PA investor's parley draws businessmen from Arab world

Businessmen from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other Mideast countries to flock to Israel for an investors' conference in Bethlehem.

bethlehem churches 88 (photo credit:)
bethlehem churches 88
(photo credit: )
Businessmen from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries will flock to Israel this week to participate in an investors' conference in Bethlehem aimed at jump-starting the Palestinian economy. Some 900 businessmen from across the globe will attend the three-day conference in the West Bank town, where the Palestinians are seeking backing for nearly $2 billion in development projects, including fish farms, malls, industrial zones and a new city of 25,000. Approximately 40 Israelis will participate in the conference alongside businessmen from Jordan, Egypt, Tunis, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Bangladesh, New Zealand, the US and Europe. The visiting businessmen have also been granted special permits to tour Israel after the conference ends. The investors' conference is the brainchild of Quartet envoy to the region Tony Blair. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said Sunday that just holding the conference was a sign of success. "It's our way of asserting our presence," he said. "We are doing what we can to change reality. This is the antithesis of the [Israeli] barriers." Also Sunday, Defense Ministry director-general Pinhas Buchris reviewed IDF preparations at the Allenby Bridge, Checkpoint 300 into Bethlehem, and a joint Israeli-Palestinian coordination office set up outside of Ramallah. Some 200 businessmen from the Gaza Strip have also been granted permits to attend the three-day conference. A 142-page catalog presents just over 100 investment projects, from an $11.6 million turkey farm and a $21m. teaching hospital at the West Bank's largest university, to a new $350m. town of 5,000 apartments in the West Bank hills north of Ramallah. The Hebron Municipality wants to build a $5m. plant to recycle dry sludge, a byproduct of the local marble industry, and use the resulting calcium carbonate for cement and industrial fillers. Ideally, the sludge would be trucked from all over the West Bank, but transport restrictions mean the plant will have to process local waste for now, said Jawad Sayyed, an adviser to Hebron's mayor. Those presenting ideas are required to contribute 20 percent of the cost to show they are serious. A large number of the projects are in construction and information technology, two sectors less hampered by roadblocks than traditional manufacturing. A high demand for housing also makes real estate a relatively safe investment. Defense officials said the majority of the businessmen would enter Israel via the Allenby Bridge and that a special VIP lane had been set up there to accommodate the influx of travelers. Estimates are that with the new lane, it will take only 10 minutes for the businessmen to pass through the border crossing. In addition, steps have been taken to ensure quick passage of businessmen arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport. AP contributed to this report.