Reproducing Oslo-era illusions

From Khalid Amayreh in Bethlehem

21 May, 2008

A three-day economic conference aimed at attracting foreign
investments to revive the dilapidated Palestinian economy
got underway in this southern Palestinian town on Wednesday
amid tight security.

Opening the conference, Palestinian Authority ( PA) leader
Mahmoud Abbas welcomed hundreds of Arab and foreign
investors, saying that economic prosperity in the occupied
Palestinian territories would expedite the political
process and enhance Palestinian steadfastness vis-à-vis the
Israeli occupation.

Abbas also called on Hamas, the Islamic Resistance group
which won Palestinian general elections in 2006, to
“recognize the Palestinian legitimacy” and “revert to the
language of reason.”

Abbas reiterated commitment to Palestinian national
constants, saying East Jerusalem belonged to the
Palestinian people and that Israel would have to leave the
holy city sooner or later.

The PA leader said there was encouraging news from Cairo
with regard the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks between
Israel and Hamas. However, he gave no details.

Earlier, as many as 500 investors and entrepreneurs arrived
at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bethlehem, with many
traveling from Jordan via the Allenby bridge.

Participants included dozens of Diaspora-based Palestinian
investors as well a high-level delegation from the United
Arab Emirates which arrived aboard a Jordanian army
helicopter directly from Amman, apparently in coordination
with Israel.

It is believed that at least seven Israeli investors are
participating in the conference.

However, Hussein al Sheikh, head of the liaison and
coordination office, said the Israeli authorities refused
to give entry visas to a number of invitees. His remarks
illustrated the fact that Israel still tightly controls
access to the West Bank, an overwhelming factor PA
officials often pretend it doesn’t exist.

Hasan Abu Libdeh, the general manager of the conference,
said Palestinians had no choice but to deal with Israel.

“We import up to 90% of our needs from Israel, Israel
occupies our country and controls our lives.?

Abu Libdeh, however, evaded questions on whether PA laws
allowed Israeli investors to invest into the Palestinian
economy and whether this would undermine the Palestinian
national struggle for freedom, independence and statehood.

He also docked critical and occasionally embarrassing
questions suggesting that the PA was only replaying the
“failed experiment of Oslo,” a clear reference to the Oslo
Agreement between the PLO and Israel in 1993.

Sharp criticisms

Critics, some of whom associated with the Palestinian
opposition, castigated the organizers of the conference,
accusing them of “normalizing relations with Israel at the
expense of our national cause and struggle for freedom and
independence.”

A press release jointly by the National Committee for
Boycotting Israel (NCBI) and the National Committee for
Commemorating the Nakba (NCCN) charged that the conference
would only increase Palestinian economic subservience to
Israel.

“It is very well known that the main reason for economic
stagnation in the occupied Palestinian territories is the
Israeli occupation. The fact that this conference
completely ignores the cardinal fact as well as the
roadblocks, the apartheid wall and the unrelenting
settlement expansion raises many questions and question
marks about the conference and the real goals it seeks to
achieve.”

The press release also pointed out that the business
ventures being pursued would meet the needs of the Israeli
occupation and Israeli economy, first and foremost.

“What we need is a national Palestinian conference that
would strengthen Palestinian steadfastness and put us in a
better position to resist the occupation, regain our
freedom and end our subservience to the Israeli occupation
and economy.”

Reproducing the old illusions

Palestinian economist Adel Samara criticized the
conference, calling it an exposed attempt to reproduce the
Oslo-era illusions.

“They are trying to deceive us again. During the so-called
Oslo years, they told us that Gaza would become the
Singapore of the Middle East and that the West Bank would
be the hub of economic growth and prosperity.

“What actually happened is that Gaza became a concentration
camp and the West Bank sank deeper and deeper in the
quagmire of the occupation.”

Samara lashed out at the PA, calling them a “gang of
money-grabbing careerists who are sacrificing Palestinian
national interests for the sake of their immediate
financial interests.”

He also accused the PA of “ pimping Arab investors to
normalize with Israel.”

“This is a disgraceful economic normalization between the
Arab states and Israel and it is happening at the expense
of the Palestinian national cause.”

Samara scoffed at PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyadh for
saying that “the presence of (PA chairman Mahmoud) Abbas at
the conference was a proof of its success.”

“You see the level of logic used by our prime minister.
Even a school third-grader would not talk like this.”

Lighting a candle

Muhammed Shtayeh, head of the Palestinian Economic Council
for Development and Reconstruction (PICDAR) recognized that
the Israeli occupation placed immense and paralyzing
pressure on the Palestinian economy.

However, he pointed out that even under existing
circumstances, there were Palestinian businesspeople and
investors who were able to make profits.

Shtayeh described the conference as an “eye-opener” for
actual and potential investors interested in investing in
the occupied Palestinian territories.

“In the US, they say ‘business as usual, here it is
‘business as unusual,’ given the exceptional conditions and
circumstances facing the Palestinian people and economy.”

“In the final analysis it is good to bring people from
abroad to see their investments”

Shtayeh strongly denied that the conference was an economic
bribe, saying it is always better to light a candle than to
curse darkness.

The Quartet envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, who will give a speech at the conference, has been
trying to effect an agenda based on giving economic
development in the occupied Palestinian territory priority
over resolving the hardcore issues defining the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such as Jerusalem,
Jewish-only settlements and the paramount right of return
for millions of Palestinians uprooted from their ancestral
homeland when Israeli was created sixty years ago.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has also been pushing for an
economy-first approach for the resolution of the
Palestinian plight.

Peres apparently thinks that economic inducements could
eventually convince a considerable segment of the
Palestinians to be more “flexible” in negotiations with
Israel.

Nearly all Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas,
vehemently oppose any deal with Israel not including a
total Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in
1967 as well as a just solution of the refugee plight
pursuant UN resolution 194.

(end)

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