Palestinian business skeptical of Netanyahu plan

Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:51am EDT
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By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Six hundred checkpoints in the West Bank send a far more powerful message to West Bank entrepreneurs than Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu's new pledge of economic partnership.

Local Palestinian businessmen say the health of the economy is closely tied to these barriers, which grossly distort trading conditions, and that unless Israel's prime minister-designate removes them, there is little scope for big improvements.

So far it is not clear exactly how Netanyahu, who said on Wednesday a strong Palestinian economy would be a strong foundation for peace, plans to proceed.

"The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a political, not an economic issue. You can't put the cart before the horse," says former Palestinian economy minister Mazen Sinokrot, who owns nine food and logistics companies.

Along with the checkpoints, Israel has also expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the protective fences around them since the Palestinian uprising of 2000, seeking to enhance its security.

Netanyahu, now assured of a majority coalition in the Israeli Knesset, said on Wednesday he wanted to boost the West Bank economy instead of simply negotiating a land-for-peace swap to create a Palestinian state.

"The economic track is not a substitute for political negotiations," he said, apparently seeking to ease any international concerns he might not seek a peace deal.

"It's a complement to them," he said.   Continued...

<p>A Palestinian woman pushes a trolley as she shops at a supermarket in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 26, 2009. REUTERS/Fadi Arouri</p>