PA economy is a 'coiled spring'

By Ben Lynfield, May 29, 2008

A festival for Jericho celebrating it as the world’s oldest city; call centres providing jobs in the West Bank; a water desalination project for Gaza.

These and visions of new towns in the Judean hills were on offer last week at the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem, hosted by Tony Blair and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad.

“The Palestinian economy is like a coiled spring. It has been put down and down and down and it is ready to bounce back,” Sir Ronald Cohen, head of the Portland Trust, told the conference.

He said making housing more affordable and offering loan guarantees could promote a West Bank construction boom. Telecommunications was also seen as a potential growth sector, relatively unaffected by the Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank.

Israeli MK Ephraim Sneh told the JC: “Removing checkpoints is one condition for economic recovery, but it is not the single condition. More security and less terror will also boost the economy. The golden path must be found.”

Gaza business consultant Sami Abdul Shafi urged investors to look beyond current Israeli strictures on the Strip, which have virtually shut down the private sector. Gazans “have the education, motivation and viability to become successful contributors to the regional and international economy”, he said.

Not everyone was convinced this was an auspicious time for investment in Palestine. “If I invest money and cannot follow up my project due to the travel restrictions, I will simply lose. When peace comes there will be big chances for investment,” said Ahmed Jawabre, a Palestinian businessman who lives in Abu Dhabi. He said he had to pass through five checkpoints to reach the conference from Nablus.

The Qatari-owned Wataniya Mobile Telecommunications company announced that it had been allocated frequency spectrum by Israel and can start up as the second mobile-phone operator in the West Bank. 

Last updated: 10:53am, May 29 2008