Palestine is open for business! by Ziad Asali

This is an important piece on what  pragmatically can and should be supported right now to prepare for and achieve Palestinian independence.

WASHINGTON, DC – Almost everything about the second Palestine Investment Conference held in Bethlehem in early June, which I had the honour of attending as a member of President Barack Obama’s official delegation, was encouraging.

The Conference, which was designed to promote private sector development, was held at the elegant and modern Convention Center facility in Bethlehem from 2-3 June. President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed around 2,000 participants including Palestinian and Arab business people from around the world, impressive entrepreneurs from Gaza, and many international institutional representatives and investors. The message, summed up by the Quartet Envoy Tony Blair was simple: Palestine is open for business!

While the first Investment Conference in 2008 focused on large development and public-private partnership initiatives, this Conference focused properly on small to medium-sized businesses, which account for about 90% of Palestinian businesses.

Over $950 million was slated for a variety of projects that should have a significant impact in developing the Palestinian economy and society. Panel discussions, business-to-business interactions and corporate displays filled the two days of meetings.

The Conference itself is becoming an institution and work is already underway for a third investment conference in May 2011, this time focusing on health and education.

I was deeply struck by the extent to which security is now taken for granted in the areas under Palestinian Authority control such as Bethlehem. This is an extraordinary transformation from recent years in which lawlessness often prevailed and when constricting Israeli controls would have rendered such an event both unthinkable and practically impossible.

Israel, though clearly present at the Bethlehem checkpoint, was cooperative. It allowed around 100 Gaza business persons to attend the conference and facilitated the participation of Arab financiers and entrepreneurs from states that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

I was impressed and proud, after our delegation met with US Consulate officials, of the extent of our government’s involvement in the conference and its workings, far beyond our Presidential delegation. The United States has clearly committed major effort and resources to the programme of state and institution building undertaken by the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Supporting the PIC was an important and visible expression of the administration’s commitment. Our six-member Presidential Delegation of very senior-level officials and private individuals was led by Special Envoy George Mitchell, which underlined the seriousness with which our government takes both negotiations and the state building process. Read more here.

© Marc Gopin