John Kerry, US secretary of state, said he had asked Tony Blair to lead a plan to mobilise $4bn of investment in the West Bank and Gaza and revive the territories’ flagging economic prospects.
Mr Kerry said that he had brought together business leaders over the past six weeks, including leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, to work on “shovel-ready” projects in such areas as tourism, agriculture, and building materials to lift economic recovery in the Palestinian territories.
“It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder, and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo 20 years ago,” Mr Kerry said on Sunday at the closing of the World Economic Forum Middle East and North Africa summit in Jordan.
This came as a group of 300 leading Palestinian and Israeli chief executives and entrepreneurs joined forces to press their respective leaders to negotiate a two-state solution, in the biggest such joint appeal made by business in the region to date.
Mr Kerry said that Mr Blair, who heads the Middle East Quartet overseeing efforts to sponsor peace in the region, would encourage local, regional and international businesses to invest in the occupied Palestinian territories.
He said that the experts convened by Mr Blair thought the plan could increase GDP by 50 per cent over three years. The plan would aim to cut unemployment in the region by two-thirds from 21 per cent to 8 per cent and raise the minimum wage by 40 per cent.
As the investment climate in the West Bank and Gaza improves, Mr Kerry said, so would the prospects of a self-reliant Palestinian authority that would not have to depend on foreign aid.
Details of the companies involved in Mr Kerry’s plan were not immediately available. Palestinian media reported that Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s chief executive, was involved in the plan led by Mr Blair.
Mr Kerry did not report any progress in his shuttle diplomacy, aimed at reviving long-shelved peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Highlighting the large rift remaining between the two sides, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also addressing the WEF, gave an angry and barnstorming speech in which he touched on grievances ranging from security issues to disagreements over textbooks and a decade-old Arab League proposal that would offer Israel recognition if it withdrew from the Palestinian territories.
“Read this document!” Mr Abbas shouted. “This is the road [map] – you just withdraw and you would receive recognition from Indonesia to Mauritania and all the other countries in-between.”
Israeli president Shimon Peres chided Mr Abbas, saying: “Sceptics don’t make history. I pray that it will allow for tomorrow’s horizon to shine bright.”
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