Ramadan Kareem

Palestinian families, in happier days, in front of the Al Aqsa Mosque — the Dome of the Rock — in Jerusalem.  This Ramadan, many Palestinians may be unable to say their prayers at one of Islam’s holiest sites, due to provocations by Jewish settlers and Israel’s occupation of the Old City. Photo:  Reuters, Muammar Awad

Advertisements

Christmas in Bethlehem

In a Christmas card designed by Banksy, an England-based graffiti artist and political activist, the holy family (Joseph and Mary) head towards Bethlehem only to find Israel's Separation Barrier, aka "the Apartheid Wall" on their way. With Christmas approaching and the political overtones of Banksy's work, the card spread like wildfire.

In a Christmas card designed by Banksy, a UK-based artist and political activist, the Holy Family — Joseph and Mary — head towards Bethlehem only to find Israel’s ‘Separation Barrier,’ preventing their way.
This Christmas, the card, with all of its implications for humanity’s universal rights — as well as for Christianity’s heritage — has spread like wildfire.  Picture Credit:  Al-Ahram.

A biblical theme, set in the contemporary reality that is Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Gaza.  Conflict, destruction, separation, oppression.

Let’s hope that 2015 will bring a real prospect of peace, with justice, further forward, not to mention a minimum of prosperity for all.

— From Pam and all our contributors,

Wishing you the Best of Greetings for this Festive Season.

Gaza: Historic Gateway’s Huge Potential as a Mediterranean Trading Hub

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade and, most recently, the massive Israeli attack on the enclave — its third in the past six years. But, while one international commentator wrote recently, “It’s not too fanciful to see it in the future as the ‘Dubai’ of the Eastern Mediterranean,” Gaza has much more to offer given its 3,000 years of culture and its history as a prosperous trading hub connecting Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

In the 19th Century, Gaza’s renowned soap factories, like those in Nablus, produced luxury goods that were exported around the world. It’s premium cotton crop, fruits, vegetables and spices were in great demand. Gaza’s merchants catered to a vast array of travelers: European visitors to the Holy Land, caravans from Egypt and North Africa, pilgrims from the Arabian Peninsula and Asia. Its bazaars were regarded as even better than those in Jerusalem.

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and  Africa.  Photo:  Marka, Wikipedia.org

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and Africa. Photo: Marka, Wikipedia.org

Before the latest invasion, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund estimated that Gaza’s GDP would rise by 7 per cent in 2013 and 6.5 per cent this year, figures that any European country would envy. But the destruction by Egypt, as well as Israel, of the underground tunnels, which allowed much needed supplies to be brought in despite the blockade, has ended any hopes that Gaza can survive on its own, never mind grow.

Earlier this year, it was expected that increases in international aid, especially from the European Union and the UN following Israel’s onslaught in November, 2012, would counter some of the setbacks. The rise in development funds, from both government and private sources in the Gulf states – including Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – was also contributing to a new era of hope and confidence in Gaza. Qatar’s building projects, covering everything from schools, roads and hospitals to new housing and infrastructure projects alone were expected to create some 10,000 jobs by next year.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza.  Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed.  Photo:  Ahmed Fuad.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza. Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed. Photo: Ahmed Fuad.

Surprisingly, until the latest assault, the growing international awareness and support for Gaza’s people had also led to a boom in tourism in the enclaves’ new hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. International solidarity activists, NGO staff and aid officials were helping to boost capacity and business to levels not seen since the Israeli bombardment of late 2008.

Gaza's first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal.  Photo:  ArcMed

Gaza’s first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal. Photo: ArcMed

The desire of Gaza’s newly rich elite to live in up-to-date, spacious accommodation, combined with the eagerness of its private investors to seek out alternatives to the tunnel trade, helped to fuel a boom in real estate, retail and leisure services, as well as increased demand for international luxury brands.

Meanwhile, a host of recent studies, from the World Bank, Israeli academics and the Gaza-based PalThink research centre have pointed out that concrete measures will also be needed to be introduced by Hamas if Gaza’s huge economic potential is to be realized, even if the Israeli siege is lifted, or substantially eased.

In particular, they cite the need for more institutional support for the private sector, an overhaul of the tax regime, and measures to boost agricultural and industrial productivity, as well as export capacity.

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted.  Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza's fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza’s fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Special attention, they add, should be given to those sectors, such as manufacturing, construction and tourism, which would provide the most jobs. Vocational training projects, as well as a re-vamp of the entire educational system, plus incentives for the ICT and telecoms sector, they say, are urgently needed to help Gaza realize its opportunities in a globalized marketplace.

