UK Blair urges investment in Palestinian territories

Middle East envoy Tony Blair urged investors on Tuesday to plough money into the Palestinian economy, which he said offered opportunities despite Israeli occupation and restrictions on movement.

UK Blair urges investment in Palestinian territories
The Palestinian government and the private sector will host a three-day conference in Bethlehem from May 21 offering more than $1 billion worth of projects to foreign investors.

The conference, part of efforts to boost the Palestinian economy as Palestinians take part in U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel, follows a donor conference that in December attracted $7.7 billion in aid pledges over the next three years.

In Abu Dhabi to support the meeting, the former British prime minister said he was working to get restrictions on movement that have squeezed the Palestinian economy, removed.

"The title of the conference is: you can do business in Palestine... It is true that the weight of the occupation is very heavy. It is true also that... we hope we can in the coming months start lifting the restrictions on access," Blair said.

"It is true that all these political challenges make a difference to the Palestinian economy. It is also true therefore that if these challenges are met the possibilities are even greater... In Palestine today in the West Bank there are real opportunities for business."

Blair said some projects already had the green light and tourism was up in Bethlehem versus a year ago, when he first became envoy for the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers -- the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

But tourism levels are still 60-70 percent of their levels before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising against Israel occupation in 2000.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said the Palestinian economy could grow over 10 percent in the next three years if Israel removes travel restrictions in the West Bank but projects a more modest 6 percent growth.

With Israel in control of Palestinian borders and the West Bank under Israeli occupation, it was not clear what assurances the Palestinian government could offer investors.

Israel has built up a network of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians.

Israel said this month it had removed 50 roadblocks as part of promises made to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, Palestine Investment Conference CEO, said that 25 percent of the projects on offer were in Gaza, though Abbas sacked the Hamas-led cabinet after it took over the area.

The cash-strapped government has so far received $500 million of the total funds pledged at the December summit.

Last Mod: 16 Nisan 2008, 14:29
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