Rawabi, a planned city for 40,000 residents, is under construction in the West Bank. The first phase will encompass about 100 residential buildings between five and nine stories tall, ranging from 2,800 to 3,500 square meters, as well as schools and other public and commercial buildings. The 1,557-acre site covers the slope of a hill in Birzeit, a university town located just north of the town of Ramallah in the West Bank and 10 miles north of Jerusalem. “Rawabi” means “the hills” in Arabic.

Earthmoving and road construction began late last year, and construction of the buildings began in June. The pace of activity will pick up when a narrow access road to the site is completed. The contractor is setting up its own on-site concrete batch plant and stone-cutting factory. 

Residents are expected to begin moving into the city in 2013. The first phase, which entails 5,000 units for 25,000 people, is slated to be fully complete by 2016 and will include public and private schools, mosques, a church, a hotel and convention center, a library and a municipal complex as well as 100,000 sq m of office and retail space. While most of the units will be affordable housing, which is desperately needed in the West Bank, about 1,000 will be luxury units marketed largely as second homes to diaspora Palestinians living in other countries.

Not surprisingly, land-use issues have been a complicating factor. Over 90% of the site is located in territory under complete Palestinian control, and the Palestinian Authority has granted its approval. But one new planned access road runs through a stretch of territory over which Israel maintains security control; approval is still pending.

Rawabi’s developer, the entrepreneur Bashar Masri, has both Palestinian and American roots. Born to a wealthy family in the West Bank town of Nablus, he emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, studied chemical engineering at Virginia Tech and became a U.S. citizen after marrying an American. His Ramallah-based holding company, Massar International, has developed residential properties in Morocco, Egypt and Jordan and also operates subsidiaries offering financial investment services.

The Bayti Real Estate and Investment Co., which is serving as both the developer and general contractor, is co-owned by Masri and Qatar Diar, a real estate holding company owned by the Qatari government. Qatar Diar is the primary investor, providing over $700 million of the $800-million construction cost. Rawabi was designed by Raphael Samach, a principal in AECOM’s New York City office.