In the lead-up to US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the West Bank next week, senior Palestinian Authority officials have presented a list of requests to the US government for economic projects that they say will help jumpstart their economy.
Trump, who has expressed his desire to seal “the ultimate deal” in an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, has also voiced his support for “efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy,” which PA and US officials have discussed on a number of occasions since the US president came in to office in January.
Among the requests presented by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s entourage during a visit to Washington earlier this month were an airport in the West Bank, hotels on the the coast of the Dead Sea, a power station in the northern West Bank and a cement factory in Bethlehem.
In talks with Trump and his advisers, PA officials outlined the extent of the unemployment problem in the West Bank, which they said must be urgently addressed by launching a series of large-scale projects that will bring thousands of Palestinians into the workforce.
A PA official told The Times of Israel that the problem of unemployment is particularly acute among university graduates.
“Every year some 30,000 students graduate from university and only 7,000 find jobs. That means that every year there are 23,000 people added to the unemployment rolls,” he said, while adding that the overall unemployment rate among Palestinians was closer to 21 percent than the official rate of 18%.
The official also said that a reduction in foreign aid in recent years has further exacerbated the problem.
“The sum of the financial aid the PA receives from donor countries has shrunk significantly. In 2008 donors gave some $1.8 billion to the PA, but now we only receive some $700 million. Three years ago the amount stood at $1.3 billion. This is a dramatic drop in our eyes,” he said.
A number of Palestinian officials also criticized a series of economic incentives being prepared by Israel ahead of Trump’s visit, saying that opening the Allenby border crossing with Jordan for a few more hours each day, or granting 100 more work permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, will not have any meaningful impact on the economy in the West Bank.
“Because of this, there is a need to invest in large projects,” said a second PA official, who divulged a number of those initiatives to The Times of Israel.
Chief among the PA’s plans to grow the economy in the West Bank is a series of tourism projects, one of the more ambitious of which includes plans to build a hotel complex along the northern shore of the Dead Sea. That would require Israel to grant the PA access to the shoreline, which is located in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
“There are investors who are ready to pump millions of dollars into this project, which will provide thousands of jobs,” the PA official said.
As part of Ramallah’s plans to bolster its tourism industry, the official also said that the PA is seeking to build an airport in the West Bank.
According to the official, the PA is not looking to build an airport as large as Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel or Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan’s Amman, but rather a smaller airfield to be used by tourists arriving in the West Bank, such as the one in the Israeli Red Sea resort city of Eilat.
“We don’t have an exact location for this project. We are prepared to build an airport wherever we receive permission to,” he said.
Another proposal the PA official said the Palestinians had shared with the administration was for increased investment in agriculture.
“Revenues from agriculture have dropped to a third from what they were following the signing of the Oslo Accords” in 1993, he said. “We are requesting large areas outside of the cities, some of which would clearly include parts of Area C.”
The official also said the PA is seeking to build a $36 million cement factory in the Bethlehem area that he said will employ thousands of Palestinians, as well as $60 million for a power plant with a capacity of 45 megawatts. He added that the PA is looking for funding for a solar panel farm as a source of alternative energy.
In addition, the Palestinian official said that the PA has plans for the construction of a new Palestinian city in the West Bank that, unlike Rawabi which is being built near Ramallah, would not be geared toward high-income earners.
“There is a housing crisis, similar to what [Israelis] have. What is missing at the moment are apartments for low-income earners,” he said, while adding that “the plan is to build a new city like this between Nablus and Jenin” in the northern West Bank.