x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US plan to boost West Bank is vital

John Kerry's efforts to energise the Palestinian economy is his boldest gesture yet towards solving the Israeli-Palestinian isue. The move signals that the US is keen to take the initiative.

When the announcement finally came at the World Economic Forum, it was suitably grand: the United States would oversee the launch of a US$4bn (Dh14.6bn) plan to boost the economy of the West Bank and hopefully restart the moribund peace process.

There is certainly no doubt it is needed. The Israeli occupation, the expanding settlements, the Israeli-only roads, the checkpoints that split towns and cities; all have made the West Bank unliveable, slumping the economy and putting a significant portion of the population on the very edge of the poverty line.

Launching the fund under the label "Breaking the impasse" at the WEF in Jordan, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, expressed hope that it would strengthen some of the vital sectors of the Palestinian economy, including agriculture, construction and tourism. Mr Kerry also said he hoped that the initiative would encourage peace in the region and therefore could serve as a model for development. If there is economic success in the West Bank, political dialogue might follow.

The results, said Mr Kerry, could be "stunning", and he is right. The devastating toll that the occupation has had on the Palestinian economy has enormous repercussions across the West Bank. Without work, there is no ability to earn money; no ability to increase skills, or utilise an education. Young men without regular work may not be able to marry - and young men without hope are easy prey for those who peddle ideologies of hate.

So the initiative is welcome and the fact it came about because of the efforts of two billionaires - one Palestinian, the other Israeli - gives it something of a business-friendly imprimatur. The presidents of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel duly gave it their backing in Jordan.

And yet the economy is not the whole story. As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: "The Palestinian people will not accept an economic solution while neglecting a political solution." The economic devastation of the West Bank is merely a symptom of a wider malaise, the political problem of the Israeli occupation. Without a just and swift resolution to that conflict, the economy's long-term health will always be in doubt.

But Mr Kerry's efforts are vital. As America's top diplomat, he has made the Israeli-Palestinian effort the mainstay of his term. This is his boldest gesture yet and signals that the US is keen to take the initiative.