- Title: WEST BANK: Investors urged to shore up Palestinian economy
- Date: 23rd May 2008
- Summary: (MER-1) BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (MAY 22, 2008) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF FAYYAD SIGNING AN INVESTMENT PROJECT FOR THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY, WITH THE ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION (APEC)
- Embargoed: 7th June 2008 13:00
- Topics: Economic News
- Reuters ID: LVAEV2Y5HL9E6P0YJYIAGAWBFDEC
- Story Text: STORY : The Palestinian economy is poised for rapid growth if Israel eases stifling restrictions, and foreign investors ready to take risks could reap big profits, Palestinian ministers said.
Palestinian entrepreneurs are hoping investors, many from Gulf countries awash with oil wealth, will stump up two billion U.S. dollars (USD) at this week's investment conference being held in the West Bank city of Bethlehem to support local business plans, from tourism to technology.
"Around 200 investment projects have been identified as projects which can be started in Palestine, these projects will create around 50,000 job vacancies in the Palestinian territories," Palestinian information and foreign minister Riyadh Malki told journalists at the conference on Thursday (May 22).
The US Consul General in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, said there was much international interest in investment in the Palestinian territories.
"You could see clearly in the opening session yesterday that there were many people, more people who wanted to come than there was room for in fact. And the participation from the Arab world, from Europe, we had a large delegation from the United States, indicates I think there is lots of interest in investing here. A lot of people are looking for ways to help promote the peace process that is under way, to improve the lives of Palestinians. And we are very optimistic that this conference will actually produce some results," said Walles.
The investment drive is part of efforts backed by Middle East envoy Tony Blair to invigorate the moribund Palestinian economy as President Mahmoud Abbas pursues U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel.
World Bank Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub said Israel must unravel its network of checkpoints and roadblocks in the occupied West Bank -- measures the Jewish state says are needed for security but which the Palestinians call collective punishment -- for the economy to flourish.
He said, however, that Palestinians were still well placed to attract investment, noting they ranked 22nd in the world for business-friendly tax policies and 33rd in terms of a solid legal framework to protect investors.
But just driving to the conference centre in Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem underlines the hurdles to doing business here.
Bethlehem, like many cities in the occupied West Bank, is virtually encircled by Israel's barrier in the territory and visitors to the cradle of Christianity must drive past towering walls and military watchtowers.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is even worse, with the economy in meltdown due to an Israeli-led blockade of the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave. Israel raids the territory regularly and an explosives-laden truck driven by a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up near the border with Israel on Thursday.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said these and other difficulties would have to be removed if investment in the Palestinian territories is to become successful.
"I renew the call for the necessity of immediately responding to the initiative we launched months ago, relating to the necessity of re-opening and re-activating the Gaza crossing points in such a way that ensures the unity of Palestinian lands, guarantees the continuity of Palestinian economy and frees the movement of people and goods and raw materials between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on the one hand, and between the Palestinian territories and the rest of the world on the other," he said, addressing the conference.
And while Abbas, who is keen to showcase a West Bank security drive, lined Bethlehem streets with police, conference banners along the road were interspersed with occasional posters honouring Palestinian militants killed by Israel.
At least two major Arab investors have already unveiled deals worth about 550 million USD to build a new Palestinian town and a shopping mall complex in the West Bank.
Dozens of entrepreneurs are hoping to win funding for their own projects, from a fish farm in sanctions-hit Gaza, to a West Bank WiMAX network and a luxury spa hotel in Bethlehem.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was appointed last year after President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Hamas Islamists from government in a move that ended trade sanctions, said "an investment in Palestine is an investment in peace.
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