GAZA CITY, (AFP) — The Palestinians are to create a $1 billion fund to invest in the reconstruction of the war-torn Gaza Strip, the economic adviser to president Mahmud Abbas has told AFP.
“In the coming weeks, we will approach private sector businessmen to create a $1 billion fund to invest in the Gaza Strip,” said Mohammad Mustafa, chairman and chief executive of the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), who is tipped as a favourite to become the next Palestinian prime minister.
“We will invest $200 million in this fund, and will work on attracting Palestinian, Arab and international investors for the rest,” said Mustafa who was on his first visit to Gaza since it was taken over by the Islamist Hamas movement four years ago.
The visit by a delegation of top businessmen and politicians from the West Bank came just three weeks after Abbas’s Fatah movement, which controls the Palestinian Authority, signed a surprise unity deal with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, ending years of bitter rivalry.
Under terms of the agreement, Fatah and Hamas are working to build a caretaker government of independents, with no ties to either party, which will govern until elections can be held at some point over the next year.
Mustafa said the investment will be funnelled into both “private sector projects and local firms in Gaza” who will engage in what he called “an ambitious programme” to revive the enclave’s battered infrastructure.
“We want to start building Gaza’s economy as a part of the upcoming state’s economy which will be built on self-sufficiency, with the establishment of an airport, a port and desalination plants,” he said.
“And we will expand the electricity network in a partnership between the public and private sectors.”
The PIF chairman said there were also plans to invest in turnkey housing projects, which already exist in the West Bank.
“We have provided loan guarantees to more than 350 companies in the West Bank over the past two years, and through this programme we want to help small businesses in Gaza,” he told AFP.
“We have a programme that allows for direct investment in small businesses working in industry, tourism, agriculture and fisheries.”
For Gaza, which has been languishing under an Israeli blockade for almost five years, having greater access to the outside world was essential for its development, he said.
His remarks came as Egypt announced it would permanently open the Rafah border crossing from Saturday, opening up Gaza’s only gateway to the rest of the world which is not controlled by Israel.
“We want more visibility for our exports and to be able to see the reality in neighbouring countries where we hope to play a more concrete role,” Mustafa said, without elaborating.
“We cannot solve the economic problems without freedom of movement at the crossing points for goods and people, particularly in Gaza,” he said.
Referring to cross-border smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border, Mustafa said smuggling was not likely to continue.
Since the start of the blockade, the tunnels have been used to bring in a bewildering array of foodstuffs and consumer goods.
But since Israel eased the measure in June 2010, allowing previously banned foods and consumer goods into the enclave, the tunnels have been largely used to smuggle in construction materials but also as Gaza’s sole export channel.
“What was happening before was exceptional and it does not need to continue because it relates to the blockade,” Mustafa told AFP.
“In the next stage, a united government will manage the crossings, the economy and security, so the tunnels economy will not be needed,” he said.