Efforts to establish stronger business ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached a "feverish pace," Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, said Tuesday at the sixth meeting of the Ankara Forum for Economic Cooperation, at which plans were unveiled for the establishment of a joint Israel-PA industrial park in the West Bank.
"We have been putting much effort recently into building stronger business relationships between Israel and the PA," Brosh said. "We hope that the establishment of the industrial park will lead to 'economic peace' between the two business communities and will also strengthen the political ties between Israel and the PA."
The Ankara Forum is a joint initiative between Israel, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority that seeks, as its primary objective, to foster economic cooperation between Israel and the PA, such as the 2006 transformation of the Erez Industrial Park into a Palestinian Industrial Free Zone.
Should an additional industrial park be established, the day-to-day operations will be overseen, as at Erez, by an international corporation run by Turkey.
The Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), which manages the Erez industrial zone, will manage the additional industrial zone and there also will be major Turkish investment in plants in the industrial area, which would manufacture goods that then would be able to enter the EU, US and even Persian Gulf countries duty-free. The hope is that, similar to Erez, both Palestinian and Israeli businessmen also will invest in this area.
"Despite the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Turkey is most interested in establishing additional industrial zones in PA controlled territory and we are interested in the investments that will come along with the establishment of such projects," said Brosh, who was joined at the meeting by the president of the Turkey Association of Industry and Trade, as well as by the president of the Palestinian Association of Industry, Trade and Agriculture.
The new industrial zone will either be constructed in the northern Shomron or in the South, around the area of Har Hebron.
According to Israeli officials, the Turks are keen on the project for a number of reasons.
First of all, it is part of their effort to upgrade their profile in the area and become a significant player in the region. Second, Ankara has long argued to the Arab world that its close relationship with Israel does not hurt, but actually helps, the Palestinians, and this project helps prove that argument. Finally, Turkish firms stand to benefit handsomely from lower labor costs in Gaza and the fact that, because of various international agreements, the goods are likely to enjoy duty-free status in the US, EU and Persian Gulf.
Brosh added that since the Turks have taken over operations at Erez, some 100 factories employing approximately 5,000 Palestinian workers have been established, with the hope that the new industrial zone will match the success at Erez. "Even with Hamas taking over in Gaza, Erez has continued to run smoothly, and overall sales of goods from Israel to Gaza have reached $2.1 billion, similar to numbers from 2006."
Separately, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry announced that Israeli water technology companies will be participating in the tender process for the construction of a new water treatment plant that the Turkish city of Istanbul will be constructing. The city is currently suffering from one of its worst-ever water shortages.