ATARA, West Bank — Work crews have broken ground on what they hope will be the first modern, planned Palestinian city — a step officials say will help build an independent state in spite of the current deadlock in the peace process with Israel.
But without Israeli approval of a short stretch of road, the $500-million project may never get off the ground.
"We could build the whole city, but the question is, would people live in a city that doesn't have an access road?" said Bashar Masri, managing director of the company behind the project.
"Obviously, the answer is no."
Since last week, machine operators have been hard at work, taking chunks out of a rocky hillside near this West Bank village. If the project goes according to plan, it will provide 40,000 Palestinians with homes in an American-style development.
Palestinians say Israel has not responded to their requests about the access road. The Israeli Defense Ministry, which is in charge of the area, did not return calls from the Associated Press about the issue.
Israel's stated policy is to promote economic development in the West Bank, and construction of the new town would appear to fall within that goal. But two miles of the road would have to be built through a part of the West Bank that Israel controls, within view of a Jewish settlement, raising possible complications.
Western-backed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, has announced plans to build institutions regardless of progress in peace talks, aiming to be ready for statehood in two years. The new city, Rawabi, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem, would be a key part of that plan.
Standing over a working model in the office of Bayti Real Estate Investment Co. in Ramallah, Masri pointed to the city's egg-shaped, hilltop center, saying it will hold office and residential towers, a conference center and hotel, shops, cafes and a movie theater. The center will be a pedestrian zone with an underground car park.
A series of roads will loop down the hillside, lined with residential buildings connected by footpaths, designed for the Palestinian middle class, Masri said.