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French Version

Palestinian businessmen look to attract foreign investment

Stronger industry would raise living standards
'We have to depend on a strong economy ... if we make peace with Israel'

Palestinian businessmen and economic officials gathered in a conference in Jordan said they were convening to change the image of Palestine being a war-torn country and attract much-needed investment to their economy.

Participants at a two-day conference, "Partnership for a Promising Palestine," said a stronger industrial Palestine would help end the occupation and raise living standards.

"The political solutions seem far-fetched. ... We have to depend on a strong economic base that would be very effective if we make peace with Israel," said Samir Hulleileh, head of the Palestinian Trade Center, Paltrade, a nonprofit, fully private-sector membership-based organization that aims to promote the Palestinian economy.

Participants stressed that they want to turn world sympathy for their cause into support and encourage Arab countries to apply the resolutions that were adopted at the last Arab summit, held in Tunisia in late May, and they recommended lifting all quotas and taxes on Palestinian products.

"But Arab countries treat Palestinian products as if they were polluted, because they pass through Israeli gates," Hulleileh told the participants. "We had no choice in changing our partner, and we are bound by our jailers."

The nearly four years since the current intifada erupted in September 2000 have been characterized by a visible deterioration in Palestinian infrastructure, resulting both from wartime damage and under-investment. There has been no private investment and a loss of half of Palestinian purchasing power, due to massive unemployment not only among those who can no longer work in Israel, but for those who previously worked in the Palestinian market.

Furthermore, over 60 percent of Palestinian exports have been lost, and government spending has been cut in half. Before, the Palestinian Authority spent over $100 million a month; it now puts barely $50 million a month into the economy.

Businessmen at the conference complained that Arab countries are "literally" applying the Arab boycott resolutions even if the Israeli input in a given product is just electricity or water.

Samir Abdullah, director of the Palestinian Economic Policy Research Institute, said Israeli products are saturating the Palestinian market, with Israel "exporting" over $2 billion in goods into Palestinian territory annually. Palestinians are becoming forced to depend on Israeli products that are entering the Palestinian market. They have less trouble passing through Israeli checkpoints, and the Israeli Army facilitates their access to Palestinian markets.

Amman,09 13 2004
Oula Al Farawati
The Daily Star
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