White House releases detailed economic plan for Palestinian people

"These three initiatives are more than just a vision of a promising future for the Palestinian people—they are also the foundation for an achievable plan," the peace team promises in the document.

By OMRI NAHMIAS
June 23, 2019 04:32
White House releases detailed economic plan for Palestinian people

US President Donald Trump waves to the media before boarding Air Force One in Maryland on April 27. (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – Three days ahead of the Bahrain summit, the White House unexpectedly released the financial part of its Middle East peace plan on Saturday, highlighting a potential $50 billion in investments over the next decade.

Under the title “Peace to Prosperity – The Economic Plan: A New Vision for the Palestinian People,” the Trump administration published a 40-page document that lays out a detailed vision in all aspects of life, from roads and rail to taxes and education, which it says is to be built upon three pillars: “the people, the economy and the government.”

According to the document, “with the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years, Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date. It has the ability to fundamentally transform the West Bank and Gaza and to open a new chapter in Palestinian history – one defined, not by adversity and loss, but by freedom and dignity.”

More than half the funds ($28 billion) would go toward the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the rest would be divided among Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

“These three initiatives are more than just a vision of a promising future for the Palestinian people – they are also the foundation for an achievable plan,” the document states. “If implemented, Peace to Prosperity will empower the Palestinian people to build the society that they have aspired to establish for generations. With the support of the international community, this vision is within reach. Ultimately, however, the power to unlock it lies in the hands of the Palestinian people. Only through peace can the Palestinians achieve prosperity.”

One of the plan’s stated goals is to create more than a million jobs in a decade, reducing the Palestinian unemployment “to nearly single digits.” It also aims to “more than double” the Palestinian GDP over a decade and cut the poverty rate by 50%.
“Generations of Palestinians have lived without knowing peace, and the West Bank and Gaza have fallen into a protracted crisis,” the introduction to the plan says.

“Yet the Palestinian story will not end here,” it added. “The Palestinian people continue their historic endeavor to build a better future for their children.”

Part of the funds include money for infrastructure linking Gaza to the West Bank.

According to the plan, the goal of the first pillar, “the economy,” is to connect Gaza and the West Bank to regional and global markets.

“Major investments in transportation and infrastructure will help the West Bank and Gaza integrate with neighboring economies,” the plan said. “By developing property and contract rights, the rule of law, anti-corruption measures, capital markets, a pro-growth tax structure, and a low-tariff scheme with reduced trade barriers, this initiative envisions policy reforms coupled with strategic infrastructure investments that will improve the business environment and stimulate private-sector growth.”

The peace team suggested that “hospitals, schools, homes and businesses will secure reliable access to affordable electricity, clean water and digital services,” and that “billions of dollars of new investment will flow into various sectors of the Palestinian economy; businesses will have access to capital; and the markets of the West Bank and Gaza will be connected with key trading partners, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. The resulting economic growth has the potential to end the current unemployment crisis and transform the West Bank and Gaza into a center of opportunity.”

The plan mentions countries like South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan as examples of “thriving business-friendly countries.”

The peace team set some specific targets, such as increasing Palestinian exports as a percentage of GDP from 17% to 40%; ensure continual availability of affordable electricity in the West Bank and Gaza; double the potable water supply per capita available to the Palestinians; enable Palestinian high-speed data services; and increase the foreign direct investment share of Palestinian GDP from 1.4% to 8%.

The plan also offers to physically integrate Gaza and the West Bank “through an efficient, modern transportation network. This project will support the construction of roads across the West Bank and Gaza. Additional investment will finance the development of a transportation corridor directly connecting the West Bank and Gaza through a major road and, potentially, a modern rail line.”

The peace team also addressed the issue of border crossing and promised to “provide financial and technical assistance to build the capacity of immigration and customs officials to operate and manage crossing points in coordination with neighboring states. This project will also upgrade facilities at key crossing points along borders and construct new ports of entry. Upgraded or newly constructed terminals will be equipped with the latest border crossing technology, and older terminals will be refurbished and improved with amenities for travelers to use while in transit.”

According to President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and senior legal adviser Jason Greenblatt, adopting the plan could also mean a boost for tourism.

“Unique and exciting characteristics give the West Bank and Gaza the potential to transform into a successful global tourism destination,” they said. “Very few places in the world are home to such remarkable historical and religious sites. In addition, over 40 kilometers of coastline in Gaza along the Mediterranean Sea could develop into a modern metropolitan city overlooking the beach, drawing from examples like Beirut, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore and Tel Aviv.”

The second pillar, “the people,” aims to “improve the well-being of the Palestinian people” through online education platforms, increased vocational and technical training, and the prospect of international exchanges. “It will strengthen the Palestinian educational system and ensure that students can fulfill their academic goals and be prepared for the workforce.”

The peace team noted that its goal for that pillar is to boost human capital development in the West Bank and Gaza, achieving a 0.70 score on World Bank Human Capital Index; establish at least one Palestinian university in the global top 150; increase female labor force participation rate from 20% to 35%; reduce infant mortality from 18 to 9 per 1,000 births; and increase average life expectancy from 74 to 80 years.

The third pillar, “the government,” is offering essential reforms in the Palestinian government, such as “a commitment to upholding property rights, improving the legal and regulatory framework for businesses, adopting a growth-oriented, enforceable tax structure, and developing robust capital markets will increase exports and foreign direct investment.”

The plan also calls for “a fair and independent judicial branch,” as well as to improve government transparency and accountability. “International partners will work to eliminate the Palestinian public sector’s donor dependency and put the Palestinians on a trajectory to achieve long-term fiscal sustainability.”

“With the support of the Palestinian leadership, this initiative can usher in a new era of freedom and opportunity for the Palestinian people and institutionalize the policies required for successful economic transformation,” the peace team added. “Accountability, transparency, anti-corruption and conditionality safeguards will protect investments and ensure that capital is allocated efficiently and effectively. The fund’s leadership will work with beneficiary countries to outline annual investment guidelines, development goals, and governance reforms that will support project implementation in the areas identified within Peace to Prosperity.”

The peace team’s goal is to “improve government transparency, achieving a Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index score of 60 or better; implement an e-government system, achieving a United Nations E-Government Development Index score greater than 0.75; enact a sustainable public-sector budget; enhance the business environment, achieving a World Bank Doing Business ranking of 75 or better.”

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