Blair unveils plan to boost PA economy

Quartet envoy promises Palestinians new jobs, economic projects ahead of Annapolis parley.

blair barak fayad 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
blair barak fayad 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Monday unveiled a series of projects aimed at strengthening the Palestinian economy to bolster peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Blair announced four major industrial and business projects aimed at revitalizing the Palestinian economy. The announcement is seen in the context of efforts to boost the standing of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and regain the Palestinian public's confidence in the peace process on the eve of the US-sponsored conference in Annapolis, Maryland. "To create lasting peace, three things must happen," the former British prime minister said. "A clear political vision of a two-state solution; the building of Palestinian capacity and institutions of governance - because statehood is about more than geography and territory - and the facts on the ground must not contradict the process of state building, but enhance it and support it economically." Blair said that the focus now was on creating more jobs and greater prosperity for ordinary Palestinians on the ground. "In doing this, we do not separate the economic from the political, or either from the security concerns, but we simply say, in parallel with the Annapolis and Paris conferences, which focus on the politics and the capacity building, we should give impetus to economic progress," he explained. "Obviously, all three aspects continue to be linked. The greater the political progress, the easier the economic progress. The greater the Palestinian capability on security, the easier the politics and the economics." He said that both Barak and Fayad were committed to doing their utmost to boost the Palestinian economy. "We have today 'greenlighted' four such projects," Blair said. "All have been debated for some time. Now all can be given the go-ahead to happen. We will meet again in December before the Paris conference and discuss progress and hopefully 'greenlight' more." The three men announced the establishment of a mechanism to facilitate the implementation of key projects, which will be carried out in the framework of the PA's Palestinian Development and Reform Plan. Blair unveiled plans for the Agro-Industrial Park in Jericho, which will help Palestinians export goods to the European Union. The project will be funded by the Japanese government. He said that an emergency sewage treatment project would help prevent the collapse of the sewerage system in the northern Gaza Strip. Blair also unveiled plans for the construction of a number of industrial zones in the West bank to create large employment opportunities, both in the short and the long term. Finally, he announced a project designed to revive the Palestinian and Israeli tourism sector. As a first step, tourism in Bethlehem will be promoted. This initiative will include measures aimed at improving access to Bethlehem and upgrading the tourism facilities in the Palestinian territories. Blair said other projects were currently at different stages of implementation. They include supporting the municipalities in delivering critical services, including water, wastewater, solid waste, electrification and road rehabilitation and measures to improve learning environments, training teachers, and better tailoring public education programs to the needs of a recovering market.