A $4 billion US plan to boost the Palestinian economy was met with a cool response as Palestinian leaders insisted on a political dimension to the stimulus while Israel was mum as details remained unclear.
US Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled the plan at the closing session of the World Economic Forum in Jordan on Sunday, tasking Tony Blair, the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, with attracting the mammoth sum in private investment.
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long advocated the idea of “economic peace”, believing that improving the living conditions of the Palestinians would make them more disposed to compromise.
But the Palestinian leadership warned on Monday that it would “not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits,” according to a statement from Mohammad Mustafa, president of the Palestine Investment Fund and economic adviser to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
“We will not accept that the economy is the primary and sole component,” the statement said.
It added: “We wish it to be part of a political framework that will ensure the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem (as) its capital and the rights of refugees and a reference to a political solution — these are the priorities.”
Fawzi Barhum, a spokesman for Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said on his Facebook page that “the so-called economic plan mentioned by Kerry deludes the public and gives more time to the Israeli entity.”
Kerry said economic experts believe the Palestinian economy will grow “by as much as 50 percent over three years,” and unemployment will decline, but did not provide many details of the plan.
America’s top diplomat tasked Blair with drawing up a plan to revitalise the West Bank through boosting industries such as tourism, construction, information technology and agriculture.
A statement from the British envoy’s office said it was “analysing the potential of various sectors of the Palestinian economy and identifying measures that could be taken to spur transformative economic growth”.
It said the goal was to boost the economy “by 50 percent within three years and reduce unemployment from 22 percent to single-digit figures”.
However, Blair’s office stressed that “the plan will complement, support and run in parallel with a renewed political process, and is not intended to replace that political process”.
Israel, meanwhile, has not officially reacted to the plan, a substantial portion of which is expected to take place in “Area C”, or 60 percent of the West Bank, which is under the Jewish state’s control and is seen as key to the Palestinian economy.
The Palestinian leadership wants a total freeze on Israeli settlement construction before it resumes peace talks with Israel, which have been stalled for almost three years.