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The Palestine Investment Conference

By Sadie Goldman with Jason Proetorius and IPF Staff, Israel Polict Forum Focus, 28.05.08

Below are excerpts from a longer IPF article. To read the full analysis, click here.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of last week’s Palestine Investment Conference was not the announcement that $1.4 billion would be invested in the West Bank and Gaza or that 35,000 new jobs would be created, but the fact that the conference was held in the first place.
Although much of the investment had already been agreed on, Palestinian prime minister and World Bank-trained economist Salam Fayyad said to the Palestinian daily Al Ayyam, “convening the conference in Palestine is in itself a message of hope and an attempt . . . to attract investors, officials, and interested parties to take part in our life for two or three days, to see our condition . . . as well as our determination to succeed.”
Just securing the entry of over 500 businesspeople from outside the Palestinian territories—including many expat Palestinians as well as Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis— and over 100 from Gaza was no small feat. Mara Rudman of the Center for American Progress described her surprisingly smooth trip in Tuesday's Middle East Bulletin. “Greeters with ‘PIC-Bethlehem’ signs met me, politely expedited my entry, took care of my passport and escorted me all the way to my taxi.” It was the first time, Rudman noted, that she was so well received when declaring at Tel-Aviv’s airport that she was going to the Palestinian territories.
Rudman’s description may not seem unusual to the casual observer. However, at a time when 1 in 5 West Bank Palestinians is out of work, and those who are employed routinely complain of getting stuck between checkpoints and roadblocks—not to mention being unable to get in and out of the territories— a “normal” trip to the West Bank for a conference is extraordinary. It would not have been possible without the active cooperation of Israel and the effective work of the Palestinian security services.
The appearance of normalcy was in fact meant to show outside investors that “business as usual” is possible in the Palestinian territories, that people and goods can move without delay, and that Palestinians are ready and able to get to work.

If it served no other purpose, the conference demonstrated that with coordination, movement could be facilitated without endangering Israel, at least in the West Bank. The key to making the conference succeed as it did, Mara Rudman explained, was the work of Israeli and Palestinian security services. “Top leaders in Israel had clearly given directions to make things run so smoothly and extraordinary efforts were made throughout the chain of command. The IDF soldiers manning the checkpoints entering and leaving Bethlehem, for example, were all officers, all spoke English (not just Hebrew), were easy-going in manner and were clearly instructed to speak courteously and treat as guests all those going to and from the conference. At the same time, the Palestinian security forces showed skill, commitment and professionalism as they managed crowds in and around Bethlehem. From the varied uniforms it appeared that multiple security services were deployed and coordinating their efforts, another mark of improved training.”
The Palestine Investment Conference was a test. By demonstrating that such an event could be pulled off and that Israelis and Palestinians have a mutual interest in its success, it showed the potential of the Palestinian business sector to flourish. But turning a successful three-day conference into a working, and thriving, Palestinian economy, will take much more than investment pledges. It will take great and sustained efforts from the business community, but also a serious change in the current political and security status quo. The conference was a glimmer of what can be accomplished.