JERUSALEM-- Israeli restrictions in the West Bank cost the struggling Palestinian economy more than $3.4 billion a year, according to a report released by the World Bank on Tuesday.
More than half of West Bank lands are largely off-limits to Palestinians, the report said. Increasing access to these lands could boost gross domestic production by as much as 35%, generate $800 million in additional annual revenue for the Palestinian Authority, cut its deficit in half and reduce reliance on foreign aid, it said.
The report focuses on the economic potential of the approximately 61% of West Bank lands designated as Area C under the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
The agreement stipulated that the lands be gradually transferred to the Palestinian Authority by 1998, but they remain under Israeli security and administrative control. More than 320,000 Israeli settlers live in Area C, and about 70% of these lands fall under their regional councils.
The area has great economic potential, with possibilities for agriculture, Dead Sea minerals exploitation, stone mining and quarrying, construction, tourism and telecommunications, according to the report.
“Unleashing the potential from that ‘restricted land’ -- access to which is currently constrained by layers of restrictions -- and allowing Palestinians to put these resources to work, would provide whole new areas of economic activity and set the economy on the path to sustainable growth,” said Mariam Sherman, the bank’s outgoing country director for the West Bank and Gaza.
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.