Palestinian, U.S. Business Leaders Working on Joint Ventures
Investment forum hears from Secretary Rice, investment leaders
By Afzal Khan, America.gov, October 28, 2008
Washington — The United States and the Palestinian Authority are working to create new business partnerships to attract investment dollars and create jobs in the Palestinian Territories.
Toward this goal, the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored a meeting of the Palestinian Business and Investment Forum in Washington on October 14 to build on the success of the Palestinian Investment Conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem in May 2008, where $1.4 billion was pledged for various projects. (See "Palestine Investment Forum ‘Met Its Goal,’ U.S. Official Says.")
The Washington forum, attended by some 150 American and Palestinian business leaders, featured addresses from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and other top U.S. and Palestinian officials.
Rice said the United States has given $600 million to the Palestinian Authority in 2008 and has advanced another $150 million for budget support in 2009. She said this aid is “a sign of U.S. confidence” in the government of President Mahmoud Abbas and Fayyad.
Rice suggested that the next U.S. administration should follow the recommendations made at the November 2007 Annapolis, Maryland, summit between Abbas and departing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Recognizing that security is the key to economic development in the Palestinian Authorities, Rice urged the Palestinians to continue to “dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism” and promote an atmosphere of tolerance. She also said Israel must “halt” settlement activity and make greater progress in lowering “restrictions” to access and movement for Palestinians.
Fayyad stressed that the uplift from a U.S.-Palestinian business partnership is “an element toward a two-state solution” that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace. He said that this relationship with the United States is beginning to pay dividends in that direction.
Fayyad stated that the 2007 Bethlehem conference gave the message that “Palestine is open for business” and that it was a call for Palestinians to “defeat the sense of defeatism” among them. He said that the U.S.-Palestinian partnership is “not about making occupation better, but it is about ending it.”
Retired U.S. General James Jones, the State Department’s special envoy for Middle East regional security, said he supported the Jenin Initiative set up in May 2008 by Israel to work in partnership with Palestinians in the Jenin area of the West Bank. Jones said that under the initiative, the construction of a hospital in Jenin will be completed in December and an industrial park by January 1, 2009.
U.S. Treasury Department Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt, who led the U.S. delegation to the Palestine Investment Conference in May 2008, said that less than 10 percent of Palestinians have access to credit. But he said business indicators pointed to a favorable climate for investment in the Palestinian Territories.
Kimmitt alluded to a World Bank Doing Business report that lists the Palestinian Territories in the top 30 among 180 countries suitable for foreign investment, according to Bank of Palestine Chairman Hashim Shawa, who spoke at the conference.
Shawa also said an International Monetary Fund paper on the Palestinian Monetary Authority (the Palestinian equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve) gave it a “high rating.”
The Palestinian Stock Exchange, according to Shawa, was the top performer so far this year by gaining 12 percent. He explained that banking practices in Palestine are very conservative and, therefore, very safe in times of financial crisis.
Robert Mosbacher, president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, said a $500 million mortgage lending facility has been created in the West Bank in partnership with the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the Palestine Investment Fund, and the Bank of Palestine.
James Kunder, acting deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said the development of the youth sector is important because that is where young men and women are taught the skills and given the guidance for gainful employment, especially in the computer-related technology and communications field.
Kunder announced a $13 million grant for a new partnership between the public and private sectors to set up four high-tech youth centers.
Intel Corporation and Cisco Systems have already established information and technology centers and networks in partnership with Palestinian companies.
Richard Hall of Intel Corporation talked about setting up Intel centers for excellence. He said four centers already exist in the West Bank, but the one to be set up in Gaza City has not been completed because of security problems. He said $500,000 has already been spent on the Gaza center and that it is half-complete.
Hall also announced the donation of 900 compact personal computers to the youth centers.
George Akiki of Cisco announced that $10 million in seed money will be given to train Palestinian business leaders and to assist investment in Palestinian businesses.
Steve Bederman of TouchStar announced the setting up of a call center development project that is expected to create 500 new jobs for Palestinians living in Israel. The call center will be located in East Jerusalem and will provide Arabic and English language services for business customers in the Middle East and North Africa.
AGRIBUSINESS SHOWS POTENTIAL
In the agribusiness panel, olive oil and the greenhouse growing of herbs for export markets figured prominently.
Ziad Anabtawi of the Anabtawi Group said the Palestinian Territories produce 1 percent of the world’s olive oil and the olive oil industry contributes 15 percent of the Palestinian national income. Palestinian olive oil, he said, is of very high quality and is produced under traditional “organic” conditions, which would favor it as a high-end niche export product. The Anabtawi Group specializes in the distribution of consumer and commodity products in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Mazen Sinokrot of the Sinokrot Global Group said herbs, such as chives, basil, tarragon, oregano and arugula, are being exported to Europe and Russia. At the meeting, he signed a memorandum of understanding with Charlie Coiner of Rock Garden Herbs, a U.S. company with warehouse distribution outlets in Miami and Washington. The Sinokrot Group conducts business activities in food manufacturing and processing, agriculture, recreation and tourism, banking and trade.
The U.S.-Palestinian Partnership was formed on December 3, 2007, when President Bush, Secretary of State Rice and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore announced a new public-private partnership focused on creating economic opportunity for the Palestinian people and helping to prepare Palestinian youth for the responsibilities of citizenship and good governance.
The U.S.-Palestinian Partnership is considered a critical component in facilitating progress toward a two-state solution, wherein Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace, security and prosperity.