Can the West Bank spring a surprise?
Palestine is a surprisingly attractive prospect – good enough to hold the attention of private and public investors at a conference this year. But Gaza, which must develop pari passu with the West Bank if the Territories are to prosper, is an unstable imponderable. Chris Wright reports.
SUMMITS COME AND summits go but it was quite something to be at the first Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem in May. The investments committed at the event, which Palestine’s prime minister Salam Fayyad put at $1.4 billion, were significant but it was the conference’s very existence that held the real importance: 1,500 delegates, 500 of them from abroad, congregating on the West Bank to talk about investing in it rather than shunning it.
The world wants Palestine to work. That’s evident from the $7.1 billion of donor pledges to the Palestinian Territories (the West Bank and Gaza) made at meetings in Paris in December. The theory is that a stable and economically viable Palestine, eventually in the shape of an independent state, would defuse one of the most volatile flashpoints of the Arab world.
But what sort of economy could Palestine be? It has been in a mess since the second Intifada, the uprising that began in 2000, prompting the imposition of stricter security measures and a withdrawal of donor support and of any foreign private sector investor interest.