IMF: West Bank economy can grow if Israel continues to ease restrictions

The Palestinian economy in the West Bank could post its strongest performance in years in 2009, but only if Israel broadens recent efforts to ease restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday, in a rare upbeat assessment after years of downturn. The growth, projected to be as high as 7 percent, could further stabilize the West Bank, bolster US-led peace efforts and ease the financial burden on the international community. Donor countries spent some $1.8 billion in 2008 alone to cover the Palestinian government's deficit, in part to make up for a stagnant economy. In recent weeks, Israel eased restrictions, such as removing some major checkpoints, as part of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's plan for "economic peace" with the Palestinians. Netanyahu initially had hoped to focus peace moves on improving the quality of life in the West Bank, but he recently endorsed the concept of a two-state solution.