While the Bank of Palestine and other financial institutions have continued to provide, often under the most difficult circumstances, access to cash and funds in Gaza, Hamas will also need to ensure that any lifting of the Israeli siege, both for business people and cargoes, is accompanied by closer co-ordination of trade and regulations with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Gaza’s dependence on the use of the Israeli shekel (NIS) as its main currency, together with its heavy reliance on money-lenders rather than on banks which can gather deposits and direct them to profitable development projects, could hold up progress in the future as more aid and investment pours in, and as reconstruction begins, once again, in earnest, the reports note.

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade.  Photo: Al Jazeera English

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade. Photo: Al Jazeera English

Arab and Islamic tourism to Gaza, as well as to Jerusalem and the West Bank, could also be greatly increased by agreements with Egypt on developing the Sinai Peninsula and the border areas with Gaza, Oman Shaban, the founder and director of the Gaza-based think tank, PalThink, argues. “Tourism in the Sinai Peninsula [which would also benefit Egypt directly] represents a golden opportunity for tens of thousands of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem due to visitor appeal and modest costs,” he maintains.

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha's Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British.  The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site.  Photo: UNDP

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha’s Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British. The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site. Photo: UNDP

Talks between the PA and Israel that were underway to begin exploiting the rich reserves of natural gas, and possibly oil as well, lying just off Gaza’s shores in the Mediterranean, have also been put on hold. Valued at some $7 billion, they could help to end Gaza’s critical shortage of fuel and electricity as well as providing substantial revenues to build new schools, hospitals, roads, ports and even an airport, as well as vitally needed new water and wastewater facilities. Gas exports either through Egypt or Turkey, could boost the PA’s coffers for years to come, and help to reduce both Gaza and the West Bank’s huge dependence on international aid, speeding up the day when Palestine can become self-sufficient.

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine's dependence on foreign aid.  Photo:  Michel Chossudovsky

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine’s dependence on foreign aid. Photo: Michel Chossudovsky

Hamas’s newfound unity with the PA in Ramallah and the solidarity for Gaza shown by Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as by people around the world, bodes well for bringing Gaza into a regional network that could benefit Israel as well as Palestine. But for that to happen, more pragmatic heads will need to surface in Tel Aviv and Cairo, as well as in Gaza City.

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the July, 2013 issue of The Middle East magazine.

Gaza Meets Jericho

The new unity agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas looks, at long last, to be going ahead. And lots of Palestinians, on both sides of the divide, are delighted that the divisions have finally been resolved, or at least, negotiated.

Many Palestinians are celebrating, whatever the fears of the US, the EU and others about Hamas. Not least because it could lead to a lot of family re-unions across the borders, after decades of separation.

Once again, a time to celebrate?

Once again, a time to celebrate?


That could mean, too, real links between Gaza and the rich fertile fields of the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Although many of these areas are currently off limits, being in Area C and under total Israeli control, the city of Jericho, the oldest inhabited city in the world, is free for tourists to visit.
Lying below sea level, it is the centre of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world.

Lying below sea level, Jericho is in the centre of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, as well as a mecca for tourists.

While East Jerusalem and the West Bank attract some 1.5 million tourists each year, mainly from Europe and the US, as well as Israel and the neighbouring countries, the new unity agreement could also mean that many more Arabs, including members of the Palestinian diaspora living in the Arab Gulf states and Egypt, seek to visit Palestine … something that the Palestinian authorities are eager to encourage. For this, Bethlehem’s historic, landmark Jacir Palace Intercontinental is in a luxury class of its own.
The Jacir Palace Intercontinental in Bethlehem.

The Jacir Palace Intercontinental in Bethlehem.

More later on some of the thorny political issues, and surprisingly positive prospects, for investment and trade in Palestine in the near future.

Much depends, of course, on whether Netanyahu will side with the hawks, or liberals, in his Cabinet.

But, to get the flavour of the moment, here’s a bit about music and food.

 Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the East-West Divan Orchestra (along with Edward Said), visits Gaza to encourage young musicians.

Daniel Barenboim, founder of the East-West Divan Orchestra (along with Edward Said), visits Gaza to encourage young musicians.

Mana’eesh, seafood specialities, roasted garlic and dill, buttery rice cooked in a clay pot. ... and more

Mana’eesh, seafood specialities, roasted garlic and dill, buttery rice cooked in a clay pot. … and more, all recommended by no-less than Anthony Bourdain.

