Address to Middle East Commercial Centre
The panel focused on the issue of promoting Palestinian economic development, and Mr. Singleton discussed the opportunities presented by the Initiative for the Palestinian Economy – a plan spearheaded by the OQR to bring billions of dollars of new private sector investment to the Palestinian economy over the coming years. The initiative focuses on catalysing private sector-led growth in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
Full text of speech:
Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m very pleased to be at this conference, and in particular to take part in this session on promoting Palestinian Economic Development.
We are at a critical junction in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians. We’re all waiting and closely following the news for confirmation that the framework has been agreed by the sides. This framework will mark an important milestone as we move towards an independent, viable Palestinian state. It’s a critical time for the negotiations – but also for promoting Palestinian economic development – especially now. Developing the Palestinian economy is a win-win situation for both Israel and the Palestinians. Increasing the GDP and employment levels for Palestinians and improving their quality of life will undoubtedly promote stability and security for all.
Ever since he was appointed Quartet Representative in 2007, Tony Blair consistently argued the case for greater synergy between the political and economic tracks. Just as the economics cannot take precedence over the politics, so a successful political negotiation has to be supported and boosted by economic growth and development. This is especially true at this time, when we’re trying to rebuild the trust between the two sides. Economic development can help provide a better backdrop for the diplomatic negotiations and increase confidence that progress is possible.
But instead of viewing Palestinian economic development as a bargaining chip, for which political concessions should be paid, the challenge today is to transform the Palestinian economy in a way that supports the political track.
I want to talk to you now about what we’ve been doing on the ground since the diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were launched last summer. How the Office of the Quartet Representative has used this period to begin implementing the initiative, working with governments, investors and experts to make progress on the economic track as we see hope to progress on the political track too.
When Secretary of State Kerry announced the resumption of negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement within 9 months, we shared the IPE with the parties. (The reason why we hadn’t done so before was because we were conscious of the many sensitivities surrounding the plan, and wanted to avoid the perception as though this were about “economic peace” which it definitely isn’t.)
A key part of our strategy has been conducting intensive talks with all sides: Palestinians, Israelis, international and local private sector, Donors, IFIs and NGOs. We have held high-level technical consultations with the PA on the details of the IPE. This included two workshops with senior ministers, with Mr. Blair playing a central role in consulting directly with the Palestinian leadership on the details of the plan. The Palestinian Authority has just released the Palestinian National Development Plan for 2014-2016, and a numerous elements on the IPE are integrated within the plan.
We are engaging the donors too. We want to use donor assistance to leverage greater private sector investment in key Palestinian economic sectors, as well as to continue funding critical Palestinian infrastructure in the water and energy sectors. This donor assistance could come in different forms including grant financing, concessional loans, political risk insurance and bank guarantees.
But the bulk of investments should and will be Palestinian, especially as we know that the Palestinian banking sector is very well capitalized and has a relatively low loan-to-deposits ratio. That is why we reached out to the Palestinian banks in December last year.
The plan is ambitious and far-reaching. And also requires Israel to play an active role. That is why we are engaging in in-depth discussions too with the Government of Israel – at all levels, from the PM onwards – on the next steps (or enablers) necessary for the implementation of the IPE. Some of these measures are already in place; others will follow.
To facilitate the IPE’s implementation, the GoI established a working group with comprised of all relevant ministries dedicated to implementation. We meet regularly to discuss detailed progress on a number of important IPE projects which, if facilitated and implemented in 2014, will show the positive direction which the IPE has set out.
So you see that we’re working very closely with the key stakeholders to make the IPE move from a strategy to a reality. It’s a challenging environment, to say the least, with so many different stakeholders and interests; and politics are the elephant in the room. That is why we’re ramping up our own capacity bringing in experts from the Private Sector to work alongside our other experts on e.g. Access & Movement, Governance, political analysis, media and others. The IPE is becoming a common platform, aligning various different efforts to create greater synergy and impact. Our role is to facilitate and accelerate, to bring parties together around a common goal, and get things done.
Over the coming months, we will be participating in a number of conferences aimed at bringing the IPE directly to interested potential investors. In Prague next weekend, at the first major conference dedicated to this issue, investors, financiers, the PA, and Palestinian private sector will come together to discuss implementing the IPE. Our objective is to match industries and projects with companies and financiers that are prepared to act.
Convened by the Aspen Institute, Partners for a New Beginning, OQR, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Middle East Commercial Center, and UCLA’s Center for Mideast Development, the co-chairs include Quartet Representative Tony Blair, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs Myron Brilliant – demonstrating the importance, scope and potential impact of this plan.
DPM Mustafa will lead the PA delegation, and attendance will be deliberately limited so that the conversation can be focused and specific. Participants at the Prague Conference will be encouraged to take action on the ground in order to prepare the ground for investments. My office is working with the international community on a range of models that will enable investors to explore business opportunities identified in the IPE.
Another major conference will take place in Brussels later this spring. And no doubt more will follow.
We are confident that progress on the political front will facilitate far greater economic activity as the IPE is implemented. Bu doing so, the IPE will rapidly grow the Palestinian economy across the West Bank, including Area C, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The potential is enormous – not just AFTER the talks have been concluded, but NOW. Major investment – in small, medium and large projects – is possible. It has happened before, it is happening now, and it will be a major boost to peace, prosperity and stability in the region.
We know that drawing up the plans is sometimes the easy part – implementing the initiative, especially one that is so far-reaching and represents such a very different approach to this issue, will not be straightforward. There will be problems along the way, no doubt, but given what is at stake, and the immense impact that this initiative will have on the region, we only stand to benefit.
Finally, I’d like to thank Jordan for its strong support for the IPE, both in words and in deeds, investing political and financial capital to allow the negotiations to and the IPE to succeed. We are extremely grateful and look forward to continuing our close cooperation in the future.