December 3rd, 2013
10:45 AM GMT
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Iran's six month agreement with P5 + 1, Egypt's transition after the ouster of Mohammed Morsy and Syria's long and catastrophic civil war have nudged a plan to revitalize the Palestinian Territories right off the global agenda.

I was in the room when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled, on the evening of May 26, what he saw as an ambitious plan to deliver hope to Palestinians by jump-starting investment.  His speech closing out the World Economic Forum regional meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan was met with a heavy dose of skepticism because it lacked specifics.

Kerry presented an economic road-map, calling for $4 billion of private investment covering eight sectors from agriculture to tourism. If you build the right framework, according to the top U.S. diplomat, investors will come.  The goal is to boost the economies of the West Bank and Gaza by up to 50% in just three years.

Read more: Will  deal unlock 'Germany of the Middle East'?

While no one can really argue with the spirit of the economic initiative, the reality on the factory floor, whether it is light manufacturing or in telecommunications, is very different. Palestinian businessmen suggest it is time to be more holistic in the approach.  One cannot divorce the peace process from business.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, I met the founder of New Tossetti shoes Shaker Syaj, who over Arabic coffee in his boardroom gathered half of the 30 family members involved in the ageing, but active three story factory.

Syaj is a true survivor of uncertainty, having opened the operation a half century ago. The company makes 12,000 pairs of shoes a day,  but with low interest loans and export promotion by government, he says the company could boost sales by 30% in the first year alone.

Business in the West Bank is in a word complex. Whatever work is generated seems to be derailed by the stalemate in peace talks and sporadic violence.  New Tossetti used to export 200 thousand pairs of shoes a year to Germany until the second intifada or uprising against Israel in 2001.

Read more: Israeli PM rejects plans to build more  settlements

"When the intifada started our German partner stopped importing our product, because they were afraid of the risk to their business due to the political situation." said the operations manager and nephew of the founder, Omar Syaj.

But the shoemaker fits the profile of the type of company U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants to see expand under his Palestinian economic blueprint.

Businessmen suggest inbound investment is not enough.  Restrictions need to be lifted as well to send a signal to the outside world, that it is an even playing field for business regardless of which side a company sits on of the giant security wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians.

Watch: New West Bank village sparks protests

For New Tossetti these restrictions mean some chemicals used as adhesives are banned for import.  Israel fears certain compounds could be used in bomb making.

Third and fourth generation mobile technology has been blocked and there are the more obvious barriers to trade such as checkpoints which slow down the flow of hard goods.

After spending the morning on the factory floor and experiencing the worn out infrastructure in the West Bank, the team and I went to technology networking event in Ramallah.

The talk was of leap-frogging those barriers and thinking big through e-commerce.  The goal is to link start up companies with investors.  The chairman of Arabreneur and co-founder of the event Abdulmalek Al-Jaber said this effort was driven by a lack of any progress despite many attempts in the last decade.

"We tried to industrial zones it failed, we tried to do projects like hotels and resorts, it failed because these kind of projects are very dependent on the peace process," said Al-Jaber in between business presentations.

This impacts tourists and their spending as well.  There's a steady stream of visitors at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. But the West Bank economy is not seeing the full benefits of all this traffic.

"These people come in and spend a day in Bethlehem.  We receive 2.3 million tourists a year out of which 1.8 million don't spend the night in a Palestinian hotel.  What is the reason? access and movement," Fadi Kattan, Director General of ACA Travel and Tourism told me over coffee just outside the church grounds.

And free movement Palestinians say cannot be tackled without a peace agreement and that after a week on the ground seems more contentious than ever.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Daniel B. Carroll

    Why help terrorists in Gaza in anyway? Every dollar of humanitarian assistance or economic aid is one dollar diverted to Gazan terrorists to murder Jewish children.

    December 4, 2013 at 12:15 am |
  2. ae

    Indeed – one needs a peace process, and not only because of the Palestinian economy.

    However, peace is a two-way street. As long as Palestinians oppose Israel's very existence (read their newspapers in Arabic, not English, look at their media broadcasts) and teach their children to hate Jews (look at their school curricula, look at their school maps that do not show Israel) then it isn't going to happen. )

    December 4, 2013 at 4:20 am |
  3. Faraj Gazzah

    Give the Palestinian a fair deal and they will take it.
    Just thinking of the Jewish children that are murdered and pretending not to know that many more Palestinian children have been killed by the Israeli side is plain intellectual dishonesty!