Enjoy!

As always, thanks for reading, and viewing.

Pam

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

(For picture credits, see the archives in the sidebar.)

Global Investors Target the Palestine Stock Exchange in 2014

Both prices and trading volumes on the Palestine Stock Exchange (PEX) have scored impressive gains since the start of this year, thanks largely to investors from the Palestinian diaspora and Arab Gulf states. Recent decisions by such respected ratings agencies as Standard & Poor’s, Dow Jones and MSCI to include Palestine in their indices, as well as plans by London’s FTSE to follow suit, are now attracting other global investors from the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Chile and elsewhere to the Exchange and to its leading companies, such as PADICO Holding, PalTel and the Bank of Palestine, analysts report.

Expectations that these moves will be followed by PEX’s inclusion in the global ‘Frontier Market’ indices is already fuelling demand from institutional investors, the analysts add. Its multi-currency platform, allowing trading in both US dollars and Jordanian dinars, as well as Palestine’s lack of capital controls, is also encouraging international interest. Trading volumes in January were more than two-fold higher than in December, and nearly four times as high as in January, 2013.

PEX's CEO, Ahmad Aweidah, expects 2014 to be a "threshold year."  Photo:  Mark Green, mark@nwmsltd.com.

PEX’s CEO, Ahmad Aweidah, expects 2014 to be a “threshold year.” Photo: Mark Green, mark@nwmsltd.com.

The Exchange’s Al Quds index broke through the 600 barrier in early February before falling back slightly on profit taking. It had risen 10.55 per cent in January alone, making it the second best performing stock market in the Arab world so far this year. Last year, the index registered an annual gain of 13.4 per cent, according to figures compiled by Ramallah-based brokers Sahem Investment and Trading. By the middle of February, the Exchange’s total market capitalisation had reached more than $3.5 billion.

Palestine's Stock Exchange is ahead of most other Arab markets.   Graph: Sahem Trading & Investment.

Palestine’s Stock Exchange is ahead of most other Arab markets. Graph: Sahem Trading & Investment.

This year could be a “threshold year,” the Exchange’s CEO, Ahmad Aweidah, told InvestPalestine.com. Speaking during a visit to London in mid-January to mark Palestine Capital Markets Day, he said “We are now achieving a series of important economic breakthroughs that could see our growth accelerate even more strongly.

He and other members of the Palestinian delegation, which included senior executives from PalTrade, PalTel, the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), PADICO Holding, the Bank of Palestine, Sahem Trading & Investment and Lotus for Financial Investment, as well as Abeer Odeh, CEO of the Palestine Capital Market Authority, were hosted on the last evening of their visit to London by Baroness Morris of Bolton, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’sTrade Envoy for the Palestinian Territories, at a reception in Westminster organised by the Palestine British Business Council and its co-chairman, Antoine Mattar.

The Palestine Delegation to Palestine Capital Markets Day in London, 17 January, 2014.  From left to right:  Fida Musleh-Azar, PEX Manager of Public Relations & Investor Education; PEX   CEO Ahmad Aweidah; Ammar Aker, CEO, PalTel; John Davies, Vice-President, S&P Dow Jones Indices.  Photo:  Mark Green.

The Palestine Delegation to Palestine Capital Markets Day in London, 17 January, 2014. From left to right: Fida Musleh-Azar, PEX Manager of Public Relations & Investor Education; PEX CEO Ahmad Aweidah; Ammar Aker, CEO, PalTel; John Davies, Vice-President, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Photo: Mark Green.

Financial services, banking, ICT, infrastructure and high value agriculture, as well as tourism (including such world renowned attractions as Bethlehem, the Dead Sea and Jericho) were making strong progress, Aweidah told an audience of existing and potential investors. And, although economic growth has slowed recently as local entrepreneurs and international donors await firm progress on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ‘peace initiative,’ Palestine’s GDP has grown by a remarkable 8.4 per cent a year on average during the past five years, he noted.

“The Palestine economy continues to demonstrate exceptional endurance despite political challenges,” Aweidah explained, a performance he attributed to the “strong and vibrant private sector,” its “well regulated and sophisticated financial system,” its “modern capital market,” and “advanced investor protection regime.” The majority of the 49 stocks on the Exchange, he pointed out, also “enjoy free float ratios that are comparable to advanced markets” as well as “reassuring turnover ratios.”

