The Obama administration is preparing a multi-billion dollar economic initiative that would bring international businesses and major infrastructure projects to the West Bank, it was reported on Thursday.
Part of an effort to improve Palestinian economic conditions ahead of a peace deal, senior sources in the US and Israel told Maariv that US Secretary of State John Kerry has already secured approval in principle for the initiative from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long championed such a program, and from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The initiative would entail billions of dollars in investment in high-tech, transportation, tourism, telecommunications and major infrastructure projects in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The head of Coca-Cola has reportedly signed on already, along with other major international companies. Former British PM and Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair is also involved in the plan in an advisory capacity.
“This is an initiative to bring large corporations seeking to invest in places where they can make a difference, not necessarily where the bottom line determines if the investment is the best,” Kerry said this week in Brussels, where he reportedly asked EU president José Manuel Barroso to recruit leading European businesses to the project.
A major part of the initiative would be large West Bank construction projects that would employ thousands of people.
Netanyahu is reportedly against aspects of the plan that would require Israel to release Area C land (currently under full Israeli control), such as a proposed tourist center in the Dead Sea, to the Palestinian Authority. Other proposals nixed by Netanyahu include exploitation of natural gas fields off the coast of Gaza, and the opening of an international airport controlled by the Palestinians. Kerry has tried to assure the Palestinians that the economic projects would not come at the expense of diplomatic issues, like determining final borders for a Palestinian state.
Kerry has reportedly delayed formally announcing the new economic initiative due to the sudden resignation of PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in mid-April. Maariv wrote that during Kerry’s recent visit to the region, the Palestinians gave the US two months to produce a detailed proposal for the project, which would go together with a curb on Israeli settlement construction.
Israel resumed transferring monthly tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in late January, estimated at $115 million. Israel had frozen the transfer of funds following the successful Palestinian bid to gain nonmember state status at the UN General Assembly in late November 2012.