Luis Ramirez
Voice of America
April 22, 2011 - 12:00am

It is a sight one would not expect in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: An Italian villa complete with ancient Greek statues, Picassos, and manicured gardens reminiscent of Versailles. Palestinian billionaire Munib Al Masri, whose personal wealth represents about a third of the Palestinian economy, has turned his extravagant dream into reality. Al Masri invited correspondent Luis Ramirez to his lavish home near Nablus to talk about his vision for a Palestinian state.

A palace on a hill overlooking Nablus, complete with authentic works of art from Europe.

"When I was 19, I was in Chicago and I saw a Palladian style house and I said to myself at that time when I go back to my home, Palestine, I would like to build a similar house," said Palestinian billionaire Munib Al Masri.

Munib Al Masri calls it "Palestine House," and it represents a dream. "My dream is to have a state, to have a Palestinian independent state living in peace with the region, and especially living in peace with Israel," he said.

Al Masri just led an independent delegation to Egypt, where he says recent changes raise his hopes that the new Egyptian leaders might do more for the Palestinians than before.

"Before we went there, we were in doubt. Maybe they will be busy or something, but on the contrary. We found a lot of determination from the parties we met," he said.

Al Masri is also working for reconciliation between the West Bank leadership and the rival Hamas group in Gaza. "With the country divided so much, we will never have a country," said the billionaire. "They always say, 'What is your address, is it Gaza, or Ramallah?"

Al Masri worked his way through college in the United States, partly as a bartender to Hollywood stars, before making a fortune in oil and gas.

Now, he is the largest private sector employer in the West Bank. He could afford to live anywhere. "I feel I have a lot of responsibility to be here, to do things and I feel satisfied. Sometimes I hate myself, as if I didn't accomplish anything and sometimes when I see so many jobs being offered to people, so many things going, I feel satisfied," he said.

For Munib Al Masri, the job now is to turn yet another fantasy into reality.


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