Foreign investors, both individual and institutional, are helping to boost values and volumes on the Palestine Stock Exchange.  Graph: PEX, Ministry of National Economy.

Foreign investors, both individual and institutional, are helping to boost both values and volumes on the Palestine Stock Exchange. Graph: PEX, Ministry of National Economy.

At the end of 2013, foreign investment in PEX amounted to just over 40 per cent of the total value of its shares, or about 34 per cent by volume. Investors from Jordan, many of whom are Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship, accounted for the majority of the foreign shareholders, 61.4 per cent, followed by others from the Americas at 10.9 per cent, the Arab Gulf with 6.6 per cent and Europe with 2.5 per cent. Palestinians made up 95 per cent of the total number of investors, demonstrating the widespread appetite for shares among smaller shareholders living both inside and outside Palestine.

Speaking to potential investors in London and to InvestPalestine.com, John Davies, Vice President at S&P Dow Jones Indices, explained why his firm, which now includes both the respected ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Dow Jones, had established two stand-alone indices for Palestine last December. “We don’t build indices simply because we feel they are needed,” he insisted. “We build them because our clients are asking for them. The establishment [of the new indices] is evidence that there is significant demand for investment in Palestine.”

John Davies, Vice President at S&P Dow Jones Indices, explaining PEX's attractions to an audience of investors in London, 17 January, 2014.  Photo:  Mark Green.

John Davies, Vice President at S&P Dow Jones Indices, explaining PEX’s attractions to an audience of investors in London, 17 January, 2014. Photo: Mark Green.

The two new additions are the S&P Palestine Broad Market Index (BMI), which aims to capture at least 80 per cent of PEX’s market capitalisation, and the Dow Jones Palestine Total Stock Market Index (TSM), which aims for 95 per cent of the Exchange’s float-adjusted market capitalisation, Davies explained. Since testing began in September 2012, he added, the stand alone BMI index had achieved a 41 per cent cumulative annual return, a figure which compares favourably with the Pan-Arab Composition Index at 24.5 per cent and the S&P Composition Index at about 30.2 per cent.

Despite general skepticism about the progress of Kerry’s peace talks, investors are more confident that he will succeed in brokering a deal, the news agency, Bloomberg, quoted Aweidah as saying in mid-January. “If there’s a framework agreement, it’ll be a game changer” for the Exchange. There’s certainly a lot of optimism in the market about the direction of the political negotiations…. The time to invest in Palestinian stocks is now.”

Processing premium quality Medjool dates at a Palestinian-owned factory in the Jordan Valley.  The possibility of greater access to the fertile soil and water of the Israeli-occupied parts of the Valley and "Area C" as a result of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a major factor in encouraging both local and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the West Bank.  Photo: fablenaturals.com.

Processing premium quality Medjool dates at a Palestinian-owned factory in the Jordan Valley. The possibility of greater access to the fertile soil and water of the Israeli-occupied parts of the Valley and “Area C” as a result of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a major factor in encouraging both local and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the West Bank. Photo: fablenaturals.com.

Success in the talks would, according to a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, boost economic growth in the Territories by 35 per cent over the next five and a half years, or about 6.5% a year on average, compared with 1.5 per cent in 2013. This includes Palestinians gaining control of the land, water and resources in Area C, which forms almost two-thirds of the West Bank, which is currently under Israeli military occupation. The IMF adds that an agreement would significantly reduce the Palestinian Authority’s dependence on foreign aid, greatly enhance employment and lower poverty levels.Local entrepreneurs are investing in modern factories, like this one outside Hebron.  Photo:  Palden Jenkins.  paldywan.blogspot.co.uk Local entrepreneurs are investing in modern factories, like this one outside Hebron. Photo: Palden Jenkins, paldywan.blogspot.co.uk.

Business confidence in the West Bank is also rising, according to Palestinian analysts, because of higher optimism among entrepreneurs and in the industrial sector, especially in food, textiles, chemical, pharmaceutical, engineering, plastics and construction. The Palestinian Monetary Authority reported in mid-February that its monthly index, the PMA Business Cycle Indicator, had risen from minus 1.44 in the West Bank in January to a positive 8.25 in February. Negative business sentiment in the Gaza Strip also improved, as industrialists reportedly felt more optimistic about the continuous US efforts to stimulate the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis and less fearful of a continuing deterioration in security conditions. The northern West Bank city of Jenin is to be the site of a vital new power plant due to be built by a Palestinian company. Photo: Palden Jenkins, paldywan.blogspot.co.uk.