    December 4, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  4. Faraj Gazzah

    To ad:
    Do Israeli maps show Palestine?
    I am a Palestinian and I do not hate Jews, I just don't like Israelis. After all I am living in a diaspora, not in the best conditions.

    December 4, 2013 at 6:51 am |
  5. Itai Frtiedman

    Please don't forget how many times the Palestinians rejected Israel's generous offers for a peace treaty. All of the above is going to fail with the lack of genuine peace in the region, and for that the Palestinians must change their frame of mind and to work with Israel and not against Israel

    December 4, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  6. Abhishek Verma

    LOL@ Itai
    "Israel's generous offers"? Based on who's analysis? The Jewish controlled, Israeli leaning media? HAH!
    A bunch of baloney.
    When is the last time you hear media say things in the arab world about how they're coping with the ever expanding illegal occupancy? The continuing building of new settlements in lands where Israel is pushing out Palestinians? The problems Palestinian families are facing as a result of getting shot at, bombed at and evicted out of their own homes for 2 decades?
    Oh I forgot, only Israeli's are human beings. Palestinians are all terrorists. So they deserve no mercy, only evil. Absolute bollocks this article, and the comments section.

    December 4, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  7. William

    First of all: the " West Bank " belong to Israel according to the San Remeo Treaty from 1921 which created the " Arab world " as we know it today. Israel supposed to be incl Trans Jordanian, Jordan , but due to W.S. Churchill, it was given to the Arabs in return for their support. Jordan is the " home land " of the Arabs. Israel was to be from the river Jordan to the ME sea, in 1947 Jordan conquered that part of Israel, in 1968 Israel took it back. Gaza and any other "Palestine " territory is a sunk hole for tax money from the west. The corruption, Arafat with his 600 million US $$, is beyond anything on the planet, incl the Mafia. It's time to stop this " preferential treatment " and get real on these places. "WORK OR DIE ", no more tax money, no more " poor Palestinians ". They have to learn if not: too bad.

    December 4, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  8. KEVIN

    These Israeli – Palestinian peace talks are a joke. Nobody takes them seriously anymore. The two cultures love to be in conflict with each other. Kerry and all Ameican leaders just go through the motions knowing that niether side will never follow through on an agreement for any plan to work.

    December 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  9. puddintane

    The only solution is to legalize weed

    December 4, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  10. Rafi Bezalel

    Faraj, that is dishonesty. Not "intellectual dishonesty", just plain dishonesty.

    December 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  11. Eric Mayew

    It's bad the econmic climate is so poor in the west bank. But the Palestinian people have been sold down the river for years by other arab countries politicians and their own politicians, peace and land was offered up from 1948, Oslo and numerous other interm occasions and in return, Israel is sent missles, sucide bombers and general unrest. The peace process happening now is no different, Palestine prisoner releases and stoning, stabbings and gun fire aimed at at israelis are still the norm. Had the Palestinians accepted a peace process, years ago, the entire west bank,gaza and east Jeruselem was on the table and would be their country today. At what point do the Palestian people rise up with the pen and not the sword to help themselves and not weapons to destroy another legit country?

    December 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  12. ae

    To Faraj Gazzah:

    There is no Palestine to be shown on maps. However, Israeli maps show Arab cities and villages, and they show the 1967 borders (the Green Line) that separates between pre-1967 Israel (which the Palestinians don't recognize eithre, by the way) and the territories Israel captured when the Arabs tried to annihilate it.

    Palestinians are not ignored in Israeli media – prominent spokespeople are interviewed on the news programs, for example. The fact that both sides of the argument are heard by the public – including when the Palestinians say things that are very difficult to hear – educates them. This is the way to prepare your people for peace with the other side.

    DO the Palestinians do this too?

    December 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  13. Eric Mayew

    To Verma,
    Read, fairly balanced news organization (although the comments are often not). I know of few if any arab tv, or .com sites that give a positive story or even give recognition to the state of israel. I agree with ae comment but I will take a step further, there is no balanced journalisim on the arabic side.

    December 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  14. maconsultancy

    Reblogged this on Mr Business Info Blog – UK Business Financial Information.

    December 5, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  15. michael

    there are no rights or wrongs. the only way iis avwry painful way of mutual concessions....

    December 5, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  16. Thomsen Grundlage

    Registrovany ucet je ucet vedeny na vase jmeno v jine smlouve o sporicim uctu ING Konto c.:5434860/3500 je uvedeno prvni v poradi.

    January 1, 2014 at 7:03 pm |
  17. Ilivieda Emmanuel


    January 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm |

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