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West Bank’s economy is improving

Marketplace Staff Sep 8, 2009

West Bank’s economy is improving

Marketplace Staff Sep 8, 2009


Bill Radke: One of the few spots in the world seeing economic growth is the Israeli-occupied West Bank. GDP there is expected to rise 5 percent this year. It’s partly because Israel has removed some checkpoints and allowed Israeli Arabs to come in and shop. From the West Bank city of Nablus,
Michael May reports on the possibilities of growth — and the limitations.

Michael May: Posters honoring Palestinian suicide bombers still line the walls of the ancient city of Nablus. But the posters are faded and torn. Now, the streets are teeming with traders selling everything from Baklava to yo-yo’s.

Tala Nassar hawks flashy T-shirts and jeans. He says business has doubled in the past couple months.

Tala Nassar: This day is good, yeah. You know, because the checkpoint is open, and the people come here every day, from Israel, from everywhere from Palestine. A lot of people. Every day, every day, every day, yeah.

Despite the changes, the West Bank still has an unemployment rate of 16 percent. And some Palestinian businessmen say it’s gonna take more than opening checkpoints to create a thriving economy.

Ziad Anabtawi: I dont think its a big step. It’s a step.

Ziad Anabtawi is a major importer and exporter of vegetable oils. That’s a huge empty tank that’s meant to hold olive oil. Anabtawi says business is much better than it was a few years ago, but still down 25 percent from 2000.

Anabtawi: If you don’t have a relaxed political environment, there is no way you can have a serious growth of economy. What we witnessed in the past couple of years is a recovering of a very bad situation.

He says it’s still hard to find good employees, since many of the best and brightest left out of despair. Foreign investment is still virtually nonexistent, unless you count aid money. And security at the borders can make it prohibitively expensive to export goods. He says it costs $1,000 just to get a shipping container across the border.

Anabtawi: The less security measures, the more peace we have, the more efficient we become.

Efficency is good, but new markets will have to wait until Israel isn’t worried about bombs in the olive oil. Anabtawi says a peace deal is the only thing that will spur real growth. He is banking on the United States to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table this year.

In Nablus, I’m Michael May for Marketplace.

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