- Title: WEST BANK: French FM Kouchner at Palestinian conference, tours West Bank
- Date: 24th May 2008
- Summary: (EU)BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (MAY 23, 2008) (REUTERS) WIDE OF SESSION OF INVESTMENT CONFERENCE FOR THE WEST BANK WIDE OF FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER BERNARD KOUCHNER SPEAKING AT CONFERENCE REPORTERS LISTENING CLOSE OF REPORTER WRITING IN NOTEBOOK CLOSE OF PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER SALAM FAYYAD SITTING AT PANEL WIDE OF CONFERENCE PANEL (SOUNDBITE) (English) FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER BERNARD KOUCHNER SAYING: "This is really the beginning of something, here in this convention palace." KOUCHNER CLIMBING INTO CAR
- Embargoed: 8th June 2008 13:00
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVA8SGZX11S3B1BRJ3FARIYJ9OUX
- Story Text: On the last leg of his visit to the region, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner participates in investors conference and tours West Bank town of Hebron.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Friday (May 23) he was impressed by private investors' pledges to invest in the Palestinian Territories, after participating in one of the sessions of the investors conference held in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
"This is really the beginning of something," Kouchner said, shortly after Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced that 1.4 billion U.S. dollars of investment in local businesses were promised by investors participating in the conference.
Fayyad said he expected the investment in local business projects -- most of which are in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and cover sectors ranging from real estate to technology -- to create up to 35,000 jobs. Much of the money was pledged by foreign investors, many from Arab countries awash with oil wealth. It comes in addition to $7.7 billion in aid promised by international donors in Paris December as a way of bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas and Fayyad had hoped this week's conference in Bethlehem, the traditional site of Jesus's birth, would attract as much as 2 billion U.S.
dollars for more than 100 projects in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. But officials from the World Bank and the Palestinian government -- including Fayyad himself -- have stressed that while investment in the Palestinian territories is crucial, the economy will not flourish unless Israel eases restrictions.
Israel says its network of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank are needed to keep suicide bombers away from its cities but Palestinians call them collective punishment and say they hamper trade. Kouchner told the conference on Friday Israel must do more to ease restrictions in the West Bank and called Jewish settlement building an "impediment" to peace and economic development.
Later, on the last hours of his trip to the region, Kouchner visited the West Bank town of Hebron, toured the local market and met with town officials. Kouchner said that he came in order to monitor the results of the Paris donors conference for the Palestinian Territories held in December 2007, and that as he sees, things are moving, though slowly.
"We are in charge of the following of the Paris Conference, on project and on the Palestinian budget too... I think that things are moving, this is the minimum I can say, things are moving and I believe in a good direction. But we have to, let's say, follow the efforts," Kouchner said in Hebron.
After meeting with Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurie in Ramallah on Thursday (May 22) Kouchner said he hoped a "positive atmosphere"
in the Middle East since a peace deal in Lebanon could help foster progress between Israel and the Palestinians. Kouchner also said that not enough progress had been made since Israel and the Palestinians launched peace talks in November.
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