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.)

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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.

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.

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Palestine’s Agriculture and Agro-Industries: The Basis for a Resurgent Economy?

A series of recent studies from the UN, the World Bank, the UK, France and the European Union, as well as other international organisations, has highlighted the huge potential of agriculture and fishing in the West Bank and Gaza and the extremely important contribution a revived sector could provide to both Palestine’s GDP and the urgent need to create new jobs, especially for the young and in the rural areas.

Palestine’s Jordan Valley is one of the world’s richest, and most diverse, agricultural areas. Picture: JICA

At present, all the reports emphasize that the escalation of Israeli settlements, particularly in the fertile Jordan Valley; Israeli military control of ‘Area C;’ and the rapidly dwindling amount of water available to Palestinian farmers has led to a sharp decline in both cultivation and output. Fishing and fish processing in Gaza is also stagnating, they add, due to the harsh Israeli restrictions, both onshore and offshore. Continue reading

Editor’s Note: Here’s What’s Happening

InvestPalestine.com has been busy this month, promoting a ‘Special Report’ on The Palestinian Economy: Bright Prospects for the Private Sector, which is due to appear in the London-based, pan-Arab monthly, The Middle East, on the 1st of October.

It includes an exclusive interview with the CEO of the Bank of Palestine, Hashim Shawa, which we’ll bring to you then… plus other stories on PalTel, the HUGE start-up potential of Palestinian information technology firms (and the ExpoTech exhibition in Ramallah and Gaza) … plus information about the new investment funds springing up in Palestine … as well as new ventures from the UK to promote Palestinian exports and scholarships and training for young Palestinians.

A fruit and vegetable market in Ramallah. In the end, it’s all about feeding the family…ideally, with LOCAL produce. Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Meanwhile, look out for our Special Feature on Palestine’s Agriculture: Its Untapped Potential, later this week which takes a look at the tens of thousands of jobs that this sector could create in the future, as well as its enormous potential to promote Palestine’s exports to world markets.

Thanks for reading,

Pam

P.S. Click on the “Subscribe” button at the top right of the home page if you would like to receive FREE emails on future posts, or email pamansmith@compuserve.com if you would like to suggest ideas for, or comments on, the editorial content.

PalTrade Launches Drive to Diversify Trade & Exports

The Palestine Trade Center (PalTrade), together with the Ministry of Economy in Ramallah, has announced a series of measures to promote Palestinian exports to the Arab countries, Europe and other international markets, including special programmes aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the West Bank and Gaza. They are being launched as more and more countries, following the lead of the UK, the European Union and South Africa, are refusing to accept imports labelled ‘Made in Israel,’ which, in fact, come from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories rather than from Israel itself.

The measures announced by PalTrade — a national, non-profit organisation based in Al Bireh in the West Bank — include a new trade diversification programme funded by the EU which is also being supported by the Palestinian Shippers Council. In addition to encouraging alternative trade corridors to, and through, Jordan and the nearby Arab countries, the €3 million programme sets up a ‘National Export Strategy’ to improve Palestine’s international competitiveness as well as special measures to develop Palestine’s trade in services.

Medjool dates and Palestinian fruits and vegetables from the Jordan Valley are prized throughout the Arab world. Picture courtesy of PalTrade.


Jordan and the Arab Gulf states are being targetted by PalTrade and the new Jericho Agro-Industrial Park. Picture courtesy of PalTrade.

“A comprehensive package will be implemented to support the private sector in reaching new markets and developing marketing strategies,” the EU’s chief representative, John Gatt-Rutter, said at the official launch in Ramallah’s Movenpick Hotel on 27 February.
However, he also noted that its success depended on Israel complying with its international obligations to remove the existing barriers to the free movement of people, goods and services in the territories. “For this project to fully deliver its results…Israel has a major responsibility for ensuring access and movement and facilitating Palestinian trade,” he told his audience, which included Prime Minister Salah Fayyad, PalTrade’s CEO, Hanan Taha, and Maha Abu Shoshah, Chairman of the Shippers Council.

Last September, the European Parliament in Strassbourg approved a new trade agreement with the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem which allows EU members states to import agricultural products, including fish, directly, i.e. without going through Israel. “This is one of the most generous trade agreements in the agricultural sector signed by the EU,” the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Ciolos, said at the time. “I want to be clear,” he added, that the European Commission is working to ensure that the EU does not buy any products from Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories.” 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

UK Targets Palestinian ICT & Telecoms

The UK government, along with a growing list of international ICT giants such as Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel, is the latest to recognise Palestine’s huge potential in information communications and technology given its highly talented younger generation, which is fluent in English and Arabic, as well as in entrepreneurial and engineering skills.   Britain’s Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaisey, says that his government hopes to get Palestinian and UK businesses “to work together,” and that it will actively seek to encourage British companies to “come and start business in Palestine.”

He was commenting during a visit to Ramallah in March that also included a tour of the headquarters of Palestine’s telecommunications corporation, PalTel, which, with its subsidiaries Jawwal and Hadara, provides the majority of Internet, landline and mobile services in the West Bank and Gaza.  PalTel, which is a favourite of international investors on the Palestine Securities Exchange, reported a 5.1 per cent increase in profits last year, to $128 million, despite the difficulties of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.  Thanks to an intensive expansion programme, it has now extended its services to the Jordan Valley region, and is planning to invest an additional $70 million to $80 million by the end of this year in new fibre optic and mobile phone infrastructure, primarily for the Internet.

PalTel’s CEO, Ammar Aker

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Solar Energy & Water: Japan Shows the Way

The construction of new power and water plants, never mind wastewater schemes, may not be glamorous, but it is vital to the development of any country, especially one like Palestine whose people are struggling with living under occupation as well as with a lack of finance. When such projects are linked to sustainability and the use of low-maintenance, renewable energy sources, they can do even more to promote what the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) –Japan’s foreign aid organisation– calls “human security.” And that’s something that could benefit Palestinians living in Jordan and the neighbouring countries, as well in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
A Japanese engineer supervising the installation of solar panels at the Jericho Agro-Industrial Park.

At first glance, the construction site for a new solar electricity generation system just outside Jericho in the West Bank looks like a low-lying maze of horizontal steel beams stretching across an otherwise empty tract of sand to the administrative buildings of a new industrial zone – JAIP – that JICA is building nearby. (See Jericho Agro-Industrial Park, below.) But, if all goes well, by next year it should be providing much-needed power for Jericho city, as well as for the new factories in the Park. Continue reading