Quartet reveals economic plan to support Mideast peace

AFP, Thursday 26 Sep 2013

Middle East Quartet publishes 3 year 'Palestinian Economic Initiative' focused on aiding private sector growth in Palestine, which would require Israel to lift import restrictions on the Palestinian Territories

The Middle East Quartet published a plan Thursday to revive the ailing Palestinian economy, in an effort to support peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The report came as Israel announced it would ease restrictions on the impoverished Gaza Strip and West Bank, and after international financial institutions urged the Jewish state to loosen sanctions against the Palestinian territories.

"Without economic empowerment, any negotiations are likely to seem too remote from reality to be credible," said the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States) and represented by former British premier Tony Blair.

The three-year "Palestinian Economic Initiative" would focus on private sector growth. It identified eight key sectors targeted for development, including construction and building materials, agriculture, energy and water, and tourism.

On Wednesday, Israel officially announced it was easing some restrictions on the Palestinian territories.

International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel would extend the operating hours of the Allenby Bridge, a border checkpoint near the West Bank town of Jericho and the only point of access to Jordan for Arab residents and businesses.

He was speaking after ministers from the Middle East Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss progress in the talks so far.

Israel recently approved the allocation of 5,000 work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank, and last week agreed to allow new building materials into the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The moves came as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank called for an easing of Israeli restrictions, saying the Palestinian economy was unsustainable under the current conditions.

"The restrictions imposed by the government of Israel continue to be the most significant impediment to economic growth," the World Bank said in a report released ahead of Wednesday's AHLC meeting.

The Quartet's plans would include building "10,000 to 16,000 housing units every year in Gaza, as part of the overall range of 25,000-40,000 housing units in the West Bank and Gaza.

They would be priced at $35,000-$50,000 (29,925-37,037 euros), it said.

But it stressed "this development requires the further lifting of restrictions on importing building materials (and) ensuring access to land."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on all donors Wednesday to step up efforts to help the slowing Palestinian economy.

"The situation is volatile and the status quo is not sustainable. In the long term it is damaging to both the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said.

International institutions and the Palestinians themselves have stressed that, even with continued donations, the economy will not grow. They have emphasised the importance of private sector development, which requires Israel to ease restrictions.

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