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
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
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
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
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. …