Business in Palestine (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Economist Samir Huleileh says the Bethlehem investment conference highlights it is possible to do business in Palestine The Palestinian Authority convened a major three-day investment conference in Bethlehem May 21 - 23, the largest conference on private sector Palestinian investment ever held. Although international donors pledged $7.4 billion over the next three years in aid to the PA, last December in Paris, PA officials initiated the Bethlehem conference in order to spark interest in private sector investments, noting that they do not intend to rely on foreign assistance alone but wish to create "an environment conducive to investment-led growth." The Palestinian economy has suffered tremendously in recent years. One of the results of the second intifada, which began in late 2000, was a 26 percent drop in annual GDP per capita in the Palestinian territories, down to a present level of $1,113. Investment in the Palestinian economy, which came to $790 million last year, is 80 percent lower than it was in 1999. The Bethlehem conference is intended to show the world that despite the knocks it has taken, the Palestinian economy still has growth potential. The PA lined up an impressive array of international sponsors and partners, including Cisco and Intel. On the conference agenda were sessions devoted to finance, tourism, agriculture, the Information Technology (IT) sector, and real estate investment in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Conference organizers stated they wished to "showcase many promising investment opportunities in Palestine, while strengthening public-private partnership and reforming the economy." Samir Huleileh, CEO of PADICO, a Palestinian investment company and former deputy minister of the Palestinian Ministry of National Economic Planning, spoke to The Report about the conference and the Palestinian economy in general. The Jerusalem Report: What is the main purpose of the Palestinian Investment Conference? Samir Huleileh: This is an opportunity for bringing over Palestinian investors from the diaspora, as well as, more generally, investors from the Arab world and other locations and telling them: Yes, it is possible to do business in Palestine. We are showcasing to them opportunities for growth in the Palestinian economy, presenting suggestions, mobilizing the Palestinian business sectors, and, perhaps most importantly globalizing Palestinian business by increasing international ties. The Palestinian economy has for too long been cut off from the global investment world. We have suffered from eight years of a complete absence of foreign investment and its attendant results. How many participants are there in the conference, and from which countries? There are about 600 participants from abroad, and an equal number of local Palestinians in attendance. There are representatives from many countries, with official and semi-official delegations, but 80 percent are from the Gulf states and Jordan. There are also 30 Israelis participating. Were they all granted entry permits by Israel? Very few participants were denied entry by the Israeli authorities. What's more, the entry permits grant each of them the right to enter Jerusalem and Israel freely, not just the Palestinian Authority territories, for up to two weeks. Which sectors in the Palestinian economy show the greatest promise for investment opportunities? We're now promoting most heavily the financial sectors, infrastructure and housing, agriculture, tourism and industry as having the most potential. The conference also includes special sessions on investment in Gaza and in East Jerusalem. Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.