The Palestinian Authority is forming a "national team" to drive the bid to gain membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The team, approved during Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah on Monday, will lead efforts to reform Palestinian economic institutions as part of the campaign to gain permanent observer status and eventually membership in the international trade body.
Fayyad, an American-trained economist, is trying to implement a two year plan to create governing institutions capable of managing an independent Palestinian state.
In September the Palestinian Authority first announced it would seek full observer status, a step on the way to membership in the WTO.
"We would like to be a part of the international community and the multilateral trading system," Ziad Karablieh, director general of the International Relations Directorate at the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of National Economy, told The Media Line. "The WTO has many agencies that can provide assistance to the Palestinian economy and private sector community: technical assistance, legal assistance - things that will help us gain membership in the WTO."
Karablieh said the Palestinian economy would have to go through many steps before gaining WTO membership.
"Getting observer status is actually not that different from being a full member," he told The Media Line. "We have a lot of internal work to do before we get there so we are not yet asking to be a full member of the WTO; we are just asking to be an observer."
"This is something that will clearly benefit the Palestinian economy and help lead us on the path to self-reliance on our own resources," he stressed. "Since we are trying to reform our economy and trade regime, gaining WTO observer status will help us to continue the reforms which the donor and international communities require of us."
Zarablieh said the bid's success was dependent on cooperation with Israel.
"This is a technical issue, not a political issue," he said. "We have good relations with the US, Europe and Asian nations, and it's very important to send the message to the Israelis that we are not interested in turning this into a political issue."
Dr. Jawad Naji, an advisor to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the former deputy minister of national economy, said cooperation with both the US and Israel was critical to gaining any WTO status.
"The decision to accept the Palestinians as full, permanent observers must come from the board," he told The Media Line. "The United States has the power to push our request and from what I know, the US is supporting our application but we also need coordination with Israel on this matter."
Naji said it was important to distinguish between full observer status and one-time invitations to global trade conferences.
"We are looking to gain full observer status in the WTO," he said. "We have received invitations to participate in international conferences as an observer, but we haven't yet succeeded in gaining full, permanent observer status."
"Our institutions are not yet capable of handling full WTO membership," Naji warned. "We need help from international experts to help develop our public sector, our private sector, and our laws concerning economic activities. The WTO can prepare the Palestinians to implement all WTO policies."