If an accord is agreed, Aweidah revealed, as many as four family-owned businesses in Palestine may also opt to sell shares on the Exchange through initial public offerings (IPO’s). The Palestine Power Generating Company (PPGC), he added, could follow suit.

PPGC is planning to build a $300 million power plant in Jenin in the West Bank which will be fuelled by gas from the giant offshore Leviathan field in the Mediterranean under a $1.2 billion, 20-year deal agreed in January. PPGC’s leading shareholders include the Palestine Electric Company, the builders of Palestine’s first independent power plant, and the industrial conglomerate, PADICO, both of which are quoted on the PEX.

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

London Welcomes Palestinian Businesses

The CEOs and senior executives of some of Palestine’s most successful companies are in London tonight to promote the benefits of investment and trade with the private sector in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

We’ll be reporting more on their visit, which has been organised by The Palestine Trade Centre (PalTrade) and the excitement here that has greeted their upgrades by such prestigious international ratings agencies as S & P and, soon to be confirmed, their inclusion in the all-important “Frontier” markets of the FTSE and MSCI.

Ahmad Aweidah, CEO of PEX, and Ammar Aker, CEO of Paltel, open the London Stock Exchange on 24 June, 2011.

Ahmad Aweidah, CEO of PEX, and Ammar Aker, CEO of Paltel, open the London Stock Exchange on 24 June, 2011.

And that’s not to mention that some of them may also be listed on the London Stock Exchange in the future…a welcome tribute to their success on the Palestine Stock Exchange (PEX), not so much for their share price rises but for the impressive dividends they have paid internationally despite all the adversities they have faced, and continue to face, as well as for their remarkable p/e ratios.

Bank Of Palestine Sponsors The Events Of The World Cup In Palestine.  It's also helping to promote small- and medium-sized businesses in Palestine, especially for women.

Bank Of Palestine Sponsors “The Events Of The World Cup In Palestine.” It’s also helping to promote small- and medium-sized businesses in Palestine, especially for women.

Most importantly, we’ll also be reporting on the vital work companies such as the Bank of Palestine, PalTel and Padico do in supporting social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, the creative arts and scholarships to study abroad, as well as the more traditional charities, in the occupied territories.

Their role, given the hoped-for relaxation of Israeli restrictions on checkpoints, internal and external travel, shipments and communications and on the use of the agricultural riches of the Jordan Valley and “Area C”, could be immense in helping to reduce Palestinian unemployment and increasing the productive output, and exports, of the territories.

And that’s something that the USA, the UK and the European Union are eager to see, given the increased sympathy their publics have for Palestinian rights, as well as the growing reluctance of their taxpayers to provide unending foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah when an end to the Israeli occupation could make Palestine self-sufficient.

Watch this space,

Thanks for reading,

Pam

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

Changing Fortunes for Palestine’s Economy?

InvestPalestine.com was busy in June preparing a Special Report which has now appeared in the July issue of the London-based, pan-Arab monthly, The Middle East.TME Cover July '13

Here’s a preview:

Critical Times for Palestine’s Economy

The hopes and aspirations of millions of young Palestinians, both in the occupied territories and in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, as well as those of their older relatives and families both at home and in the Diaspora, could well be at stake in the coming weeks as US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to convince Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority, to return to the negotiating table and finally agree to accept the need for a sovereign Palestinian state.

Will there be peace for the next generation? Photo:  Eva Bartlett, http://ingaza.wordpress.com.

Will there be peace for the next generation? Photo: Eva Bartlett, http://ingaza.wordpress.com.

While many in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as elsewhere, are justifiably extremely skeptical about Kerry’s plans to restart the moribund “peace talks,” Palestine’s business leaders, along with some of Israel’s most progressive entrepreneurs, have welcomed his initiative, as have future leaders like the imprisoned Marwan Barghouthi, seeing it as the only way to end the decades-old conflict and ensure a viable future for the next generation.

Gaza: Dubai on the Mediterranean?

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade. But, as one international commentator suggested recently, it’s not, actually, too fanciful to see it in the future as the Mediterranean’s “Dubai.” While of course that assumes that peace prevails and that the Israeli siege ends, it also recalls Gaza’s historic role as a prosperous gateway between Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

 Gaza's five-star Al Mashtal Hotel on the beach front shows the potential for luxury tourism to appeal to visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa.  Photo:  Christopher Furlong, AFP/Getty.

