May 27, 2008 - 5:59pm

[Translation by Mike Husseini of ATFP]

Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine and a member of the American presidential delegation to the Palestinian Investment Conference, told Al-Ayyam that the participation of an American presidential delegation in the conference is both “unique and special.”
Dr. Asali added “the delegation isn’t like any normal delegation because its members were selected personally by President George Bush. The delegation was also given political support and legitimacy, sending in the process a message to the Palestinian people that the American administration, at the level of the President, is interested in this conference and in developing the Palestinian economy.”

Dr. Asali also said that the American delegation’s “main message was that we are interested in developing the Palestinian economy.”
The delegation was led by the deputy secretary of the Department of the Treasury, and also included the deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce, the president and chief executive officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the president and chief executive officer of the Aspen Institute and chair of the U.S. -Palestinian Partnership.
The delegation had signed several agreements with Palestinian companies and corporations on the margins of the conference. Dr. Asali said, “The most important thing is for people to believe. Palestinians do not believe anybody unless they witness real changes in the situation for themselves. As a result, talk has to be followed by actions. The agreements that were signed have created a network of investors and businessmen.”

Businessmen are now interested in investing.

Dr. Asali added, “There are one hundred and twenty projects that were suggested by the Palestinian Authority. The new occurrence is that businessmen as well as politicians are working together on these projects.”

Dr. Asali also revealed “the interest of American businessmen in investing in Palestine,” and said “that is a new trend that they are interested in. As part of the process of preparing for this initiative, Secretary of State Rice met with a group of American businessmen like the heads of Intel and Marriott among others. I was also at the meeting and they were very interested in this opportunity but questioned how these projects can be implemented. As a result, our job now is to develop this American interest, and make sure that their interest is transformed from being a political interest into a practical reality through these businessmen.”     
 Dr. Asali added, “The U.S. Trade and Development Agency will coordinate between public work of the government and the businessmen and if everything goes as planned, projects will start that will provide work opportunities and create movement in the market.”
As for the obstacles that Palestinian businessmen face, Dr. Asali said “before coming to the conference, we focused our attention on three things: freedom of movement, crossing, and dignity. We were guaranteed that everything would go smoothly. We had some concerns and so did the Israelis, but for the past three days there have been no problems at the conference. This marked the first time that an experiment like the conference took place, and that Israeli and Palestinian cooperation has led to a decrease in the travel restrictions for people who are participating in the conference. Now, the next step that we are expecting and working on is the opening of checkpoints so that people will have less troubles in their travels.”

Improving the economy supports the creation of a state.

Dr. Asali pointed out that “this is essentially a political project because improving the economic situation is one of the ways to reach a Palestinian state… We are interested in creating a Palestinian state, and there is no question about that. The goal is the creation of a Palestinian state, and the economy is one of the basic elements in creating a state. Now it is possible to create a state because there is a sense of consensus, and because the political process is continuing on another front.”

Robert Kimmit, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, said that the administration of President George Bush strongly and energetically supports the Palestinian Investment Conference. Kimmit also said “it is important to improve the economic opportunities of the Palestinian people, and to give the political process the opportunity to move forward.” Kimmit added, “The existence of a vibrant private sector forms the lifeline to any successful economy that has the ability to maintain and grow itself.”

Continuing the aid to the Gaza Strip.

As for the Gaza Strip, Kimmit said that one of the conference meetings discussed the economy of the Gaza Strip. Kimmit added, “The United States will continue supplying humanitarian aid to the People in Gaza through the UNRWA.”
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation supplied five hundred million dollars as loan guarantees to help Palestinians buy houses. The loan program was designed to allow Palestinians to buy houses of up to $75,000 in value.

Dr. Asali said that starting the project of building 30,000 house units will result in the immediate creation of thousands of jobs and work opportunities. That will allow the unemployment rate in the West Bank to decrease.
Walter Isaacson, the president of the Aspen Institute and a famous writer and journalist, said that the partnership initiative aims to quickly increase the supply and growth of jobs and employment in the West Bank. Isaacson also said the initiative includes creating capital for trade projects that would be run by joint Israeli and Palestinian Authority management. The aim of the project would be investing in new companies that work in the information technology sector.

Creating a loan guarantee program.

In addition, Isaacson said that the Middle East Investment Initiative, which is a loan guarantee program that is partly supported by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and was created jointly with the Aspen Institute, would work on supplying two hundred and thirty million dollars as loan guarantees to local Palestinian banks. This would be used to support small and midsized business ventures.
Isaacson added, “there are eighteen projects that are being implemented that range from the construction to the dairy sectors.”

Isaacson also revealed the creation of a “call center” that will provide services by Arabic speakers to American corporations that will trade with or have businesses in the West Bank.
Isaacson also said that the U.S. Trade and Development Agency would also construct five youth centers in the West Bank with assistance from Intel and Cisco, with the aim of providing technological training and developing the working skills of Palestinian youths.


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