Mideast Bank Lacks Currency Proposal for Regional Institution Neglects Palestinian Development Needs, Critics Warn

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PLANS for a $10-billion Middle East-North Africa Development Bank are running into political and economic resistance.

The bank, strongly advocated by the United States and backed by Israel, was touted at the Middle East-North Africa Economic Summit in Morocco last week as one that could serve as a focal point for developing regional trade and investment and promoting a greater flow of people among the nations.

As well as opposition from Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf states, there are growing concerns that the bank might not provide the appropriate mechanism for ensuring economic development in the Palestinian self-rule territories - particularly the deprived Gaza Strip.

Leonard Hausman, director of Harvard's Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East, told the Monitor that Palestinians were holding back on doing business with the Israelis because of a lack of trust.

"The bank would be a nonstarter if the Palestinians were left out.... It would be damaging to the Middle East peace process," Professor Hausman said.

He added that the bank was unlikely to take off until Syria and Lebanon - which have not yet negotiated a peace treaty with Israel - were brought into the peace process. "I think once Syria is in, there will be many around in the Middle East who will take part in regional institutions."

Hausman, who took part in a panel on the Palestinian economy in Morocco and at this week's Jerusalem Business Conference, warned that unemployment among Palestinians and in Jordan should be a cause of major concern for Israel. "It is necessary to take immediate action to create new jobs in the region," he said.

The Jerusalem conference from Nov. 5 to 7 was attended by some 1,000 delegates from Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and more than 2,000 Israeli businessmen.

UN Undersecretary-general Terry Larsen, who was instrumental in arranging secret contacts between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization last year, warned that the economic situation in Gaza was more grave than most officials realized. "If there are no visible results, this will ignite more terror and more violence. It may tilt any day now if we don't push the economy," he told a session of the Jerusalem conference.

Leaders of the PA, in charge of implementing limited self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank, have expressed reservations about the proposed bank.

PA Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said that the bank would be of little use if it was run purely along commercial lines and did not address the specific problem of Palestinian needs. …