Palestine Investment Conference ends in Bethlehem – $1.4 billion in deals signed

Khaled al-Nehayan, Chairman of the Bin Zayed group in the U.A.E. said Friday afternoon following the closure of the Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem that “It has been a very big sucess for us (from the Emirates) to break this barrier to see the opportunities in Palestine. A similar conference was proposed a year ago, but it was not possible to go ahead because of the situation”.

He was apparently referring to the Hamas rout of Fatah security forces in Gaza, which led to a political coup in Ramallah when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas disbanded the National Unity Government in which Hamas shared power with Fatah.

This year, al-Nehayan said, the Palestinian Authority had done a very good job in making the preparations.

Al-Nehayan co-chaired the final thematic session of the Conference, on the Untapped Potential of East Jerusalem in which speaker after speaker called for more investment in the occupied Palestinian areas of the city.

The Emirates was not the only other Arab country which sent a delegation, al-Nehayan said — but he agreed that the UAE delegation had sent an unusually high-profile team. Why? “Because we believe in the Palestinian cause and whe have to support the Palestinian people — and we also believe there are investment oppourtunites here”, al-Nehayan explained.

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner showed up, a little late, for the final closing plenary session. He said he had come because France had hosted the December Donor’s Conferece, at which $7.7 billion had been pledged for the Palestinian Authority — and he had promised at the time to be at the Palestine Investment Conference. The title of the Paris Donor Conference had actually included the words “for a Palestinian State”, Kouchner noted — the first time this wording had been included in the title of an international conference, he added.

In addition, Kouchner, France was taking over the Presidency of the European Union in a few weeks for the second half of 2008, and would be hosting an EU summit meeting in Paris in 13 July (a day before the French national day, or Bastille Day), at which the situation in Palestine might figure.

France “reiterates its support to the Palestinian Authority, including in its future dimension as a State”, Kouchner told the Conference.

“This conference is a first step”; Kouchner said, but added that he wished that French enterprises would have had a larger presence in the Bethlehem event. He also said that France should finish the (development) projects it had started in the region.

He referred to the presence of a delegation of Israeli businessmen at the Conferece, but none were actually visible.

“The obstacles to Palestoinian movement and access are still there — they should have been removed”, Kouchner said, “and nothing justifies that the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem remains shut. Nothing justifies the settlement expansion, either, which constitutes an obstacle to peace and an obstruction to Palestinian movement”.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told journalists in a closing press conference that $1.4 billion dollars worth of deals which had been previously prepared were signed at the Conference — including the announcemnet by the Palestine Investment Fund about the new telecommunications operations that will start operating at the end of this year”.

This should mean, Fayyad said, the creation of some 35,000 additional jobs.

Projects for the housing and real estate sector took the “lion’s share” of the contracts signed, for a total of some $530 million dollars.

“We are trying to enhance the capacity of our people to persevere until the inevitable end of occupation”, Fayyad said, “when we will reach our goal of living as a free people in a country of our own. But, until then, we should continue to do all we can to mobilize support for our people”.