PA hopes Bethlehem conference will attract huge investments

Some 40 Israelis will participate in the conference alongside businessmen from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other countries.

Abbas hung over 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas hung over 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of Palestinian, Arab and international businessmen are expected to attend the Palestine Investment Conference, which opens Wednesday in Bethlehem. "The Palestine Investment Conference promises to be a historic event," said Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. "The time has come to invest in Palestine. As the first high-profile investment conference ever held in Palestine, it would jumpstart a process of integrating Palestine into the global economy." Hassan Abu Libdeh, executive director of the conference, said the three-day gathering would highlight business opportunities in the Palestinian territories and seek to strengthen the private sector's relations with the Arab and international economies. He expressed hope that many business transactions would be signed during the conference between local businessmen and investors from all around the world. According to Abu Libdeh, a Palestinian businessman and his colleague from one of the Gulf countries have already agreed on a joint project that would provide jobs for nearly 10,000 Palestinians. PA Minister of Economy Kamal Hasouneh expressed hope that the conference would attract some $2 billion in investments in various projects covering the agricultural, industrial, telecommunications and other fields. The projects include fish farms, new malls, industrial zones and a new city of 25,000. Hasouneh said more than 1,000 businessmen would attend the conference - half of them from different Arab countries, including many that don't have diplomatic ties with Israel. About 100 businessmen from the Gaza Strip are expected to participate in the conference proceedings though a video link. Israel has taken an interest in the conference as well. The Civil Administration kept the Allenby Bridge open until midnight on Tuesday to facilitate the entry of the hundreds of Arab businessmen who are attending the conference. The Civil Administration also stationed a representative at Ben-Gurion International Airport to ensure that the businessmen do not encounter difficulties when entering the country. The visiting businessmen were granted special permits to tour Israel after the conference ends. Some 40 Israelis will participate in the conference alongside businessmen from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Tunis, Morroco, Bangladesh, New Zealand, the US and Europe. Meanwhile, US Consul-General Jake Walles expressed optimism about the impact of the event. "In support of Prime Minister Fayad's initiative to boost investment in the West Bank, we have been working hard for months to bring US companies to Bethlehem," he said. "We are very pleased that Cisco and Intel have joined as sponsors for the event, and that the US, through USAID, is a partner in the Palestinian effort." The US has sent to the conference a presidential delegation of senior officials and private sector representatives, headed by US Deputy Secretary of the Department of Treasury Robert M. Kimmitt and the chairman of the US-Palestinian Public-Private Partnership, Walter Isaacson. The delegation includes senior members of the Treasury and Commerce Departments, as well as the heads of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency. Walles considered it positive that so many countries with resources had accepted the PA's invitation to explore investment opportunities in the Palestinian territories. Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.