi say they have been informed by the project's managers that work still remains on connections to the water and road networks, and the first residents are expected to move in at the beginning of 2015.
The prices paid for the apartments range from $65,000 to $110,000 – far above average in the Palestinian market but still less than in Israel. Purchasers include a high percentage of singles, and many also bought apartments there as an investment. To date, Rawabi is considered the largest and most important project in the Palestinian Authority.
Some 6,000 families are ultimately expected to live in Rawabi; therefore continuing to populate the city will requires a far larger supply of water. As such, there is a need for a water pipeline that would partially pass through Area C of the West Bank – which is under Israeli control. This plan is opposed by the settlers.
Connecting Rawabi to the water network has been a bone of contention between Israeli and Palestinian representatives on the Joint Water Committee, which has not met in a long time due to disputes between the two sides. About a month ago, al-Masri announced he was suspending work on the city because of problems with the Israeli government, at the forefront of which were the water supply and the construction of an access road to Rawabi.
Deal or no deal?
The initial reports of the agreement on water for Rawabi were met with a fierce response from the settlers opposed the construction of the entire city. They see a security threat in Rawabi, with its panoramic view of the coast from Hadera to Ashdod. Because most of the financing for the construction of the city (some one billion dollars) was provided by the rulers of Qatar, the far-right Israeli press also strong criticized Jerusalem for allowing the state that funds Hamas to build a city in the heart of the country.
Former National Union Knesset member Yaakov Katz, who lives in a nearby settlement, even suggested that the Palestinians be allowed to complete the construction on Rawabi so that Israel could then take it away.
In light of the anger of the settlers and the rightwing MKs, sources close to Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom, who oversees the Water Authority, said he had instructed members of the Joint Water Committee to condition the water connection for Rawabi on Palestinian agreement to promote initiatives for water projects in the local Jewish settlements.
Shalom's order sparked a wave of protests from the Palestinians, who claim the agreement does not include any compromises. The head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Mazen Ghnaim, said any Israeli claims of a connection between the water network for Rawabi and projects in the settlement are "nonsense and lies".
Meanwhile, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which has overall responsibility for the issue, told the Interior Ministry that a solution to the problem was still being discussed. Nonetheless, a senior Israeli official told Ynet's sister publication Calcalist that a compromise had already been reached with the Palestinians.