Palestinians Benefit From Peace


At a time when businessmen around the world are facing the consequences of the world financial crisis, Palestinians were guaranteeing these business people that the effects on the P.A. economy were marginal.

By Abd el Raouf Arnaout, Media Line, November 24, 2008

[Nablus, West Bank] Palestinian businessmen concluded their one-day Palestine Investment Conference "north forum" in the West Bank city of Nablus with a package of seven investment projects with a total value of $510 million.

Five of the projects were in the infrastructure sector, one in industry, and one to finance investments. All are concentrated in the northern part of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority has proved, over the course of this year, its ability to impose law and order.

The biggest project was the power plant planned for the northern parts of the West Bank with capital of $300 million shared among several investors.

Second is an iron factory in the West Bank city Jenin with capital of $100 million, of which $15 million has been allocated to begin the first phase of the galvanized iron plant.

A fund to revive the economy of the northern parts of the West Bank was launched at a cost of $50 million to be funded by the P.A., the private sector and donors.

Palestine Industrial Estates Development and Management Company (PIEDCO), a company affiliated to the Palestine Development and Investment Company (PADICO,) announced a grain silos project in Jalama, north of Jenin, at a cost of $18 million.

On the sidelines of the conference, the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) and the municipality of Nablus signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a profession industrial zone on an area of 120 dunams (30 acres) in Nablus to cost $25 million dollars in the first phase, then to be expanded to 350 dunams at a total cost of $85 million.

In addition, a solid waste treatment project in the governorate of Nablus, to cost $2.1 million, was launched.

Twelve other projects were presented in the four sessions during the conference, attended by 1,200 Palestinian and Arab businessmen, according to the organizers.

Unlike the first Palestinian investment conference held in the West Bank city Bethlehem last May, no Israeli businessmen showed up.

P.A. Prime Minister Salam Faya’d announced that the next conference would be held next May, without mentioning the venue of the conference, but P.A. Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas told the conference that he hoped to hold it in Gaza, the stronghold of the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Both ‘Abbas and Faya’d expressed the hope that one day such a conference would be held in Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of the Palestinian state.

During the four sessions of the conference, which discussed infrastructure, industry, agriculture and domestic tourism, the Palestinians tried to convince their Arab counterparts and Palestinians living in the Diaspora of the opportunities available in the Palestinian territories and especially in the northern parts of the West Bank.

At a time when businessmen around the world are facing the consequences of the world financial crisis, Palestinians were guaranteeing these business people that the effects on the P.A. economy were marginal.

“Our national economy is not completely isolated from the developments affecting the global economy, which will result in recession and deflation that may last a long time; however, we are confident about its limited impact on us,” Faya’d told the conference.

“We have instructed the various specialized centers in the Palestinian Authority to work actively to reassure investors and strengthen confidence in the local investment environment, through openness and disclosure and to ensure immediate and sustained flow of information on developments of the crisis and its impact on our national economy,” he added.

“We are confident that this good participation from guests of Palestine in the forum will give investors inside and outside Palestine more trust and confidence in our national economy, and stimulate some people to invest here, despite the blockades and closures imposed by Israel,” Faya’d said.

Faya’d went further, saying, “The financial, moral and political revenues from your safe investment in Palestine are far more than any revenue you can achieve anywhere else in the world.”

‘Abbas pointed to the various measures taken by the P.A. to introduce laws aimed at facilitating investment in the Palestinian territories, adding that the P.A. was the most transparent government in the area.

“We challenge anyone who says that now there is corruption the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Even though movement of the businessmen to and from Nablus during the day of the conference was easy and smooth, thanks to Palestinian-Israeli coordination, this is not the case on the other days of the year, especially in and out of Nablus, as a result of the Israeli checkpoints spread all over the West Bank.

Dr. Robert Danin, head of mission of the Office of the Quartet Representative, said, “Since I arrived here in April, I have had the opportunity to meet a broad range of Palestinians from the public and the private sector. I have been very impressed with the vitality, professionalism, courage and pro-activeness of both the P.A. and the private sector.”

He added that [former British prime minister] Tony Blair, the Quartet representative, had been meeting regularly with members of the Palestinian business community from throughout the Palestinian Territories: from Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, Jenin and Gaza.

“These discussions have helped shape our understanding of the huge potential of Palestinian entrepreneurship, as well as our understanding of what needs to take place to enhance the investment climate, so that this entrepreneurship and investment potential can bear fruit,” Danin said.

“And we in the Quartet get it. It requires vision, risk-taking, and a broader view of investment that includes not only revenues and profits, but also the returns of a Palestinian state built on a vibrant and sustainable private sector. It requires immediate efforts to ease movement restrictions and to increase Palestinian access to resources such as land, telecommunication, security, water and more,” he added.

He concluded that, “This is precisely what the QR has been focused on, working on the individual ingredients necessary for economic growth, and trying to create concrete precedents across sectors that all parties can latch onto and scale up throughout the Palestinian Territories.”

David Craig, World Bank country director for the West Bank and Gaza, said, “The Palestinian private sector has a unique potential to exploit growth opportunities and attract international investment. The World Bank’s analysis of the Palestinian business environment concluded that it compared favorably with much of the rest of the region.”

The World Bank’s Doing Business report in June 2007 ranked the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) as comparable with countries such as India, Indonesia and the Honduras. In particular, WBG ranked 22nd in the world the P.A.’s tax regime for business, and 33rd in the world in terms of the legal framework to protect investors.

“In terms of the P.A.’s policy framework, the Palestinian economy ranks among the top half of all economies in regard to import and export costs and procedures. Indeed, export potential is enormous. The P.A. enjoys generous trade arrangements with the European Union and with countries in the region. In addition, there is a readymade market among the five million-strong Palestinian Diaspora worldwide,” Craig added.

“In addition to its work on development projects and in support of the P.A. budget, the World Bank is focused on tackling the hurdles facing Palestinian businesses, particularly the comprehensive system of movement and access restrictions currently in place inside the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip’s borders.

“The World Bank remains firmly committed to advocating for the removal of these obstacles to trade and industrialization and is cooperating closely with the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, in this effort. Recently, some progress has been made. However, if a virtuous cycle of growth is to be initiated and sustained, these improvements must be scaled-up and expanded upon,” he added.

‘Abbas insisted that the biggest obstacle to economic growth was the network of some 600 Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank.

"There can be no real sustained development under occupation despite all our best efforts. We must make clear to the whole world that the occupation, the settlements and the roadblocks are obstacles that must go,” ‘Abbas said.

source: Media Line

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