Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians

After the build-up that led to the Swiss-based World Economic Forum’s session at Jordan’s Dead Sea on Saturday and Sunday — it was hard to understand why, at least during the speeches of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Abbas waived a copy of the Arab Peace Initiative in the air and asked Israelis to actually read it. It was not clear why. [Later it did become clear that the reason was the incentive it gives to Israel for withdrawing from the West Bank: recognition + full normal relations including trade with the entire Arab and Muslim world.]

Peres spoke about being born in an age of agriculture and living in a world of technology, where all good things could happen to the region if only there were peace. It was not clear why. [Peres contradicted the Israeli government’s current disapproval and said the Arab Peace Initiative was a strategic opportunity…] It was not clear why.  But, his reasons seem to be the same as Abbas’.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry started to talk, and seemed to have not much new to say; he thanked a lot of people and spoke about the Arab Spring. It was not clear why.

Then, Kerry said, he wanted to give ” I want to say a special thank you to the Quartet Representative, former Prime Minister Tony Blair… he is working diligently on a special project that I want to share with you in a few minutes”…

It was all downhill from there…

US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013
US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013

Photo from the US State Dept “Amman and Dead Sea, Jordan” Flikr set, here.

Kerry said: “No one doubts that this is a very complex moment in international relations. But still, I don’t think that there is any secret about the conditions that are necessary for peace and stability to succeed. Those are: good governance, security, and economic opportunity. And so the real question for all of us, for President Abbas, President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, all of us, is a very simple one: Will we, despite the historic hurdles, have the courage to make the choices that we know we need to make in order to break the stalemate and provide a change of life for people in this region?”

Then, Kerry announced the creation of an investment fund to be financed with a possible $4 billion dollars to spur private-sector development in the West Bank [though he did also mention  4 million people, though it was not clear who: if Kerry meant Palestinians only, that would include the West Bank population of some 2.8 million  and Gaza with some 1.5 million…]

It was clear that Kerry’s remarks were the real reason all those people were there, in the meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan on a Sunday afternoon…and Abbas and Peres were just there to prop up the show.

Kerry then explained the still-vague Blair super-project:
“I have asked Quartet Representative Tony Blair and many business leaders to join together. And Prime Minister Blair is shaping what I believe could be a groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also, significantly, transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.

It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo, more than 20 years ago now. And this, the intention of this plan, of all of its participants, is not to make it merely transformative, but frankly, to make it enormously powerful in the shaping of the possibilities of the future so that it is more transformative than incremental and different from anything that we have seen before.

To achieve that, these leaders have brought together a group of business experts, who have donated their time, who have come from around the world over the course of the last six weeks to make this project real and tangible and formidable – as we say, shovel-ready. They have come from all over the world because they believe in peace, and because they believe prosperity is both a promise and a product of peace.

This group includes leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, I’m pleased to say. It includes renowned investors and some of the most brilliant business analysts out there – and some of the most committed. One of these senior business leaders actually just celebrated his 69th birthday in Jerusalem at the Colony Hotel after spending a 14-hour day in the West Bank trying to figure it out.

When others ask them, all of them, why they’re here, doing this on their own time, the unanimous answer is: ‘Because we want a better future for both Israeli children and Palestinian children’.

Their plan begins with encouraging local, regional and international business leaders to, and to encourage government leaders in various parts of the world. I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.

This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.

The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning: These experts believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds – to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today – and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.

Continue reading “Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians”

Jordan Valley: Jericho water well in danger — it's in Area A on Palestinian map, but Israeli military map says it's Area C – UPDATED

This business venture has real potential to advance development of the Palestinian agricultural sector — which should be one of the motors of the Palestinian economy — and the date palm trees are on the verge of producing their first fruit in the coming weeks. But, if the water wells are destroyed, the date palm trees will soon die in the 50 degree Centigrade summer heat.

Israeli military activity in the Jordan Valley has increasingly targetted isolated and poor Bedouin communities in recent months, following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent public raising — again — of an Israeli claim to retain control, for security reasons, of the border area along the Jordan River and of large parts of the Jordan Valley, which constitutes a large part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Surprisingly, one gleaming new privately-owned Palestinian family agricultural enterprise in Jericho, a date palm farm and a separate packing factory not far from the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley, has also been hit with sudden demolition orders for an essential new well it was digging, adjacent to an established well it has been using that was licensed and opened when the West Bank was under direct Jordanian rule in 1961.

Both of the wells are in danger of demolition, according to the orders issued in late July by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s “Civil Administration” in the West Bank.

This is a large-scale business venture, with real potential to advance development of the Palestinian agricultural sector — one of the motors of the future Palestinian economy.

Four thousand threatened date palm trees under cultivation are on the verge of producing fruit in the coming weeks.

But, if the water wells are destroyed, the date palm trees will soon die in the summer heat that sometimes reaches 50 degrees Centigrade.

Manasrah date pale tree farm in Jericho - photo by Mohamed Jaradat

Continue reading “Jordan Valley: Jericho water well in danger — it's in Area A on Palestinian map, but Israeli military map says it's Area C – UPDATED”

Clinton in the West Bank

The Washington Post reported that Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu “on Sunday rejected a total freeze but suggested some flexibility on the issue. He said Israel could not ‘freeze the lives, of residents but would also not begin a massive construction program. Before she arrived here, Clinton told reporters traveling with her that although the United States wants Israel to extend the moratorium, there could be other agreements between the two sides that would improve the atmosphere for talks and permit them to continue. Palestinian officials, for instance, are seeking to begin the discussions by focusing on the potential borders of the two states, which would identify which settlements Israel might keep in a peace deal. Israeli officials want Palestinian recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish homeland’. ‘There is no prospect for success in the absence of direct negotiations’, Clinton said. ‘For me, this is a simple choice: no negotiations, no security, no state’. The administration had hoped that direct talks would have begun when the construction moratorium was announced, making it harder to let the ban lapse. Now U.S. officials are trying to keep the talks going past the initial phase, making the settlement issue less of a factor in whether the talks continue. Clinton said Monday that the ‘time is ripe’ for the two sides to make a deal”. This is posted here.

Clinton is due to visit Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, then meet again with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after which she heads for Amman for discussions with King Abdullah II. Will she drive through the Allenby Bridge? [I’ve seen Tony Blair do it, zipping through as if it were a normal place, an open road, a highway…]

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency is reporting here that “Officials said Israeli crews would be performing maintenance on the Israeli-controlled portion of the border, which would be closed between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. [But] Sources told Ma’an that the closure was related to the passage of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton through the passage on her way to meet Jordan’s King”…

She still won’t be able to see what the real problems are…

UPDATE TWO: The AP reported later Thursday that Abbas told journalists at the Muqata’a, the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, that “We all know there is no alternative to peace through negotiations, so we have no alternative other than to continue these efforts” … while “Egypt’s leader said in a radio interview that he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the [settlement] restrictions for three more months to give peacemaking a chance. Mubarak said he told Netanyahu the delay could give the two sides time to draft their future borders. After those lines are agreed, Mubarak reasoned, Israel can build within its future borders and the Palestinians within theirs”. This news report is posted here.