The Palestinian Authority held a financial investors conference last week in Bethlehem. The conference, hailed a great success, was led by Tarik Abbas - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' son.
The goal: To show the world the Palestinians have rehabilitated their economy and that the West Bank should be considered a safe bet for overseas investors.
"We're not in any competition with Israel,"
said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki. "The fact that 1400 people came to the conference makes it a big success." The Persian Gulf, American, European and even 110 Gaza businessmen – who were granted a special permit to leave the Strip in order to attend – would probably agree.
Samir Huleileh, former Palestinian cabinet secretary, who now heads one of the PA's biggest holding firms, said his company was able to get several new investors following the conference; but had reservations about the issue of new dealings with Israeli companies: "We have no objections (to striking deals with Israeli companies), but we have yet to invest outside Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
"The majority of our investments have to do with the stock market, telecommunication companies, agriculture, and industry, but we are working to find new investments which will include Israeli Arabs first, and other Israeli companies later."
The buzz on the conference's floor had a lot to do with a new, $2 billion investment in some 200 local projects, one of which is a new city between the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Birzeit. The 15,000-unit project is back by Gulf investors and the UK's Portland Fund. The latter is headed by Sir Ronald Cohen, an Egyptian-born Jewish British businessman.
"It's better we let the Palestinians build their economy with their own investors… They have to do what (Israel) did in the 1950s and 1960s and push a construction boost," said Cohen.
"With out a strong economy in the PA it would be virtually impossible for us to reach a peace agreement," he added.
Palestinian politicians and businessmen attending the meeting stressed the importance of Israel's allowing investors access to PA territories, so that they may track their investments.
The Israeli policy, concluded many of those attending the conference, will play a crucial part in the PA's ability to develop a thriving economy.