abdullah gul 88.298ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul signed a joint declaration in Ramallah Wednesday regarding Turkey's role in revitalizing the Erez Industrial Zone and pledged $5 million towards rebuilding the area.
Gul is slated to sign a joint declaration with Israel regarding the project in Jerusalem on Thursday.
The document-signing ceremonies culminate months of negotiations over a Turkish role in managing the Erez site that began when Israeli, Palestinian and Turkish businessmen met in Ankara last April.
However, the Turkish media reported that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements made a three-way Turkey-Israel-Palestinian signing ceremony impossible. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, however, said that there was never a plan to hold a three-way ceremony, since the agreement is separately between Turkey and the Palestinians, and Turkey and Israel.
Gul is to go to Gaza Thursday morning, before signing the memorandum of understanding with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
Under the plan, the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) would manage the Erez industrial zone and there would be major Turkish investment in plants there that would manufacture goods that would then be able to enter the EU, US and even Persian Gulf countries duty free.
The hope is that both Palestinian and Israeli businessmen would also invest in this area, which before the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000 provided employment for thousands of Palestinian workers.
After meeting in Ramallah with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, Gul said the aim of the project is to "enable the Palestinian economy to export goods worth millions of dollars,"
Before leaving Turkey Gul told the CNN Turk news channel that "The realization of this project is really very important."
"Those people need to work," Gul said. "I guess that jobs will be created for some 10,000 Palestinians."
The Erez Industrial Zone, which once employed thousands of Palestinians and was considered the best example of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation, has been closed since mid 2004 following a number of terrorist attacks there.
Under the project, Turkish companies will be encouraged to invest in the project. TOBB is a non-profit organization in Turkey that serves as a link between the business community and government on a number of large projects.
The Turkish press quoted Guven Sak, executive director of a Turkish think-tank and one of the prime movers behind the project, as saying that it will cost some $50 million to get the project off the ground. He said that the first Turkish plant in the area is expected to be up and working by the middle of the summer.
Israeli officials have said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very supportive of the plan. According to these officials, Turkey views the project as a way to upgrade its role in the region, provide concrete assistance to the Palestinians, and help Turkish companies make a profit in the process.