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Conference kicks off Kerry's plan to boost Palestinian economy

West BankEconomy, Business and FinanceIsraelNational GovernmentPoliticsFinanceCzech Republic

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry's plan to jump-start the Palestinian economy to boost his political efforts kicked off this weekend in the Czech Republic's capital, Prague.

A conference in Prague brought together some 100 international businesspeople, investors, financiers, Palestinian Authority officials and key figures in the Palestinian private sector.

When Kerry launched his Palestinian-Israeli peace program at the end of July, he pledged to muster $4 billion to help boost the Palestinian economy, saying that a strong economy would be good for peace.

The two-day conference organized by Tony Blair, the international quartet's representative to the Middle East peace process, came as Kerry's peace program approaches its April 29 deadline without any apparent progress after eight months of negotiations.

Blair emphasized that the economic plan is a complementary process to the political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and is not a substitute, a news release by the quartet's Jerusalem office said Sunday.

The conference discussed "an economic initiative designed to bring about transformative change and substantial growth in the Palestinian economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs," the release also said.

The economic effort is Blair's Initiative for the Palestinian Economy, or IPE, described as "an ambitious, multiyear plan drafted by a team of policy advisors, external economic analysts and international domain experts."

Speaking at the opening event Saturday, Blair said the initiative goes into “granular detail” that “sets out what we need from the private sector, the international financial institutions and the governments” of Israel and the Palestinians.

He added that measures are now needed that “improve not just the economy in the most basic sense, but also the economy in the sense that people feel that Palestinian statehood can become a reality because they see around them the developments within the Palestinian territories that are consistent with statehood.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, chairwoman of the Albright Stonebridge Group, told the conference that her Partners for a New Beginning approached Kerry to see what "we could do to support investment in the Palestinian private sector, given its priority."

The deputy Palestinian prime minister for economic affairs, Muhammad Mustafa, briefed the conference on the “difficult and challenging conditions on the ground in the absence of independence,” but emphasized that the Palestinian economy has "all the ingredients of a very successful and prosperous economy.”

The IPE covers eight key economic sectors for private-sector-led growth in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It encompasses construction, including of badly needed housing for Palestinians in East Jerusalem; building materials; agriculture; tourism; information and communication technology; energy; water; and light manufacturing.

However, its success requires new sources of financing, as well as "easing measures" by Israel and institutional improvements in the Palestinian Authority, according to the IPE plan overview.

In addition to the quartet, the Prague conference was convened by the Aspen Institute, Partners for a New Beginning, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Middle East Commercial Center and UCLA’s Center for Mideast Development.

Among the international organizations present were Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Honeywell, Morgan Stanley, General Electric, Cisco and OPIC, the U.S. government’s development finance institution.

Abukhater is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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