Gaza's five-star Al Mashtal Hotel on the beach front shows the potential for luxury tourism to appeal to visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa. Photo: Christopher Furlong, AFP/Getty.

Developing East Jerusalem?

Efforts to help the beleaguered 375,000 inhabitants of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem – which Palestinians see as the future capital of their state – are intensifying because of renewed efforts by Palestinian businessmen and promises of some $1 billion in aid from the Arab League, of which $250 million has already been pledged by Qatar. The plans include the construction of a new airport in the city, a project which was first mooted in 2009 by the former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salah Fayyad, as well as incentives to both local and foreign investors in the fields of finance, trade, transport, tourism, real estate and housing, private education and information communications and technology (ICT).

The articles will be published in full here at the end of July.

Meanwhile, check out http://www.themiddleastmagazine.com, or get the printed edition at your local news agent or newstand.

As always, thanks for reading!

Pam

Hopes Rise for Palestinian Economy

Hopes are rising that 2013 will see a significant improvement in Palestine’s economy after the disappointments of last year. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge to find new ways to promote development in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is, despite widespread scepticism, also furthering this optimism, not least because he has recognised that this must go hand-in-hand with promoting a sovereign Palestinian state.

Palestine’s Minister of Economy, Jawad Naji Awad Hirzallah, told the Arab media in April, after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah in March, that “We expect the growth rate in 2013 to be 5 to 6 percent. Against a backdrop of negative economic conditions,” he added, “ this is a good indication of growth.” Last year, Palestine’s services sector, including retail trade and tourism, grew by a remarkable 13.2 per cent, while construction was up 6.5 per cent and information and communications (ICT) 5.9 per cent.

 Not everyone, like this couple in Ramallah, can afford a BMW, but their is a hunger for the luxuries of modern life.  Photo:  Reuters

Not everyone, like this couple in Ramallah, can afford a BMW, but there is a hunger for the luxuries of modern life. Photo: Reuters.

Continue reading

East Jerusalem: Promoting Private & Foreign Investment

While the focus of the international community’s aid to Palestine in the past few years has been concentrated on increasing the sustainability of its political institutions, the economic needs of Palestinians have often taken second place, not least because of the Israeli restrictions on movement and trade and the lack of a coherent economic development policy. The people of East Jerusalem are among those who have been affected the most, having been cut off by Israel’s ‘separation barrier’ from their natural hinterland in the West Bank and squeezed in by Israeli checkpoints such as the one at Qalandiya, which divides Ramallah from Jerusalem.

A view of East Jerusalem, looking toward the Damascus Gate to the Old City. Photo: Liz Tagami.

(Click on the image to see an impressive overview of the ‘Old City’.)

Now a group of Palestinian companies are organising a “Jerusalem Business Forum” to address the growing economic stagnation and rising poverty in the Arab section of the city which has been annexed by Israel against international law and which Palestinians see as the future capital of an independent state. Due to take place in mid-December, it aims to encourage private and foreign investment in the local economy by concentrating on East Jerusalem’s untapped potential, as well as the city’s unique social and cultural heritage which continues to attract some 1.5 million tourists a year. Continue reading

Tourism in Palestine: Jericho’s Huge Potential

As any visitor to East Jerusalem knows, Israel dominates the tourist trade in the Holy City and in the Palestinian territories. Aside from controlling virtually all the international access points, whether Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the bridges across the Jordan River from Amman, the many checkpoints in the West Bank or the road crossings into Gaza, Israeli tour companies and Israeli guides, as well as Israeli security forces, decide who goes where, when and how. Despite this, the Palestinian territories welcome more than a million visitors each year, many of them drawn to some of the world’s oldest historic and archaeological sites and centres of Christian worship. But this is only a small indication of the huge potential which the “Holy Land” has to attract millions more tourists in the coming years, including those from the neighbouring Arab states and other predominately Muslim countries, once these obstacles are eased.

The ancient walls of Jericho, the oldest city in the world

Nowhere is this more true than in Jericho, reputedly the world’s oldest city and the centre of the lush Jordan River Valley region, where the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and JICA – the Japanese International Co-operation Agency—are working with the private sector and the Arab Hotel Association to create a new international centre of sustainable tourism. Already, their achievements are helping to put the reality of Palestine’s existence on the global map as well as promoting economic and social development in one of the poorest parts of the West Bank. Equally important, they are also helping to foster closer links between Palestine and neighbouring Jordan and the estimated 2.5 million Palestinians, including Jordanians of Palestinian origin, currently living in the kingdom. Continue reading